The trouble at University College London, where a huge kerfuffle arose because a student secular society published the Jesus and Mo cartoon shown below (and the president of that society was forced to resign), has now spread to the London School of Economics (LSE).
According to The New Humanist, the Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society (ASHS) of the LSE put the same cartoon on their Facebook page, and was ordered by the LSE Student Union to remove it or be disenfranchised. The Union issued this statement:
“On Monday 16th January it was brought to our attention via an official complaint by two students that the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society posted cartoons, published by the UCLU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, depicting the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus “sitting in a pub having a pint” on their society Facebook page. Upon hearing this, the sabbaticals officers of the LSESU ensured all evidence was collected and an emergency meeting with a member of the Students’ Union staff was called to discuss how to deal with the issue. During this time, we received over 40 separate official complaints from the student body, in addition to further information regarding more posts on the society Facebook page.
It was decided that the President and other committee members of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society would be called for an informal meeting to explain the situation, the complaints that had been made, and how the action of posting these cartoons was in breach of Students’ Union policy on inclusion and the society’s constitution. This meeting took place on Friday 20th January at 10.30am. The society agreed to certain actions coming out of the meeting and these were discussed amongst the sabbatical team. In this discussion it was felt that though these actions were positive they would not fully address the concerns of those who had submitted complaints. Therefore the SU will now be telling the society that they cannot continue these activities under the brand of the SU.
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.”
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.)
According to the New Humanist, the ASHS will not comply; part of the statement they issued says the following:
“There are no reasonable grounds for the LSESU’s instruction because we are in no way violating their policies or byelaws. The cartoons on our Facebook page criticise religion in a satirical way and we totally reject any claim that their publications could constitute any sort of harassment or intimidation of Muslims or Christians. . . “.
A document prepared by the LSE Student Union for this Thursday’s discussion about criticism of Islam is disgraceful (and misspelled!):
1. In the right to criticise religion,
2. In freedom of speech and thought,
3. It has a responsibility to protect its members from hate crime and hate speech,
4. Debate on religious matters should not be limited by what may be offensive to any
particular religion, but the deliberate and persistent targeting of one religious group about any
issue with the intent or effect of being Islamophobic (‘Islamophobia’ as defined below) will not
5. That Islamophobia is a form of anti-Islamic racism.
Numbers 1 and 2 are completely at odds with #4. If one is free to criticize religion, then why is it prohibited to criticize one religion more than others? Presumably because, according to the document, “Islamophobia” is not a religion but a form of racism. That’s bogus: Islam is not a race but a religion, and Muslims come from many different ethnic groups, including those in Africa, Asia, and Middle East. It’s time to stop giving Islam special treatment under freedom of speech laws, especially if that’s just a response to Muslim threats of violence.