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Atheist Group Ejected for Blasphemy at English University

An atheist group at Reading University in England was thrown out of a freshman gathering for displaying a pineapple they had named Mohammed to make a point about both blasphemy laws and the absurd notion that religious beliefs should have special protection from criticism and insult.

The Reading University Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society (RAHS) said they wanted to celebrate free speech and promote their upcoming debate ‘Should we respect religion?’

But they were ordered to remove the offending fruit by union staff who said their actions were causing ‘upset and distress’ to a number of Muslim students and other societies.

RAHS refused, citing that they had labelled the pineapple after the Islamic prophet to ‘encourage discussion about blasphemy, religion, and liberty’.

The response from the student union was downright Orwellian:

In a statement given to Student Rights, RUSU said: ‘The RAHS were asked to leave the Freshers’ Fayre after receiving complaints from individual students about a display they had on their stall.

‘They were initially asked to remove the display and after refusal were asked to leave. Our Freshers’ Fayre is an inclusive event for all students.

‘As the society’s actions were causing upset and distress to a number of individual students and other societies attending we took the decision to ask them to leave.’

Yes, of course. It’s an “inclusive event for all students” — unless you express a viewpoint that another student might be upset about. Well, at least some of the time. If the atheist students had said that they were upset and distressed by a Christian or Muslim group, it’s highly unlikely that the religious groups would have been asked to leave.

There are few ideas that irritate me as much as the idea that we must “respect” someone else’s religious beliefs. What does “respect” even mean in that sentence? If it means support their right to hold and express them, then of course it’s true. But that isn’t how it’s ever actually used.

Comments

  1. anandine says

    “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

    –H.L. Mencken

  2. otrame says

    What about the feelings of atheists at all the religious booths. Did anyone consider their feelings?

    Yeah, I know. Silly question.

  3. =8)-DX says

    Well basically one could argue that if a Christian group had a stall saying “God hates fags” and a Muslim stall had a display saying “Behead all nonbelievers”, they’d probably be asked to take it down as well. “Mohammed is a pineapple” seems an absurd thing to be offended about, but then one has to take into account that the muslims (or even arab /from a muslim background) may have to deal with hate and islamophobia (or “muslimophobia”) in their everyday lives and this was seen as an extension of the same.

    That’s why I wouldn’t call it Orwelian, just misguided.

    In such a student setting I’d say a note explaining why an offensive image or statement is on display should be enough.

  4. Taz says

    “Mohammed is a pineapple” seems an absurd thing to be offended about…

    But they’re not offended about Mohammed being depicted a certain way, they’re offended about Mohammed being depicted at all, because it’s against their religious strictures.

    They’re not asking you to respect their religion, they’re asking you to obey it.

  5. Michael Heath says

    I think the question of whether to respect any particular idea is a good question to ask young people. Predominately because the culture promotes an unthinking respect of religion and other sacrosanct ideas just like it celebrates the juvenile character defect of faith. We even pass laws and policies which defectively conflate immutable characteristics with ideas. So we observe junior tyrants; the hole we need educators to dig us out of given this societal failure.

    I don’t find the action of this particular atheist group prudent at all. I think this type of argument will frequently fail in a forum where others have not yet come to develop an understanding on why ideas should earn respect rather than receive it by default. They have the right to be offensive, but they’re employing a tactic I think will promote disengagement on the topic in this type of forum. Where one person controls the floor they can probably leverage such offensive tactics to end up making a good case in point, but one with open dialogue is a challenge.

    So navigating through such contempt requires a moderator with a solid appreciation of the value of speech coupled to some strong thinking- and people-skills. One where the audience begins to better understand how more speech in reaction to the pineapple best serves even the Muslims who are offended. More speech is what authentic speech supporters predominately support in most contexts, but this atheist group makes this lesson a tough one to get across with this sort of behavior.

  6. Sastra says

    Since religion first claims to have rational support and then runs away from meeting these standards by insisting that one needs to have “faith,” people have a tendency to want to treat religious belief as if it were a moral or personal choice. Criticize the religious beliefs and you’re automatically seen as attacking the person. A person, moreover, who is weak and needy and feeling small … because that is when and how you come to God.

    When people throw off reason and lose the ability to distinguish an attack on an idea with an attack on a person, they become an enemy of freedom of speech. Criticism of a weak idea now equals bullying the weak. No good ever comes of that, long run.

    See, they can accept atheists as long as we don’t explain WHY we are atheists, and act like we think people ought to change their minds about their religious beliefs and become atheists, too. That’s forcing them to lose their identity. Can’t we just all get along and not argue? Don’t be so atheist-y.

    No. We tried that, smiling and nodding and blending in. It doesn’t really work. It’s left us firmly ensconced in the category of “incomprehensible people with no comprehension who choose to fight against love” … and we’ve just become too damn suspicious that their reassurance that they don’t mean anything negative against us when they think that can really be true.

  7. StevoR says

    Why does islam deserve respect or obediance from non-Muslims?

    I think respect – beyond a certain bare modicum – is earned.

    Also why a pineapple not, say, a nice piece of ham or a pork sausage or a pigsty?

    Fuck blasphemy laws and fuck thinking and demanding that a long dead medieval murderer and child molester deserves anything but our contempt and disgust.

  8. StevoR says

    @otrame :

    What about the feelings of atheists at all the religious booths. Did anyone consider their feelings?

    Oh come on, everyone knows them ebull atheits have no feelings at all!

    Except maybe anger and hatred, they seem to have those. /sarc.

    Course its not like there’s nothing to hate and feel angry over is it?

  9. dingojack says

    Uh Stevo – any actual proof that Mohamed was a ‘child molester’? (Or a ‘murderer’ for that matter).
    If you’re gonna make an argument you’d better have pretty unassailable proof.
    Dingo

  10. eric says

    Heath:

    So navigating through such contempt requires a moderator with a solid appreciation of the value of speech coupled to some strong thinking- and people-skills. One where the audience begins to better understand how more speech in reaction to the pineapple best serves even the Muslims who are offended.

    Except this wasn’t a presentation or talk. It was a booth at an event intended to introduce freshmen to the student groups on campus. The sort of thing where you walk around and see if there’s some group that shares your interests, that you might like to join.

    In such a context, it makes perfect sense for a group that promotes free speech and opposes censorship based on ‘offensiveness’ to have, at their booth, an example of exactly the sort of speech they wish to defend.

    One could even argue that its necessary so that interested freshman understand what sort of group they’re joining. Implying that the group focuses on defending happy puppy speech when it really spends most of its time defending offensive speech is bad for the group and bad for potential members. Because it doesn’t inform prospective members of the true nature of the group, or what they do.

  11. says

    There is also the ‘problem’ in that atheists don’t get as bloviatingly and sputteringly offended as the religious do. It’s because all that ‘taking offence’ is a cover for the indefensibility of their positions. There has to be part of you that ‘knows’ how utterly childish and stupid your religious position looks to other people. Even when I’ve had discussions with believers and I ask them if they really believe that Jesus rose from the dead, they blush and get this sheepish look, even when saying ‘yes’ to my face.

    You have willingly donned the dunces cap with no help or coersion from me. The decision to keep wearing it is ALL yours. IOW, only you can choose whether or not to be a dunce, and if you choose to continue to be a dunce, expect derision… Remember…THE CHOICE IS ALL YOURS…

  12. busterggi says

    I’ve said this before & here I go again – why do Muslims consider depicting a human being, aka Mohammed, as a human being offensive? Doesn’t this mean they are raising Mohammed to godhood as an equal of Allah which they would consider blasphemy?

    Or was it a particularly unsightly pineapple?

  13. Trebuchet says

    I keep wondering what would happen if the SSA showed up at a similar “Fayre” at a public college in the USA with a pineapple labeled “Jesus”. Not much different, I suspect.

  14. fastlane says

    Dingo@11:

    Uh Stevo – any actual proof that Mohamed was a ‘child molester’? (Or a ‘murderer’ for that matter).
    If you’re gonna make an argument you’d better have pretty unassailable proof.

    Ya just gotta have faith!

    I seriously think, even though it’s a bit childish, this is how we should approach some of the reactions by religious nutters. (i.e. make up even more outrageous BS, then claim to know it by faith) I doubt they would get the point, but it is way more entertaining than playing by the rules they want us to play by…..

  15. zmidponk says

    The Reading University Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society (RAHS) said they wanted to celebrate free speech and promote their upcoming debate ‘Should we respect religion?’

    I guess, according to RUSU, the answer’s ‘yes, even if that means that you have to effectively follow their religion, even if you think that religion is incorrect’. Of course, this means that whether you can pursue your religious choice is dependent on whether other people have religiously-based objections or are offended by that choice, which kind of goes against the whole concept of ‘freedom of religion’.

  16. abear says

    As for Muhammad being a child rapist: The vast majority of muslims consider the Hadiths of Bukhari especially to be coequal to the Quran and essential to the understanding of Islam and especially as the main source for the biography of Muhammad and his sayings.
    In some of these hadiths, Muhammad’s favorite wife Aisha (also daughter of first Caliph Abu Bakr) is said to recount how she was betrothed to Muhammad at age 6, M was 53, and the marriage was consummated when Aisha reached age 9.
    Rather than denying this occurred, orthodox muslims explain this as Aisha had reached puberty by then and this was the custom at the time, therefore this wasn’t pedophilia or child rape.

  17. Michael Heath says

    ashleybell writes:

    There is also the ‘problem’ in that atheists don’t get as bloviatingly and sputteringly offended as the religious do. It’s because all that ‘taking offence’ is a cover for the indefensibility of their positions.

    If only that were true. While they might be happy being blunt about religion, there are plenty of non-religious people who react badly to other types of speech. Where these non-religious people also can’t defend their positions and therefore tact all around the subject they want less speech, not more.

  18. abear says

    Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64:

    Narrated ‘Aisha:

    that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).

    Taken from Bukhari, considered the most reliable of the compilers of the sayings and life of Muhammad(hadiths).

  19. demonhauntedworld says

    What I don’t understand is why Mohammed is such a popular name. Shouldn’t proscriptions against depicting or blaspheming his name also extend to not naming your child after him?

    Which also raises the question: why is naming a pineapple Mohammed offensive, but naming a person Mohammed isn’t?

  20. StevoR says

    @11. dingojack :

    Uh Stevo – any actual proof that Mohamed was a ‘child molester’? (Or a ‘murderer’ for that matter). If you’re gonna make an argument you’d better have pretty unassailable proof.
    Dingo

    Try the Muslims own holy texts and accounts which state that Aisha was a nine year old girl when fifty plus year old “prophet” Mohammad raped her.

    Muslim accounts also talk of Mohammad waging war and killing people.

    Mohammad and his desert bandits fought many wars and committed many crimes as even a cursory reading of wikipedia is enough to show :

    The Banu Qurayza eventually surrendered; according to Ibn Ishaq, all the men apart from a few who converted to Islam were beheaded, while the women and children were enslaved.

    Given what is common knowledge about Mohammad’s life and deeds claiming Mohammad isn’t actually a murderer and pedophile would be the extraordinary claim in need of extraordinary evidence to support it here.

  21. StevoR says

    Source : Wikipedia’s Mohammad page – found in about five seconds.

    Plenty more where that came from.

  22. martinc says

    demonhauntedworld @21 said:

    why is naming a pineapple Mohammed offensive, but naming a person Mohammed isn’t?

    I’ve always wondered the same. I remember that case of a Western teacher in a Muslim country who got in terrible trouble for naming the class pet (a rabbit? – memory fails me) ‘Mohammed’ … yet half the kids reporting it were probably bearing that exact same name.

    It’s funny to look at the Christian equivalent: naming a child after Jesus is frowned upon. Christians name their kids after any one of the eleventy squillion saints, but not the big guy himself. Yet the Spanish have so such problem, and in South America it is perfectly possible to walk into a classroom of teenage Jesuses. Go figure.

    Hmmm … as I re-read the above, I see I’ve implied that the religious might be expected to be consistent and logical. My apologies.

  23. billyeager says

    Rather than denying this occurred, orthodox muslims explain this as Aisha had reached puberty by then and this was the custom at the time, therefore this wasn’t pedophilia or child rape.

    Except, of course, for the fact that it *was* pedophilia and it *was* child rape.

    They do like to excuse ‘that sort of thing’ as being solely the product of the ‘cultural values’ of the time, but what Muslims fail to accept is that it doesn’t change the nature of what the offence is!

    As they are compelled to do, by the very holy book he ‘wrote’, Mo must be venerated across the board. No question. The cognitive dissonance-inducing moral dichotomy for those Muslims who are actually willing to recognise that child rape is wrong, whether the law of the time said so or not, must be truly immense.

  24. dingojack says

    Stevo – you’re gonna have to do a lot better than that.
    1. What Muslim texts precisely?
    2. What is the source of these texts?
    3. What are the provenance of the texts?
    3. Could there be political reasons for these texts (or some other context)
    (4. WIKIPEDIA is NOT A RELIABLE SOURCE.)

    Conclusion. Evidence shaky at best. Not proven.

    As to the charges of murder there are several considerations:
    1. Is a legal or illegal?
    2. Was there malice or not?
    3. Are there mitigating circumstances?

    In order to prove your case (and remember YOU are making the claim so YOU have to prove it) you’ll have to cover these bases, beyond reasonable doubt.

    Disliking someone’s religion, or thinking their religion is nonsense is one thing, telling out-and-out lies is another. You’re no better than Barton, Washington, Ham et al.. Just another ‘Liar for [insert deity’s name here]’.

    Dingo

  25. Mark Sherry says

    It’s funny to look at the Christian equivalent: naming a child after Jesus is frowned upon. Christians name their kids after any one of the eleventy squillion saints, but not the big guy himself.

    Obviously from following context you’re talking about anglophone Christians, but I’d like to point out that the English equivalent of Yeshua is Joshua, which isn’t that uncommon. Certainly, “Josh Messiah” sounds a bit more hokey.

  26. dingojack says

    I once knew of a guy called Judas, bet there weren’t too many kids with the same name as him!
    :) Dingo

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