The right to offend – even more crudely and savagely than Jesus and Mo

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)


  1. BillyJoe says

    Two can play this game.
    If the UCLU Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association succeed in having the cartoons removed on the basis that it causes offense, let me suggest that the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society look up cartoons or articles published in the name of Islam which cause offense and have them removed as well.

  2. says

    Who cares if it offends. That’s their problem, not ASH’s. If it were a Xian thing that was being made fun of we would be seeing this crap, but since it’s Mo-ham-mad, everyone gets scared, which is just plain stupid because it curbs free speech. I say let them have their picture and ignore those who take offence. Those who take offence can just grow up.

  3. Rafiq Mahmood says

    Actually, why not ban it? Good idea. It’ll spread like wildfire then. Always happens when you ban stuff. What we really need is a caption competition for the image. My entry: “If you really want to lose your mind, try swallowing our brew.”

  4. Nilou Ataie says

    The Jesus and Mo comic hurts your feelings? Your backward religious doctrine hurts mine. I am highly offended by verses in the Koran and I call for it to be removed from any and all Muslim Student Association events. If you have the right to be offended, so the hell do I.

  5. kraut says

    My problem is: I am offended in my atheist sensitivities by the mere knowledge that something so outrageous as – the abrahamic religions in particular – exists.

    I demand forthwith to stop insulting me by eliminating any societal structure that gives succor to those irrationalities, and insist on their withering away by latest the end of this year.

  6. says

    I was looking up further coverage of this story and came across your links to my post. I did, in fact, say I would still support a petition if the material was more offensive. I argued the case for not banning Westboro Baptist demonstrations with my teenage son recently. Just not with great passion.

    Surely one doesn’t have to be an Islamist to find the cartoon offensive?

    • says

      Of course you don’t have to be an Islamist to find it offensive but this is Islamist sensibilities speaking as a result of several decades of their having power and restricting what is permissible to say and do. I know you aren’t for banning speech that is offensive but the yeah but no but attitude towards these issues are part of the problem. ‘Yes I know you have a right but it is better not to do it or better not to do it this way or that way’. It is better Aliaa does not strip down; it is better for Gulnaz not to speak of her ordeal in Afghan’s prisons; it is better not to establish a Council of Ex-Muslims and on and on. Many liberals and leftists are saying it as are the Islamists and their apologists. This doesn’t mean everyone does it for the same reasons but the results are the same. less and less space for us to speak and breath.

  7. echidna says

    What offends me is the imposition of religious strictures that were only ever meant to apply to those within a particular religious group on non-members of that group.

  8. David says

    Surah 24- 2 Insists that all who fornicate should be given a 100 lashes this is threatening other students with violence! Surely threats of GBH to other students is worse than a cartoon.

  9. Mary2 says

    What I find incredibly offensive is that the Muslims who are offended by this cartoon have obviously never read one. It is Christians who should find Jesus and Mo offensive, after all, it IS Jesus pictured at the bar. Anyone familiar with the series should know that Muhammed has NEVER been pictured in the cartoons – the author quite clearly states that the drawing is not of Muhammed but that of a body double.

    Jesus and Mo is not written to mock religion (except when it is) it is a way of exploring ideas. The author cleverly puts the religious figures in unexpected situations to allow us to take a fresh look at what these religions are actually saying, allowing us to explore the issues free from the usual cultural baggage attached to some of these ideas. How tragic that debate and discussion is now seen as causing offence – but suprisingly only when it comes from the atheists. No one is told to stop offending people when they say that their God sees gay people as an abomination who should be executed.

  10. Schenck says

    Not to mention the irony of the Ahmamdiyya saying it offends their religion, when a lot of muslims think that the very existence of the Ahmadiyya is an offense to islam.

  11. says

    “If the reason I give is a good one, you will act upon it. If it is a bad one I cannot make it better by piling epithet upon epithet. There is no logic in abuse; there is no argument in an epithet.” Robert Ingersoll

    “Arguments cannot be answered with insults. . . . Kindness is strength. . . . Anger blows out the lamp of the mind. In the examination of a great and important question, every one should be serene, slow-pulsed, and calm.” Robert Ingersoll

    • Nilou Ataie says

      Dearest RUNMAD,
      The Koran incites fear with threats of eternal suffering, bullies people into worshiping a Dear Leader that puts Kim Jong Il to shame, excuses and promotes pedophilia and misogyny, and was written by a (or several) mentally and ethically challenged plagiarist(s). I have given you plenty of good reasons why one should not use that text to guide ones life, all of which have to do with enhancing morality, now will you kindly reconsider?

      • says

        Great, you’ve expressed your opinions. Now that you’ve presented your point of view, let us have a civilized public debate to discuss these things and let people decide for themselves, rather than resort to cartoons that do little more than create divisions and discord.

        Your “leader” Dawkins’ website talks about the need to create tolerance. Rather than engage in pointless cartoons that do nothing to advance humanity, the AMSA is ready and willing to engage in a civilized discussion.

        Can you all do the same without resorting to insults? Rather, can you all do the same instead of resorting to insults?

        • says

          Who said Richard Dawkins is our leader? He’s not mine, although I do like some of what he says. Religion has committed many crimes against humanity, as well as been very irrational and anti-intellectual, over the years and if you take that as an insult, well then I’m sorry. So what if someone creates a cartoon to express themselves about religion. It’s no skin off your back, but a primitive flogging is. Religion is more asinine than a silly cartoon. Religion is more delusional than a silly cartoon and it is certainly more superstitious than a silly cartoon.

          • says

            Again, you keep avoiding the simple question I’m asking. Will you have a civilized debate instead of insulting, or will you only continue to insult?

            Why are you avoiding a proposal to have an open, civilized discussion, and let people decide what they wish to believe or not believe for themselves?

            You bring up arguments, let’s have a public debate then. What’s the hold up.

          • says

            You want a public debate, Runmad? Then let’s have it on the psychological effects of religion and how it stunts developmental and cognitive growth in individuals, as well as how it oppresses individual thinking. Let’s also go for a third- how the natural world can give the same neuro-stimulating effects as religion and be psychologically healthier for the individual than religion. How is that for a debate? Of course, you maybe at a loss on neurology and psychology and therefore unable to debate intellectually and knowledgeably on those topics.

    • Mary2 says

      Do you think religious fanatics will sit down with us for a peaceful chat or are they too busy demanding that we respect their ‘right’ to have segregated buses and to spit at 8 year old who are ‘improperly’ dressed?

      If you do not want your ideas ridiculed; don’t hold ridiculous ideas.

      • says

        Not sure how you’re confusing extremist Jews in Israel with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Student Association.

        But, the AMSA is willing and ready to sit down for another debate, if you are willing to do the same, instead of resorting to insults. Ball is in your court my friend.

          • says

            LOL Great argument. So it goes something like this.

            Atheist: Religion is evil

            Muslim: No it isn’t, let’s have a public civilized debate and let people decide for themselves.

            Atheist: No, you lie about religion being good, when in actuality religion is evil, you can’t fool me. Religion is evil.

            Let it be known, therefore, that you are the one who is being intolerant, closed-minded, and following like a lemming. Alas, if only you were Muslim, then you would champion freedom of conscience.

          • says

            Runmad, I can give psychological documentation that religion is psychologically damaging and even stunts cognitive development:

   Links to all 3 parts of Dr. Marlene Winell’s article are there

   This video shows the various developmental stages religion hijacks. That is not intolerance, that is showing that the science is on my side when it comes to showing that religion is psychologically damaging. What do you have to show religion is a good thing, besides your little book?

          • says

            Secondly, Runmad, if I were a Muslim, I would not be championing anything except oppression and submission to what? Slavery? A figment of the imagination? Whatever the case, it is not freedom of anything to submit to any religion. It is pure oppression.

  12. says

    @ mrianabrinson – You asked, “What do you have to show religion is a good thing, besides your little book?”

    I thank you for asking a substantive question. This sounds like a GREAT question for a debate. Contact the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association and let’s make it happen. Or, send an email to and let’s set it up.

    • Martyn N Hughes says

      @ RUNMAD – You asked, “What do you have to show religion is a good thing, besides your little book?”

      History, and history alone proves religion to be a bad thing. Oh, and let’s not forget current affairs, like…

      The hatred spewing from all corners of East Londons mosque
      The death of Theo van Goth
      The death of Pim Fonteyn
      The ‘Mohammed cartoon fiascoTM’

      Not to mention,.. Amputations, hangings, stonings, Inquisitions, crusades…

      There is no debate here. Religion kills. History and current events prove it.

  13. Simon says

    Haitham Al-Haddad is a PhD candidate at SOAS. But in an article titled “Standing up against Homosexuality and LGBT” on he favourably says that Allah informs us: “… We rained down on them a rain (of stones). See how came about the end of the criminals!”. He is very clear “they initiated an evil never committed before them and as a result of their transgression Allah destroyed them”.

    But UCL get upset over a cartoon? Here is actual hate speech – calling for violence. Will he be kicked out? No of course not.


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