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Oct 08 2013

The proud tradition of a free press

The Independent reported on the LSE Student Union’s interference with the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student society yesterday, including quoting one of Dawkins’s tweets.

It included one panel from the toon – an especially daring one.

29 comments

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  1. 1
    Lofty

    The LSE is simply protecting its funding sources. This is why education should be free of religious influence.

  2. 2
    Minnow

    The LSE is just asking that people are nice to each other at Freshers’ Fairs. The humanist society can say and believe what they like elsewhere but there are some restrictions on what they can display in this particular place, that’s all. It’s like asking people not to wear ‘I am not a Skepchick’ T-shirts at conferences where that message is likely to upset or intimidate other delegates. It is no more a free speech issue than being asked to wear black tie to a cocktail party is.

  3. 3
    Maureen Brian

    I think, Minnow, that you’re missing the point of a Freshers’ Fair.

    In fact there are two points – to assist the new student to find out what goes on and make contact with likely friends but also as a marketing exercise for the various groups. They are there honestly to advertise who they are or what they do. How can you honestly promote the existence of a Secular Society if you are not allowed to provoke discussion on the existence of otherwise of any god? Should they pretend to be speliologists? Or animal rights activists?

    The difference between a Freshers’ Fair and what happened at TAM is context. The former is advertising what is available to a wide public who are free to argue, to give them the middle finger or to walk swiftly by and pretend they didn’t notice. What happened at TAM was, by contrast, targeted at a small number of people, designed to discomfit them and the incident you mention was just one of a series of events over a period of months. Can you see the difference?

    The people at LSE (and at Reading) were holding opinions which they are perfectly entitled to hold and promote. They were doing it within a setting – the university – designed for the promotion and discussion of competing idea and within an event – the fair – put on for the purpose of advertising student societies and clubs. All student societies and clubs, not simply the ones which have been passed by the mullahs.

    Remember, in the UK we have no blasphemy law at all. So all the enforcers were doing was failing to protect the legal rights of the secularists – admittedly under provocation and, sadly, relying on a half-baked notion of where civility fits into all this.

    On that last point, may I commend to you Chris Clarke’s excellent essay on civility which you’ll find at this link?

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/02/14/the-desert-tortoises-with-boltcutters-civility-pledge/

  4. 4
    Minnow

    “The people at LSE (and at Reading) were holding opinions which they are perfectly entitled to hold and promote. ”

    Of course, and nobody is preventing them. The only limit is in what they display. Just as a Pro-life society is forbidden to put up posters showing aborted foetuses, say. The pro-lifers are entitles to promote such material, just not to force people to see it at a Freshers’ Fair if they don’t want to, because a Freshers’ Fair is meant to be a much less confrontational sort of place.

  5. 5
    medivh

    Minnow: It’s fairly clear that the LSE’s version of the local humanists being nice is to fuck right off. Additionally, the LSE doesn’t seem to care that asking (or ordering) humanists to fuck right off isn’t nice to the humanists.

    That you pretend this isn’t reality speaks volumes.

  6. 6
    carlie

    Wow. So even the Independent won’t print a panel that has Mo in it. Journalistic integrity my ass.

  7. 7
    latsot

    Minnow,

    Freshers fairs typically consist of a lot of stalls which clearly state what they’re about. Nobody is forced to approach a stall if they don’t want to. I’ve seen freshers fair stalls promoting dreadful pseudoscience and discredited nonsense (anyone remember that faked picture of an RS232 socket stitched into a cat’s head that various groups were using to oppose animal research 20-odd years ago? I’ve seen that at freshers fairs even quite recently) I’ve seen the silly accusation that KFC clones chickens with a dozen legs at stalls promoting a vegetarian lifestyle. Was I offended by this? Yes I was, because the arguments were both stupid and didn’t actually promote the cause they pretended to. Be a vegetarian because you want to be, not because you’re grossed or scared into it. Oppose animal research because your principles rate the well-being of animals bred for research above the potential benefits of that research. It’s totally fine.

    You know what I did? I either went to the stall and engaged people in debate or I avoided the stall altogether.

    You know what I didn’t do? Clutch my pearls and report them to the authorities because I wanted to stop people saying things I don’t like.

    I wouldn’t object to – oh, I don’t know – a psychic society in the SU and I wouldn’t object to their having a stall at the fresher’s fair. I wouldn’t object to their putting up posters about how people have awesome superpowers, even though that notion offends me. I’d sure as shit go and talk to them and I wouldn’t be kind, but it wouldn’t occur to me for a moment to try to stop a group of people forming a stupid society spreading stupid shit or from promoting it during freasher’s week.

    So what’s the standard? Could society members wear a Bigfoot Don’t Exist shirt? Could they wear an Atheists are Evil shirt? Or an Abortion is Wrong shirt?

    Of course they could. And should. Think for a second about what Freshers fairs are about: young people finding out what they care about, being challenged and learning how to challenge. Some people might be offended by what others have to say and the materials they display in it’s support. Tough fucking shit.

    Does that mean that stalls should be allowed to present *any* information or behave in *any* way? Of course not. They should comply with local laws like everyone else. There should also be policies to prevent and police harassment and bullying of and by stall-holders.

    Showing pictures of aborted foetuses outside an abortion clinic is bullying. Showing the same thing during a free exchange of ideas might be difficult for some people, but it is not bullying.

    I think you’re wrong about freshers fairs. I think they should certainly be places where people can be confrontational. There’s bound to be a communist society. There’s bound to be a marxist society, a conservative society and an anarchy society. There are bound to be endless religious societies: those fucking things pop up everywhere.

    Freshers fairs should be confrontational. They should help to teach people what they should do if they are offended (engage, debate, think) and what they shouldn’t do (scream blue fucking murder because offence).

  8. 8
    A Hermit

    Happy as I am to see Dawkins speaking up here I have to admit part of me is tempted to send him a “Dear Muslima” letter. After all, it’s not like these guys were being thrown in prison or sentenced to be hung or shot in the streets; just asked to wear a different shirt…

    The only problem I have with the T-shirts in this case is that they define the Humanist group in terms of what they are opposed to instead of what they are for, which would have been my preferred message in the same circumstance. But that’s just me.

  9. 9
    AJ Milne

    latsot/#7:

    Agreed, as previously stated, this whole ‘the fresher’s fair is not the place’ thing seems… more than a bit off, on the face of it.

    But then I look at the pattern. It seems to make little sense, for this venue, but then, the ‘just at this function’ gambit is typical gamesmanship, from those trying to silence such criticism of religion.

    And note also, as pointed out (and to Minnow, by the way) here, there’s no particular reason for thinking this is just about that event, anyway: it appears to be a far more general policy, now..

    But like I said: pattern. Here it’s: to get what we want, let’s pretend otherwise, anyway. Let’s minimize, assure people, hush, oh don’t worry, it’s just here, just for this day, just for this venue.

    I figure the tactic is to teach people to submit, by getting them to give up this supposedly single thing. Get them to assent piecemeal, convince them to silence themselves episode by episode, here, then there, in little bits; assure them, oh, yes, you’re allowed, really, just not here…

    And note also it creates a pattern and prerogative. The message is now: we’ll tell you where. So you’ll learn to ask, first: is this okay? Thus is authority is now given to the censor, and thus is the critical principle that persons shall be free to stand where they like on matters of religion subverted.

    Just admit it, Minnow: it’s a religious edict. One now being made general for a population that does not at all universally follow the religion. And not a precedent wise to let stand, not at all.

    Oh: and your attempt to create a false equivalency with persons also trying to impose a religious edict upon a general population–the pro lifers and their signs–I find considerably more obscene for its shameless manipulation than any image of any bloody embryo.

  10. 10
    rnilsson

    Are there some letters missing in the paper’s name perhaps: Interdependent?

  11. 11
    latsot

    A Hermit

    Couldn’t we say that the group was *for* opposing religion?

    I’m for opposing religion, I do it every single day. I’m for opposing some specific religions more than others, depending on how much harm they do.

    I’m sure that’s not *all* the humanist group is in favour of. Me neither. But then I’m not the one telling a random NUS society what their message should be.

  12. 12
    latsot

    AJ: also the tactic used to justify the imposition of segregated seating in those other recent events. Afterwards they – the organisers and the university – shrugged and acted like it wasn’t a big deal. It’s not like we’re like that all the time, they said. It’s not like we impose segregated seating in normal lectures or anything, So somehow that makes it all right.

    Events like public lectures and freshers fairs should be EXEMPLARS of what the university is all about. What are universities about, again? It’s kowtowing to groups who want to stifle thinking, right? No, wait, it’s bowing to people who want to force everyone to obey some risible, contradictory rules? No, I’m wrong again, it’s about making sure that some points of view are never questioned for no reason whatsoever.

    That’s what universities are about, right?

  13. 13
    A Hermit

    “Couldn’t we say that the group was *for* opposing religion?”

    I’d rather see it promoted as supporting those who have no religion.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I fully support the students who wore the T-shirts and I think the LSU is behaving outrageously here. And part of supporting those who have no religion, or are having serious doubts about their religion, means challenging those doctrines, so I get the use of the Jesus and Mo stuff. I just think it’s more effective to promote something with a positive alternative.

    And I’ll stop tone trolling now…

  14. 14
    Minnow

    “Minnow: It’s fairly clear that the LSE’s version of the local humanists being nice is to fuck right off. Additionally, the LSE doesn’t seem to care that asking (or ordering) humanists to fuck right off isn’t nice to the humanists.”

    The humanists, like everyone else at the fair, were allowed to stay so long as they obeyed the rules. They were allowed to tell anyone who approached them what their views were on any subject and to distribute any legal materials they wanted to, including Jesus and Mo merchandise. They just aren’t allowed to display controversial material in such a way as they cannot be avoided. Imagine, for example, that the Rugby Soc decided to display posters of T shirts with the motif: ‘Sometimes No Means Yes’. Would that be OK, if it only offended a few attendees, or may they reasonably be asked to remove it or leave?

  15. 15
    Minnow

    “Just admit it, Minnow: it’s a religious edict.”

    If you can explain how all the other prohibited materials fit that definition, I will.

  16. 16
    Minnow

    “I think you’re wrong about freshers fairs. I think they should certainly be places where people can be confrontational.”

    You may, but universities disagree and always have.

  17. 17
    Ophelia Benson

    “so long as they obeyed the rules” – you seem very confident about this, Minnow. What rules? Where are they?

  18. 18
    latsot

    Minnow….

    You say that universities disagree – and always have – that freshers fairs are places where people can be confrontational.

    I think a citation is going to be needed, don’t you?

    But please keep us informed since you speak for all universities.

  19. 19
    Maureen Brian

    You are right, AJ Milne. There’s a school in Derby now which illustrates this perfectly. Under the “free schools” option a group applied for recognition and funding – 100% taxpayer funding – to run a school which taught the Qu’ran and observed Islamic codes of diet and dress.

    Right! says the Department of Education, perhaps foolishly, here’s a little contract. We need to you to sign this to say that you will manage your money well, provide a good general education and obey the law. A legally binding contract, not some nod and wink arrangement.

    So! Last week the school was shut down at a moment’s notice. Now it is being investigated on all three counts and the top inspector has made public his letter to the governors – it says, basically, get your act together by 1 November or it’s curatins for you! In slightly more administrative language but that was the message, loud and clear.

    ——–

    I second the call to Minnow for a citation. When I went to my FF in 1960 – height of the Cold War, remember – I was greeted by a the Labour Society, I forget how many different Marxist operations (deep rifts, dontyakno?) and the University Branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain! And I came to no harm.

    See also Ally Fogg’s piece on the subject – http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2013/10/08/censoring-atheists-at-lse-is-a-victory-for-oppression/

  20. 20
    AJ Milne

    Minnow/#15: that’s a pretty pathetic attempt at evasion. The fact that other restrictions might be mixed into a code–and restrictions coherent with the principles and laws of a secular democracy–doesn’t somehow ‘sanitize’ this one of its clearly religious roots.

    (/Intriguingly, mind, it’s also in the general family of a fairly standard dodge among theocrats: arguing since ‘thou shalt not steal’ is a pretty good rule people are likely to agree upon, ‘thou shalt have no other gods before me’ must also be followed.)

  21. 21
    Latverian Diplomat

    So the point of the single panel is to:

    1) NOT offend muslims by depicting Mohammed
    2) Try to offend Christians by sharing the cartoonist’s unflattering depiction of Jesus
    3) NOT include an entire strip that would objectively convey the appeal of the strip to atheists as a lighthearted, eloquent, and on point critique of religion.
    4) All of the above?

    Any thoughts on which of these it is? Any other possiblities?

  22. 22
    Minnow

    ““so long as they obeyed the rules” – you seem very confident about this, Minnow. What rules? Where are they?”

    The rule is that you behave civilly. I did not mean that there is a formal written rule, but that is often the case. This soc had the rules explained to them, and they deliberately broke them. I am not against that necessarily, but it is silly to whine about getting expelled if getting expelled (to make a political point) was your intention.

  23. 23
    Minnow

    “I think a citation is going to be needed, don’t you?”

    A citation? You mean a study into Fresher Fairs? I don’t think such a thing exists. But if someone can show me a fair where groups of students were allowed to intimidate others I would be very interested.

  24. 24
    Argle Bargle

    The only intimidation was the LSE SU intimidating the atheists into covering their t-shirts, then declaring those censored t-shirts unacceptable and tossing the atheists out of the fair. Oh yes, the “offended” Muslims intimidated the LSE SU into intimidating the atheists. But intimidation by the atheists? That didn’t happen, unless you’re someone like Minnow who’s determined to find fault with the faultless.

  25. 25
    Minnow

    “The only intimidation was the LSE SU intimidating the atheists into covering their t-shirts, then declaring those censored t-shirts unacceptable and tossing the atheists out of the fair.”

    They were only tossed out when they refused to conform to the required standard of behaviour, they could have stayed and argued their case and distributed any materials they wanted. Asking to be thrown out and getting thrown out is not intimidation.

    And I do think that displaying provocative anti-Muslim materials at an event like this could be intimidating, especially for very young inexperienced people from a vulnerable and increasingly beleaguered minority group. If you doubt that’s possible, imagine how comfortable an atheist from a catholic family might feel walking into an event in Belfast displaying ‘Fuck the Pope’ posters.

  26. 26
    Ophelia Benson

    Minnow @22 – oh for heaven’s sake. You’re going to have to do better than that. You said

    The humanists, like everyone else at the fair, were allowed to stay so long as they obeyed the rules.

    - but now you say the rules are not written rules – so it turns out you don’t mean what you said at all, you mean something quite different.

    And then you imply that ASH were “displaying provocative anti-Muslim materials” and that’s just outright misrepresentation.

    Please use blockquotes for quoting.

  27. 27
    Ophelia Benson

    Oh and what’s this nonsense about “they could have stayed and argued their case and distributed any materials they wanted” – what’s your source for that?! Of course they couldn’t! They were being told they COULD NOT distribute i.e. display the materials they wanted to display.

    And this business about asking to be thrown out is really rather disgusting. They were not asking to be thrown out. They were participating in the fair like anyone else.

  28. 28
    Minnow

    but now you say the rules are not written rules – so it turns out you don’t mean what you said at all, you mean something quite different.

    No, I meant what I said. Not all rules are written down and I didn’t say ‘written rules’. But the activists had the rules explained to them in case there was any confusion and were given the opportunity to comply, so they knew these were the rules.

    And then you imply that ASH were “displaying provocative anti-Muslim materials” and that’s just outright misrepresentation.

    I didn’t imply this, I said they were displaying provocative materials likely to discomfit Muslims and that is true. If these materials were not meant to provoke, they would not have bothered to display them. Their intention was to provoke.

    Oh and what’s this nonsense about “they could have stayed and argued their case and distributed any materials they wanted” – what’s your source for that?! Of course they couldn’t! They were being told they COULD NOT distribute i.e. display the materials they wanted to display.

    My source is the article you link to above:

    “The SU asked the students to cover the t-shirts in the interests of good campus relations. The society remained free to share their literature and views.”
    I don’t see any reason to think the University were lying about that. They could distribute it, but not display it in such a way that people who were not interested in this literature or were likely to be offended or intimidated by it would have to see it. This is entirely normal.

    And this business about asking to be thrown out is really rather disgusting. They were not asking to be thrown out. They were participating in the fair like anyone else

    They were participating in a way that they had specifically been asked not to. It was a deliberate act of disobedience to prove a point and it could only end in them getting thrown out, which would result in the publicity that they were looking for. I am not against that, I have been in similar protests for the same reasons, I know how it works. But we did not whine when the protest achieved the results we aimed at.
    Again, if they had chosen to take off the T-shirts and merely distribute the cartoon, they could have. Just like the pro-life soc could distribute pics of aborted foetuses but not put them on T-shirts or posters for display. Nobody seems to mind that particular outrage against of the frozen peach, by the way.

  29. 29
    Ophelia Benson

    No. That’s stretching the meaning of “the rules” a good deal too far. Explaining expectations to people after the fact is not “the rules.” And expectations aren’t the same as rules, either. We have all sorts of social expectations, and sometimes we can reject or eject people for flouting them, but that still doesn’t make expectations “the rules.” If someone came over for tea and started calling me a cunt, the problem wouldn’t be a breaking of “the rules.”

    And then you imply that ASH were “displaying provocative anti-Muslim materials” and that’s just outright misrepresentation.

    I didn’t imply this, I said they were displaying provocative materials likely to discomfit Muslims and that is true.

    No no no no. Don’t cheat. You said:

    And I do think that displaying provocative anti-Muslim materials at an event like this could be intimidating

    and that implied that that’s what they were doing. Don’t cheat.

    About distributing but not displaying – that’s nonsense. They were standing behind their own table, not waving a banner and marching up and down.

    And then the stuff about “disobedience” – that shouldn’t even be a category here. Obedience is for children.

  1. 30
    “The rules” » Butterflies and Wheels

    […] anything wrong with it? I think there is, yes, so I’m thinking about why. (This started with a reply to Minnow on The proud tradition of a free […]

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