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Oct 04 2013

Act 2: what happened at LSE today

Abhishek Phadnis and Chris Moos report:

The following is an account of the events at the LSE Freshers’ Fair on Friday, October 4th:

We (Abhishek Phadnis and Chris Moos) arrived at the Fair at 10 am. In silent protest at our treatment the day before (see account of events of October 3rd), and still unsure as to what parts of the t-shirts had allegedly caused “offence”, we put tape (with the words “Censored”, “This has been censored” and “Nothing to see here”) over the faces of the “Jesus and Mo” figures on the t-shirts.

Shortly after midday, the LSESU Deputy Chief Executive Jarlath O’Hara approached us, demanding we take the t-shirts off as per his instructions of the previous day. We explained to him that we had covered the “offensive” parts this time, and offered to use our tape to cover any other areas deemed “offensive”. He refused to hear us out, insisting that if we did not take off the whole t-shirt, LSE Security would be called to bodily remove us from the premises. He left, warning us that he was summoning LSE Security to eject us.

At about 2:30pm, Paul Thornbury, Head of LSE Security, delivered a letter from the School Secretary Susan Scholefield. The letter claimed that some students found our t-shirts “offensive”, even though we had covered up the “offensive” parts of the t-shirts. It claimed we were in possible breach of the LSE Harassment Policy and Disciplinary Procedure, and that our actions were “damaging the School’s reputation”, and “undermining the spirit of the LSESU Freshers’ Fair and good campus relations at LSE”. It concluded by asking us to “refrain from wearing the t-shirts in question and cover any other potentially offensive imagery”, and warning us that the School “reserves the right to consider taking further action if warranted”.

Shortly thereafter, having completed our work at the stall, we began packing up. As we were about to leave, Paul Thornbury returned to confirm we were leaving. We told him that we were, and as we left the room, we saw that he was accompanied by several security guards, LSESU General Secretary Jay Stoll and Deputy Chief Executive O’Hara. The Security officials left the building at the same time as we did, confirming our impression that they had only been there to monitor us, like the two security guards positioned at our stall the day before to stop us attempting to put our t-shirts back on.

We can confirm that the aforementioned Students Union and LSE Security staff were the only visitors to our stall who expressed offence at our clothing. We had students from all kind of backgrounds come to us to express their support and astonishment about the heavy-handed actions of the LSE and LSESU, including several students who self-identified as Muslims.

We are still in shock about the intimidating behaviour of the LSESU and LSE staff. Again, we strongly reject the claim that our clothing or behaviour could be reasonably interpreted as “harassing” or “offensive”. In any case, we believe that in an open and multi-cultural society, there can be no right not to be offended without undermining freedom of expression, which is essential to the functioning of universities as much as of wider society.

We have written to the LSE Pro-Director for Teaching and Learning, Paul Kelly, and the Head of LSE Legal and Compliance, Kevin Haynes, expressing indignation at our treatment and seeking a full explanation of the grounds of the allegations against us. We are still awaiting a detailed reply.

Abhishek Phadnis & Chris Moos

 

14 comments

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  1. 1
    kevinkirkpatrick

    It seems entirely reasonable to assert offence at depictions of torture devices. I wonder if Abhishek and Chris have considered bringing attention to the fact that, followed to its logical conclusions, a “don’t show anything anyone might take offence to” policy could easily engender requirements for Christians to cover up any depictions of the crucifix.

  2. 2
    Kausik Datta

    Copying (and adding to) what I wrote in the Act 1 thread:

    It would be interesting to hear what this Professor Kelly (and now Kevin Haynes) has to say in explanation of the thuggish behavior of LSE Legal Compliance and Security staff. But I shall be honest: I am not holding my breath in anticipation of a reasoned response. It is difficult to imagine how the LSESU office-bearers arrived at the perception of being hurt, but it would indeed be a pity – a crying shame – if an institution of LSE’s stature chooses to enable and abet the suppression of free expression at the behest of a few humorless. emotionally-constipated individuals who seek to be offended at the drop of a… tee-shirt.

    What would be REALLY interesting is to watch what happens when Maryam arrives for her talk wearing a J&M tee shirt.

  3. 3
    Andrew B.

    I think it’s a mistake to deny that any instance of offense is legitimate, because the offended party can always (and has) claim that “you don’t get to determine what I find offensive.” BUT…there’s a second step to this, which is for the offended party make the offending party empathize with their feelings. But if they can’t or won’t try to do just that, there’s little reason to care about their offense. I don’t care about people that are “offended” by homosexuality, or a bi-racial president, or a woman’s right to vote because I don’t empathize with their discomfort.

    Shorter version: we can take people at their word when they claim offense but without necessarily giving a damn.

  4. 4
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Obviously this isn’t what it’s about, considering the actions of the LSE thugs, but yeah, a case could be made that one of the things on one of those shirts is problematic, namely the statement “If this doesn’t work I say we start burning staff.” That could be perceived as a threat to school staff on the part of the student wearing it rather than a satire of threats by Islamicists. If you don’t get irony. So sure, I’d have no problem with someone asking Abishek to cover up that speech balloon.

    The rest of it falls under fair comment and the staff/union people are being cartoonishly ridiculous.

  5. 5
    rnilsson

    Ehh… “burning stuff”, wasn’t it?
    It’s not Giordano Bruno.
    Staff might be stoned. Wasted already.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Andrew @ 3 – hmm – I think that has it backward. You don’t care about the items you listed because (I’ll assume) they’re bad reasons for being offended – bad in the sense of not legitimate. It’s not about not empathizing with people who are offended by same-sex marriage or women with naked heads, it’s about thinking people should not be offended by those things.

  7. 7
    Andrew B.

    I think it would be tricky to distinguish between bad reasons for being offended from good ones, though. Why don’t we think people should be offended by a drawing of Jesus and/or Mo?

  8. 8
    skeptomai

    You have to admire the commitment of the London School of Economics to free speech. NOT. Perhaps the explanation lies in their special relationship with Gaddafi (check Wikipedia if you are not familiar with the story). I suggest a name change: “London school of anything for a Pound”.

  9. 9
    ismenia

    This is the problem with offense. It is subjective, generally the offendee (not sure this is a word but never mind) feels offended because they feel personally attacked. The problem is that this is an inevitable response to criticism of religion because these are just beliefs based on faith. Remove all the taboos and you’re left with some unsubstatiated claims.

  10. 10
    Bjarte Foshaug

    The irony of this whole situation is that J&M isn’t really a parody of the historical figures Jesus and Mohammad at all. It’s mainly a parody of modern religious hypersensitivity, censorship and taboo, so in a way the behavior of the LSE staff only confirms the central message of the cartoon. I know the infamous picture of the Muslim protester holding up a sign saying “Behead Those Who say Islam is Violent” is a Photoshop job*, but as we have seen in this situation, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.
    _____________________________________________________________
    *The real sign did indeed encourage people to behead those who insult Islam, but there was nothing humorous about it.

  11. 11
    yahweh

    It’s terribly disappointing that the LSE, of all places, should have such a feeble grasp of basic civics. What sort of schools did they go to that taught them so little?

    My opinion of it, which was quite high back in the days when I attended the institution across the road, has plummeted.

  12. 12
    Author

    It’s “stuff”! “..let’s start burning stuff” Burning staff would be horrible.

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    Oops! That was a typo in the original. I fixed it in the Chris and Abhishek report post.

    So, Ibis @4, that’s not something the LSE Student Union people were reacting to.

  14. 14
    Gordon Willis

    The letter claimed that some students found our t-shirts “offensive”

    Claimed is not enough. They should define “offensive”. What are the grounds of their claim? Where is the supporting evidence?

    It claimed we were in possible breach

    Who cares? Possible is just opinion.

    our actions were “damaging the School’s reputation”

    Which reputation? On what grounds?

    “undermining the spirit of the LSESU Freshers’ Fair and good campus relations at LSE”

    Which is? Maybe they have omitted to tell anyone. Who defines “spirit”? why should they? why do they? and whom did they consult? and what did they say? and why?

    We have written to the LSE Pro-Director for Teaching and Learning, Paul Kelly, and the Head of LSE Legal and Compliance, Kevin Haynes, expressing indignation at our treatment and seeking a full explanation of the grounds of the allegations against us.

    Much better to question the legality of their actions. Asking for explanations is inviting mere assertion (f), mere denial (ff) and mere authoritarian straw-clutching (fff).

    The need is to expose the hidden agenda, such as fear of religious persecution (bloody hell, they’re muslims!), left-wing authoritarianism (thou art a muslim, therefore thou must fit our definition of muslim and culture and identity and what is a good thing), or (I suspect) both. I have always suspected that a totalitarian tendency lies hidden in the left-wing breast, as it does in that of the right wing. The pleasure of being able to dictate to others — whether for their own good, or for god’s glory, or for my personal security — is as difficult to forgo as it is identical in each case. And fear is a factor, as it always must be in respect of self-interest (and moral rightness is as close as many people get to feeling personally secure). All totalitarians put a moral gloss on their attitudes and behaviour. The left wing is no exception.

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