The LSE Student Union, again

From the London School of Economics Student Union Atheist, Secularist, Humanist Society on Wednesday, requesting a name change.

The significant change is supplementary: we would like to include “ex-Muslim” in our name, resulting in our new name: The LSESU Atheist, Secularist, Humanist and Ex-Muslim Society (LSESU ASHES). We are very excited about this, since we believe it to be a highly positive change that has the potential to improve the lives of some of our peers in some small way, as we will explain below.

The status of ex-Muslims in Islam is particularly precarious, and the historical and present-day Islamic response to people who become ex-Muslims is one that justifies our inclusion of the term in our name. We do not ask our members for their beliefs, but we estimate that approximately 20% of our members are ex-Muslim or from a Muslim background and we want to be inclusive and welcoming toward them.

People of a Muslim background face unique difficulties in abandoning their religion, both in predominantly Muslim countries and in Europe. A name that openly represents them will provide a visible support option: a society populated by like-minded people who have survived similar experiences, from whom they can draw support. We feel this is no different to, say, a society for students of a certain country, of which there are dozens. A German student may well find comfort or in the German Society by virtue of the fact that it will count many Germans among its ranks. A society with “ex-Muslims” in the name would attract former Muslims in much the same way.

While it is true that someone may leave Islam for another religion, and that such people may face many of the same difficulties as someone who turns away from organised religion altogether, most Muslims who turn away from Islam do not then join a different religion. Accordingly, we feel that combining outlooks such as atheism, humanism and secularism with ex-Muslim is complementary. Practically speaking, the number of members in an independent ex-Muslim society may prove too low for it to maintain a significant presence on campus. Further, there is a significant overlap of interests and concerns for atheists, humanists, secularists and ex-Muslims. In fact, our scepticism brings us all together into a loosely shared identity. This is underlined by the fact that the name change was approved after a discussion and free vote by our members.

Read the rest.

Yesterday the LSE Student Union told the Student Union Atheist, Secularist, Humanist Society that the name change would not be allowed.

The Activities Committee have decided not to grant the name change that you have requested.

We decided not to grant the name change because given the email that you sent us as why you would like to change the name, we feel that by adding ‘ex-Muslim’ to the society name it will no longer become a safe space for ex-Muslims; in the sense that it may be an indication as to where ex-Muslims can affiliate to. For this reason would you please consider replacing the ‘ex-Muslim’ part of the proposed name change to either ‘Atheist, Secularist, Humanist and ex-religious’ or ‘Atheist, Secularist, Humanist and ex-religion. This will be in order provide the safe space for all students who join your society and potentially increase your society membership.

Alex Gabriel comments at the Heresy Club. Hemant also has a post.


  1. AsqJames says

    by adding ‘ex-Muslim’ to the society name it will no longer become a safe space for ex-Muslims

    Um, what? Apart from the completely arse-backwards “logic” of that, “it will no longer become” could best be described as alternative grammar.

  2. stevebowen says

    There is some logic in the LSESU response given that apostasy is punishable by death according to Hadith and drawing attention to possible targets for Islamists may not be wise.

  3. Rodney Nelson says

    I could understand the Student Union’s point if the school was the University of Tehran, but apostasy is not a capital crime in England. ASHES is trying to let ex-Muslims know there’s a group that welcomes them and provides a safe place for them.

    It’s looking like the LSESU barely tolerates the Atheist & Humanist Society and wishes that those heathens would go back into the closet where they belong.

  4. says

    @AsqJames #1 – “Um, what?” was my first reaction also. They don’t seem to have explained that.
    I don’t claim to know which name would be most helpful for expanding membership and appealing to ex-Muslims in particular – but that response leaves me thinking the Student Union doesn’t know any more than I do.

  5. says

    Yeah, having the ex-muslim bit will just attract the fundie brigade. Anti-Religion is fine, just make your posters obvious by mentioning that you take in Ex-Muslims too.

    A separate “Ex-Muslim society” affiliated to this may be good but it does look like the university are trying to avoid trouble with fundies rather than take a stand on sensibility.

  6. AsqJames says

    The idea that it will just draw attention to their (ex-Muslims) existence and thus make them targets is reprehensible isn’t it.

    Not so long ago in Britain being gay was a crime. Then, after it was legalised, standing up and saying you were gay (or lesbian, bi, trans, etc) still made you a target of abuse, threats and actual violence. Too often it still does. But now we (at least the vast majority I hope) condemn those hurling abuse or making threats or dealing violence. And we support the right of gay people to be open about it without being subject to official sanction or social prejudice.

    In between legalisation and acceptance some, even some who saw themselves as supporting gay rights, were of the view that being open and vocal about it was a cause of some violence and prejudice against gay people. Maybe they didn’t like it all that much, but they would say they were just accepting that’s the way the world was. So gay people should just sit down & shut up and overall things would be better for everyone.

    It’s victim blaming. It says that, in some measure, you deserve what you get for provoking bigots.

    I’m sure stevebowen and Avicenna would disavow that position, but when you say it will “just attract the fundie brigade” or “drawing attention (…) may not be wise”, you’re saying this is the way the world is and we have to adjust to the bigots, not them to us. You’re saying “don’t provoke them”. You’re putting some responsibility on ASH, and the ex-Muslims who are already members, for any acts of violence which follow the name change.

  7. says

    Remember the university has other responsibilities… And indeed liabilities.

    If they give the go ahead for something like this and “something happens” questions will be raised and fingers will be pointed. They probably won’t go out on a limb because of that.

    I think there should be a specific Ex-Muslim component, but if I recall correctly the LSE had one event where religious fundies came and started taking photos of people in the crowds and who attended with the “nebulous statements of vague threats”.

    Let’s just say british muslims have had a fair few cranks who are loud, vocal and scary enough to affect islamic youth who have done some extremely stupid things at the behest of these cranks. Islam has a poor track record with things like this and imagine if you are liable and have no actual quarrel with this community.

    Call yourself ex-religious and run a “No Mo” night for ex-muslims may be a better option that alleviates LSE responsibility while being sufficiently tongue in cheek.

    Serve Bacon Double Cheeseburgers there.

  8. AsqJames says

    Well the Student Union is not the University, but pedantry aside I agree that some idiots may react badly. But if that’s the way LSESU are thinking, perhaps they could have made it a little clearer in their response.

    Of course the problem with that is the same people who are likely to react violently to the name change would label the SU Islamophobic if they suggest there might be a violent reaction to the name change.

    That’s the kind of catch-22 you get into when you try to placate people calling for censorship of others.

  9. says

    Avicenna, actually that was Queen Mary rather than LSE. The event was put on by One Law for All, co-chairs Anne Marie Waters and our colleague Maryam. It was rescheduled later, got a much bigger turnout, and had talks by both Anne Marie and Maryam, where the first one was Anne Marie only. The Streisand effect, in short.

  10. says

    I can understand the logic of “oh, no, let’s not attract unwelcome attention from the fundies (including the ones who are already in our student union and would leave or give us hell for that)”, but, my sweet nonexistent god, what a tortured answer from the LSESU! Why not just say “we don’t want to put the focus on one particular ex-religious group (even if this one has specific problems) so just be extra-inclusive and call yourself Ex-Religious”? I don’t know if it’s a result of embarrassment, or woolly thinking, or both.

  11. notsont says

    Changing it to “ex-religious” would defeat the purpose of the name change entirely. They wanted to draw attention to the fact that they were very open to Muslims in particular. I imagine its because most westerners would already know they would be welcome. Having Muslim in the name would attract the attention of the people they were looking to recruit.

  12. says

    Ophelia: it was indeed the Queen Mary group, although I’m told the people who made the threats thought it was a meeting of the UCL society. Round and round it goes – and what does it say about these people, that they can’t tell what university campus they’re on?

  13. Emily Isalwaysright says

    The group should just add a byline to all their promotional material which includes the term “ex-Muslim”. The name seems quite long already . . .

  14. anne mariehovgaard says

    How very unsurprising that the LSESU does not have the guts to state openly why they think this will make the atheist &c society no longer a safe space…

  15. Select says

    The very idea of ‘ex-Muslims’, the thought that something or someone could be post-islam is blasphemous to Muslims.

    And so the SU folds before the demands of the faith as though the faith were the higher law that should alwqays be respected

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