The militants that never were

Chris Moos writes about the rise of the university faith warrior at The Freethinker.

British universities might not seem to be the most fertile ground for the faith warrior. After all, most of them have been built on secular principles. And yet, it is in British academia that a new breed of faith warrior is pushing for power. Ideologically and financially, they are propelled by the various strands of the international religious far-right and their allies on the post-modernist left. And their influence is growing.

The star among them is Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, whom we read about via the NSS yesterday. Chris’s article was the source of the NSS piece.

Calhoun has just published a paper with the Leadership in Higher Education Foundation. The thrust of his argument is that in our “postsecular society”, “religion needs attention in scholarship, research and teaching because it is important in the world”.

Of course, it is the hallmark of religious privilege to demand a share of the public space simply by reason of self-ascribed importance, while failing to provide any convincing argument for this demand.

It is, isn’t it. That’s very neatly put. Of course faith warriors would say they do provide convincing arguments, but…well they would say that, wouldn’t they.

[Calhoun ] wants religion to be a frame of reference in everything a university does, as a remedy against “repressive secularism”.

That’s reminiscent of the “naked public square” nonsense that’s been so popular over here for so long. Secularism isn’t the space where people can meet as equals no matter what their religion or non-religion – it’s “repression” by demonic unbelievers.

Then Chris gets to Calhoun’s distorted account of the Jesus and Mo T shirts at LSE.

It is only when it comes to the question of non-believers that Calhoun provides a clear assessment:

Atheists have recently grown more active – even militant – within universities, often making free speech an issue as they seek to challenge the faith and beliefs of religious students […] [making] a point of mocking religious convictions and symbols. […]

The LSE experienced its own small episode of this in 2013 when members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society approached Muslim students at Freshers’ Fair wearing T-shirts taken to mock Jesus and Mohammed, and were asked by [sic!] general secretary of the Students Union either to cover the offending T-shirts or to leave.

Except that they didn’t. Just like the people shouting that Tim Hunt was sacked from his job, Calhoun makes his case via a misrepresentation of what happened. Chris and Abhishek did not “approach Muslim students.”

Of course, we never approached Muslim students with our t-shirts. We were standing behind our stall, and Muslim students actually approached us in good spirits. We had friendly chats, exchanged invitations, and discussed possible joint events.

Nobody even mentioned our clothing – until the Students’ Union officials barged in, ripped down our posters and demanded that we “cover up”. Later, we would ask for evidence of complaints from LSE. We never received any. Neither was there any mention of us having “approached” Muslim students with our t-shirts in the subsequent exchanges between us and LSE. But of course, drawing a picture of us harassing our fellow students makes for a much better case for riling about “militant atheists”.

It must be especially nice when it’s the Director of your own university misrepresenting you that way. Ah well, Chris has his PhD now, so he can snap his fingers under Calhoun’s nose.

That does not mean to say that there was no grave case of harassment. The Students’ Union did indeed ask us to cover the t-shirts. But this is not what caused the internationally reported outrage. What did cause outrage was that, over the course of two days, we were surrounded, intimidated, humiliated and harassed by Director Calhoun’s security guards and eventually forced to cover up our t-shirts under threat of physical expulsion, disciplinary procedures and allegations of infringements of the law.

Yet Calhoun is calling secularism “repressive.” You couldn’t make it up.

Read the rest, including the comments.


  1. says

    In a strange way that takes me right back to the 60s, when the LSE immediately brought to mind caricatures of activists worthy of the pages of Private Eye. Differents ends now-a-days, but…

  2. iknklast says

    Of course, it is the hallmark of religious privilege to demand a share of the public space

    Of course, the sad thing is that they already have space in the public square. They want domination of the public square, without opposing views. They don’t want any secular voices in the public square.

  3. luzclara says

    The poor darling victims, all of those poor religious who have been suppressed and annoyed and not given their share of public space by the militant atheists. . .

  4. Al Dente says

    Calhoun is not arguing “here’s how atheists are wrong” but “how dare atheists argue their case.”

  5. Dunc says

    Just a thought… How much does the LSE rake in in tuition fees from students from our favourite Islamic theocracies in the Gulf?

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