The University College London Union has insisted that the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society (ASH) remove a Mohammad-related image from a web-comic from its Facebook event on the grounds that it may cause offence to Muslim students and as a result of ‘complaints’.
The group is fighting back and has set up a petition, which must be unequivocally supported. Finally a pulse in the atheist, secular, humanist student movement (but I will get to that in another blog entry)!
The Treasurer of UCLU Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (the same group Anne Marie and I debated on Sharia law at the UCL in December) says that whilst the Society ‘are within their legal rights to keep their cartoon up and indeed, as they have done so, to put up more cartoons, regardless as to other people’s religious sentiments,’ they should remove it because it causes offense.
Of course in usual doublespeak, he adds that it may be that ‘the UCL Union is within their rights to request the UCLU ASH to remove the cartoon. The UCLU ASH is a branch of the Union and as such must abide by a particular code of conduct set out by the Union. It should be remembered that an act must be judged by its intention. It is obvious that the purpose of these cartoons is not to initiate discussion or reasonable criticism of Christianity or Islam but to insult and poke fun at. If the Union therefore judges this action as being deliberately hurtful and asks the UCLU ASH to remove the cartoon, it may be that UCLU ASH does not have reasonable grounds to resist. The Union must look to the sentiments of the whole of its student population and, being a branch of the Union, the UCLU ASH must abide by that decision.’
There has been huge support for the UCLU ASH Society. However, those supporting it because Jesus and Mo is ‘anything but savage and crass’ or because it is not ‘in any way driven by a wish to offend – they are quite witty, not crude or aggressive – and the ASHS might quite reasonably have assumed that those likely to be offended wouldn’t be hanging out on their Facebook page in any case’ miss the point.
Whether you like or dislike a specific form of expression is irrelevant. Just as irrelevant as what the woman who was raped was wearing or the nature of the ‘crime’ committed by the person facing execution, that is if you agree that rape or execution – and censorship for expressing a point of view – are fundamentally wrong, irrespective of the circumstances.
The issue is also not whether one intends to offend. Islamist sensibilities are offended by practically everything – from shaking hands with the opposite sex, being gay, being unveiled and dancing let alone leaving Islam and poking fun at it.
Limiting free expression to that which is ‘unintentionally offensive’ restricts the right to speak and aids the effort to censor speech. I have said it before and will say it again, what is the point of free expression if you cannot criticise that which is deemed to be taboo?
(via Greta Christina and Ophelia Benson)