Jesus and Mo shirts cause a fracas at LSE

Both The British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society report that the London School of Economics is exercising censorship of students who wore and apparently sold Jesus and Mo teeshirts at the “Fresher’s Fair” (“Fresher” = American “freshman”).

From the NSS:

A row over free expression has broken out at the London School of Economics after members of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society (ASHSS) were told they would be physically removed from the annual Freshers’ Fair unless they covered up t-shirts deemed “offensive”.

Student Union officials removed materials from the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society stand and demanded that the group removed t-shirts they were wearing featuring satirical Jesus and Mocartoons. When asked for an explanation, LSESU officials stated that several students had complained about the t-shirts.

After a period of consultation a member of the LSE Legal and Compliance Team and Head of Security told the members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society that the wearing of the t-shirts could be considered “harassment”, as it could “offend others” by creating an “offensive environment”.

As I reported in January of last year, the ASHSS were also censored by the LSE Students’ Union for posting and Jesus and Mo cartoon on the group’s Facebook page.  As I wrote at the time (the Students’ Union complaint is in italics):

The LSE Students’ Union would like to reiterate that we strongly condemn and stand against any form of racism and discrimination on campus. The offensive nature of the content on the Facebook page is not in accordance with our values of tolerance, diversity, and respect for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religious affiliation. There is a special need in a Students’ Union to balance freedom of speech and to ensure access to all aspects of the LSESU for all the ethnic and religious minority communities that make up the student body at the LSE.”

[My response]: This is a masterpiece of dissimulation: the cartoon is not racist (Muslims are not a race!), and it doesn’t mandate discrimination.  It is a criticism of religion.  Saying that that is “discrimination” is equivalent to saying that a poster criticizing the Conservative Party is discrimination.  Why is it offensive to criticize religion but not political belief?  It is amazing that universities, which should be the very locus for dissent and discussion, would prohibit free criticism of religion in this way.  (You should, by the way, always be wary when you hear calls to balance free speech.)

The secular students’ account of events, posted here, is pretty distressing; it includes warning letters from the LSE School Secretary and the presence of security guard to ensure that the offensive tee shirts were not put back on.

The LSE Students’ Union is a humorless and repressive organization. As the NSS reports:

In 2012 the LSE Students’ Union effectively made blasphemy an offence following protests from Muslim students about a Jesus and Mo cartoon posted on the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist student group’s Facebook page.

The LSESU passed a motion proposing that ‘Islamophobia is a form of anti-Islamic racism’. The Union resolved “To define Islamophobia as “a form of racism expressed through the hatred or fear of Islam, Muslims, or Islamic culture, and the stereotyping, demonisation or harassment of Muslims, including but not limited to portraying Muslims as barbarians or terrorists, or attacking the Qur’an as a manual of hatred”.

Remember, Muslims are not a race, but a religion, one adopted or practiced by choice (if you can call indoctrination “choice”). It is not an unchangeable genetic constitution, but a set of beliefs that are, in general, invidious, repressive, sexist, and worthy of denigration. Muslims have no right not to be offended.

Presumably the LSESU wouldn’t object to tee-shirts that criticize the Labour Party, or pass motions calling anti-Labour views a form of “racism.” And, by the way, the Qur’an is in large part a manual of hatred.

What is going on here is familiar and obvious: the fear of offending Muslims leads to repression of free speech.

In fact, though, Jesus and Mo is both anti-Christian and anti-Muslim; it’s really just anti-religion as a whole, because sometimes they throw in Moses, too. But what’s driving all this is specific fear of Muslim rage or offense.

It’s time to stop this censorship. In fact, what we need are more people wearing Jesus and Mo shirts.  As Eric MacDonald has noted, the way to remove the sting of Muslim offense is simply to incite it so often that it becomes at once obvious, ludicrous, and ultimately meaningless.

Fortunately the Jesus and Mo artist has responded in this week’s cartoon2013-10-04I would have thought that many Muslim students came to Britain to escape the varieties repression and censorship in Islamic countries. And yet Muslim students in the UK seem pretty damn militant, and just as easily offended as their overseas confrères. And the officials at LSE fall all over themselves to cater to them. As I’ve said before, if one sees Muslims as a “race,” then the accommodationists are the real racists, because they hold Muslims to lower standards than other religions or other groups.  Muslims are allowed to have tantrums when they’re offended, and, indeed, when they do so  they’re given candy to quiet them down.

59 Comments

  1. Posted October 5, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Maryam Namazie will be speaking at the LSE in the near future and says that she plans to wear a J&M tee herself!

    LSE’s PR says, inter alia, “LSE is committed to promoting freedom of expression…” … except when it’s cowed by Islamists, obviously.

    /@

  2. Hempenstein
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Predictable reaction of people just coming out of their sheltered little worlds where all share the same set of irrational ideas. Welcome to the bigger world.

  3. Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I smell deep insecurity. Just ask the folks at Charlie Hebdo.

  4. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    I find instruments of torture – specifically, crucifixes – to be offensive. And yet, I see them on t-shirts all the time.

  5. OGee
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    At least we got an extra J&M this week!

  6. gbjames
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Shameful. And unsurprising.

  7. Richard Olson
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Appeasement and accommodation never placates fanaticism. They fuel it.

    • Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Excellent comment. +1 and then some.

    • ridelo
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Yeah! Remember Hitler and Chamberlain.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 5, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        Arguably, Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” bought just enough time for Britain to build up its defences to ‘win’ the Battle of Britain and beat off the German invasion threat. So it’s not a very good example in this context.

        • Richard Olson
          Posted October 5, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          Are you claiming Chamberlain placated Hitler?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 6, 2013 at 3:14 am | Permalink

            That seems to be Ridelo’s claim, and I’m sure I’ve seen numerous references to that. I’ve also seen the view I mentioned expressed, that Chamberlain was (intentionally or accidentally) buying time. Heaps of references both ways in Google.

  8. Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I am deeply, practically religiously offended by anybody who would restrict freedom of speech. It is part of the very core of my identity that opinions, even — nay, especially — offensive ones, must never be silenced.

    And my right to not have my freedom of expression inhibited trumps by a long shot the desires of others to not be offended.

    Mohammad can go shove a Q’ran up his ass, and I would heartily invite his worshippers to do the same before stopping me from saying as much. If they want to tell me that Mohammad is going to have me roasted in Hell for my words, that’s fine and dandy. But I’ll be damned before I’ll be silenced.

    Cheers,

    b&

  9. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    What would one of LSE’s cofounders George Bernard Shaw say?

  10. Sines
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    So let me get this straight… you think that arabs are biologically pre-disposed to being muslims to the point that islamophobia is inherently anti-arab, and you think the people who disagree with that notion are racists?

    Listen, guys, I’m sure there are plenty of UK people who hate muslims because they’re arabs. But if you can’t tell the difference between them and people with legitimate complaints, then you’re exercising the same level of discrimination between people and ideas as those racists. You are exactly what you hate.

    • Dave
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      The vast majority of muslims in the UK are not arabs, they’re of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian or other south Asian descent, followed by people of Turkish or Somali origin. Arabs are probably a very small percentage of the total. In my opinion there are very, very few people here who “hate muslims because they’re arabs”, or indeed who “hate” them at all. However there are many people in the UK, myself included, who are just heartily sick to death of the constant complaining, whining, threatening, justifying of terrorism, demands for special treatment, censorship of criticism, misogyny and hate-preaching of the more extreme elements of the muslim population (or their self-appointed spokesmen and apologists on the left of the political spectrum).

      Personally, I very much wish I could just ignore muslims and Islam, as I pretty much could before the Salman Rushdie affair in 1989 and all that has come after it. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. If muslims in the UK are increasingly regarded with suspicion and repressed hostility, as I think they are, then they really have no-one to blame but themselves. Every incident like this depressing LSE affair just turns the ratchet one notch further.

      • pulseteresa
        Posted October 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        “If muslims in the UK are increasingly regarded with suspicion and repressed hostility, as I think they are, then they really have no-one to blame but themselves.”

        No. They can blame other Muslims.

        • Posted October 7, 2013 at 3:10 am | Permalink

          OK, so they have other Muslims (Islamists) to blame.

          But are the liberal/moderate/peaceful Muslims to blame for not speaking out more openly and more strongly against Islamism?

          /@

          • gbjames
            Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:23 am | Permalink

            IMO, yes. (Actually, I’m wondering if you didn’t leave out the word “not”, as in “..not to blame…” by accident.)

            • Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:41 am | Permalink

              (Maybe. I was trying to mirror the structure of the original statement.)

              /@

              • gbjames
                Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:53 am | Permalink

                I need to drink this coffee. I missed the subtlety having just awoken.

    • gbjames
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Where does anyone here make that claim? (arabs are biologically disposed…)

      Please point it out, because I think it is only in your head.

      Is your comment supposed to be a defense of the Student Union’s position?

      • Sastra
        Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Maybe Sines is addressing the Student Union? I agree: it’s not clear.

        So let me get this straight… you think that arabs are biologically pre-disposed to being muslims…

        Sines: who is “you” supposed to be?

      • Sines
        Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        Sorry, yah, I’m complaining about the student union. If they’re going to call being against Islam to be ‘racism’, then they’re implying that to be Arab (or as someone else pointed out, a variety of other races, I don’t know what the umbrella term would be) is to be a muslim.

        I’m saying that the very act of calling anti-islam statements ‘racism’ is, in and of itself, racism.

        The idea that arabs must be biologically predisposed to being muslims is the only way that anti-islam could be considered to be racist. Perhaps I could have been a bit more descriptive. Confusion happens whenever I try to be pithy, I’m much better when I’m long-winded :D

        • gbjames
          Posted October 5, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for clarifying. Now I don’t have to argue with you! ;)

        • Jeffrey
          Posted October 6, 2013 at 3:18 am | Permalink

          You don’t know what to call them. South Africa used to collectively call them “Non-Whites”. Criticism of Muslims is not a criticism of so-called “Non-Whites”, it is criticism of an ideology.

        • Nick Evans
          Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

          “The idea that arabs must be biologically predisposed to being muslims is the only way that anti-islam could be considered to be racist.”

          Not in the context of the UK. Attacks on Islam have been used a coded form of attacks on immigrants from Muslim countries for some time now, since about the 1990s, when our anti-immigrant types realised that they couldn’t criticise people simply for being Pakistani/Bangaldeshi/Indian and expect sympathy, but could if they criticised their religion.

          This doesn’t cover every manifestation of anti-Islam in the UK, but is a real subsection of it. LSE Students’ Union, like a lot of SUs around the country, is particularly humourless and devoid of nuance, so has conflated both types together. Given the general leftistness of SUs, they probably also do it to bolster their opposition to the “war on terror”, which can also be seen as an anti-Islamic thing, given the number of Muslims it seems to have killed.

  11. Alex Shuffell
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I’m offended by people who are easily offended.

    • Taz
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      You take that back!

  12. Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    And yet Muslim students in the UK seem pretty damn militant … And the officials at LSE fall all over themselves to cater to them.”

    A nit-pick. Yes, there are plenty of militants among Muslim students, but so far there aren’t report of any specified *Muslims* objecting to these T-shirts at the LSE. What there are are LSE SU officials making claims that people are being offended and take offense on behalf of such people.

    Taking offense on behalf of other people like this is common in the UK, and leads to a lot of self-censorship. In many ways this is laudable, not accepting anything that could be regarded as denigration of immigrant communities, but the attitude can also be overdone, and is being overdone.

    I suggest that this attitude, rather than actual fear of how Muslims might respond, is behind how the LSE SU are behaving over this.

    • Paul Spence
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      This taking proxy offence is never laudable, how could it ever be?

      I’m offended by loads of things religious people do, say and wear. I won’t stop them but I’ll bloody well tell them what I think.

      • MikeN
        Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

        Really? So white people shouldn’t have supported Martin Luther King? I shouldn’t take proxy offence at people throwing acid in young girls’ faces?

        The people taking offence at this are reasoning (incorrectly,in this case) that they are standing up for a racial/ethnic minority that is being discriminated against.

        Since most Muslims in Britain belong to racial/ethnic minorities that are often discriminated against, some non-Muslims will conflate the racial and religious, and question the motives of the people involved in protesting against the religion.

        Note that the atheist group are very careful to differentiate themselves from right-wing racists.

        • Posted October 6, 2013 at 12:40 am | Permalink

          I don’t think that throwing acid in young girls’ faces is something that you “take offense” to… Surely it provokes a much strong reaction than that?

          /@

  13. George Wilson
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    This makes my toes curl with rage. I don’t believe any sentient being, especially in an academic setting, genuinely holds that anti-religious messages are discriminatory. To treat them as such is lying and cowardly, and to repress freedom of expression on the back of it is sick.

  14. Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    That last frame is great.

  15. Sastra
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    The offensive nature of the content on the Facebook page is not in accordance with our values of tolerance, diversity, and respect for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religious affiliation.

    One of these things is not like the other …
    They’re placing “religion” in the wrong category and therefore going against their own standards and ideals.

    An enlightened, tolerant society values and promotes diversity and respect for different ideas. BUT there are two different categories of “diverse group” and the goals and rules in each are the opposite. Import the approach from one group into the other and you risk bigotry, discrimination, and intolerance.

    A Diversity Smorgasbord has to do with identity, lifestyle, taste, and preference. This is where race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual affiliation belong — along with liking Beethoven or being a Star Trek fan. No right, no wrong: just different. A Diversity Smorgasbord deals with self-identities so the focus is on the person and their right to be who they are. Celebrate the variety and don’t judge or condemn. Don’t offend the individual and don’t try to make them be like you: don’t bully.

    That’s great. But it’s not the only way to frame “different points of view.” And this is where I think it gets critical to understanding where there’s a problem here.

    A Diverse Problem-Solving Group values lots of different ideas because self-identity is supposed to be suppressed in the quest for the common goal of truth finding. Discover each others’ mistakes, learn, grow, move on. It’s not about staking who you are on a conclusion. It’s about seeking a consensus based on reason and evidence.

    You’re supposed to argue. You’re supposed to be trying to change someone’s mind. That’s not bigotry. That’s not bullying. That’s human progress. It’s cohesive.

    The Diverse Problem-Solving Group involves all the things scholars study to advance knowledge. And it includes politics, science, social theory, economics …AND RELIGION. Damn it.

    Because ultimately religion isn’t supposed to be all about deciding who you are and what kind of person you want to be: it’s supposed to be about whether God exists or not. Isn’t it?

    They know this. Find me a believer who is ‘offended’ over blasphemy and I’ll see if they think the truth of God is just marginal window-dressing in their search for their own special identity. They won’t think that — but they are forced to act as if they DO believe that because of the insidious, sneaky, game-changing nature of the immunizing strategy called Religious Faith.

    Religious Faith confuses conclusions with identity: you believe what you believe not because you objectively reasoned facts from evidence but because you subjectively reached out and chose to make a connection with the divine. Belief in God reflects who you are. You pick who you want to be like: a cold-blooded, narrow-minded atheist … or someone who recognizes God through an act of love and hope.

    And thus the temptation to stick “religion” in with race and gender and talent and taste and everything else in the Diversity Smorgasbord, where telling people they’re wrong is forbidden because that doesn’t mean they’ve made a mistake, it means they ARE a mistake.

    As I see it the ultimate problem here at LSE isn’t extremism. It’s faith. Faith is a strategy for immunizing a belief from criticism by placing it in the wrong category. It flips religious claims from solving a universal problem (“what is the nature of reality?”) to being a personal self-expression (“I want to be the kind of person who has faith.”) Then back again…. as required.

    It’s not just a problem with Islam. It’s a problem with all ‘sacred’ styles of thought. Religious Faith is absolutely deadly to an honest spirit of inquiry.

    This point needs to be hammered home. Particularly in a seat of Higher Learning.

    • Posted October 5, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      Is there anything that faith doesn’t fuck up royally?

      b&

    • Notagod
      Posted October 6, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the link to the petition. Signed!

  16. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    the presence of security guard to ensure that the offensive tee shirts were not put back on.

    I’m slightly surprised that the security guards could tell whether or not an offensive tee-shirt was being worn, or by whom. Surely the inevitable burkas would have been donned immediately to protect the faces of the Atheists, Seculars and Humanists from the lustful eyes of the offended religionistas. as predicted by the Artist.
    I don’t have any particular reason to expect to visit “The Smoke” any time soon, but I’d expect to be able to find the LSE by simply mapping the concentration of J&M tee shirts on the streets. Oh, actually … there’s a couple of worthwhile sounding things on at the BM at the moment, so it might just be worth a detour.

  17. Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on hitchens67 Atheism WOW!! Campaign and commented:
    This is amazing and only satirical. I am ordering my J&M tee today in support of this!

  18. Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Darn, imagine how awesome it would have been to have had this J&M cartoon on a t-shirt worn underneath the one’s they were complaining about.

    “We’ve had some complaints from other students, now remove or cover up those t-shirts, or we’ll have you forcibly removed.”

    “Sure, we’ll remove them.”

    “Damn…”

    • SA Gould
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      Maybe “over there” that would be tolerated, but here in the states, after the first time you did that, you’d be far more likely to be Tased, forcibly arrested (and not politely) or shot. (And I wish I could say I was joking.)

  19. Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    IANAL, but in the UK “harassment” falls under the Public Order Act 1986. Giving offence is not harassment. It used to be the case that “insulting” behaviour could be, but that’s been removed by the Crime and Courts Act 2013, thanks to a high-profile campaign supported by Rowan Atkinson et al..

    /@

    • Nick Evans
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      Though this isn’t a criminal matter, but the organiser of a private event deciding who it wants to participate and on what terms. They’re therefore not necessarily using the word “harrassment” in the same way as the Public Order Act, and do indeed seem to have redefined it in their own terms. As they did “Islamophobia”.

      • Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

        Well, quite. One concern is whether “harassment” is being used legitimately. Another is whether it’s lawful for campus security to use physical force to enforce university bylaws if no criminal offence is being committed. One for the lawyers.

        /@

  20. Larry Gay
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    “Student Union officials . . . demanded that the group remove t-shirts they were wearing …”

    Isn’t there a Femen affiliate in London? Surely this would be an opportunity.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      I would just *love* to see that. Just think of the effect it would have on the burqua-pushers. (Well, that’s one reason, anyway).

  21. Diane G.
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    sub

  22. Jeffrey
    Posted October 6, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    I was a student in the UK in the mid-1960,s and the LSE was always a radically left-wing institution. I would expect nothing less from a Commie driven outfit. Commies have always shut down free speech.

  23. Posted October 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    it gets worse; the explanation compounds the offense: http://lsesu.tumblr.com/post/63078743117/statement-on-events-at-lse-su-freshers-fair

    • jeremyp
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:01 am | Permalink

      I was going to write a post correcting the original article by pointing out that the LSESU and the LSE are not the same thing and that the LSE couldn’t be blamed for this nonsense.

      However, that joint statement shows that the LSE and the LSESU are in this together. I’m glad I got down this far through the replies before making a fool of myself.

  24. Dominic
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    The Jesus and Mo artist is a genius – well a great wit anyway.

    The mohammedan’s religion is definitely eager to feel discriminated against but it is itself the most intolerant of dissenting views. What happens to an atheist in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, etc…?

  25. Posted October 7, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t LSE founded explicitly to avoid the religious entanglement of the traditional “Oxbridge” colleges?

  26. godlesspoutine
    Posted October 11, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Add another Canadian screed against “cry-baby” atheists and Richard Dawkins here:

    http://www.mysecretatheistblog.com/2013/10/another-day-another-screed-against-cry.html


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