Alex Gabriel

Queer left politics, pop culture and skepticism.

Now LSE’s atheists are accused of Islamophobia

Atheists at UCL get bullied by their union. Atheists at Queen Mary get threatened in person by Muslims. Now LSE’s atheist society has been told it’s Islamophobic. (If I were in the godless group at King’s College, I’d be worried.)

One of committee members at LSE, Marshall Palmer, moonlights as a comment writer and submitted an opinion piece to to the student paper about recent events at UCL. When they and another publication turned it down, he set up a blog page here on Tumblr and published it himself.

Earlier today, the society told me their student union had accused them of Islamophobia. So before getting into the specifics of this, let me just take a moment here and say the following.

If you are a British student union, especially a London one, you need to wake up. The grounds UCLU gave for trying to censor its atheists were that wanted to ‘create a safe environment’. I don’t know if this is also LSESU’s motivation, but in any case – safe from what? People not following your religion’s teachings, and breaking them on a private Facebook group by posting a cartoon? People saying in blog posts that this was okay, and to reprint the cartoon?

Come out of your offices for a moment, student unions, and back to planet Earth. While you’ve been reeling in shock at the idea that Muslims’ hurt feelings don’t trump free speech, atheists at Queen Mary just got death threats, in person, from Muslims at their own event.

Isn’t that more of a problem, when it comes to safety? Can we talk about ‘bullying and harassment’ now? Tell me what you’re doing about that, then we’ll discuss Islamophobia.

In the case of LSE’s atheists, this wasn’t even a society blog. It was a post written by one of their members in a non-official capacity, in his spare time, albeit it referring to the feelings of his ‘friends and colleagues’. Are you telling us your rules about societies’ behaviour extend to everything any of their officers might personally do, outside office hours?

Maybe it’s me, and I should read Marshall’s post again in more detail, but I really can’t see the issue with what he writes. Its tone sometimes borders on the academic, so I understand why a student paper might not publish it, but he tells me he still hasn’t heard why it got turned down. Do we conclude that it was deemed Islamophobic, but no one wants to tell him so? Here, as far as I can see, are all his statements about Islam:

  • ‘Ideas in Islam are risible to the extent you could make a cartoon about them’.
  • ‘I cannot honestly empathise with any Muslim distraught by a cartoonish depiction of their Prophet’.
  • ‘Browsing the UCL Islamic Society’s website I came across a number of (real, not cartoonish) pictures that offended me’.
  • ‘Islam makes grandiose claims for itself and mandates some pretty absurd (and, at times, some evil and grotesque) laws.’

Seriously LSESU, are these sentences grounds for action? If someone from an atheist society had, on a private blog in their free time, made equivalent statements about Christianity, would you be contacting them to make accusations? If not, you’re the ones who should think about discrimination.

If religions are anything at all, they’re sets of claims. Christianity’s include original sin and resurrection; Islam’s include ascension to Heaven and angelic visits. (The two make many of the same claims, in fact, about God’s existence, life after death and the origins of the world.) When we diss Islam or any other religion, we’re not being prejudiced like racists or misogynists; we’re responding to claims. That’s all. Deal with it.

Come to your senses, student unions everywhere – especially LSESU. You have much, much bigger fish to fry than us doing this. And right now we’re very, very pissed off with you.


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