Alex Gabriel

Queer left politics, pop culture and skepticism.

#rally11feb to defend free expression

According to a statement LSE student union just put out, they’re now pursuing a complaints procedure with their atheist society. The full statement, which you can read here, is several paragraphs long, so I’ve slightly condensed it:

LSE SU 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 … the action of posting these cartoons was in breach of Students’ Union policy on inclusion and the society’s constitution. … 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 LSE SU for all the ethnic and religious minority communities that make up the student body at the LSE.

The society assures me they’ll be fighting this and I’ll support them however I can, as should everyone. But if I ran a group whose student union did this, I’d disaffiliate from them without thinking twice. It’s not an incitement to violence, but some people are just so stupid you want to slap them.

Reposting Jesus and Mo wasn’t inclusive of Muslims? On an atheist Facebook group, set at ask-to-join? Well, golly. It’s almost as if atheist societies aren’t there for Muslims – whose own societies judging by the texts and images they publish, are presumably just as uninclusive toward nonbelievers.

‘Racism and discrimination’? Ah yes, think of all those secularist racists who criticise Islam: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Gita Sahgal, Salman Rushdie, Alom Shaha, Maryam Namazie, Hassan Radwan, Pragna Patel… (If you actually care about racism, you’ll note that treating Islam as an ethnic group is what the EDL do.)

All of this – from the student unions’ behaviour at UCL and LSE, to the threats at Queen Mary, to the threats Rhys Morgan got and the ones I got – has gone far enough. On February the 11th atheists and secularists from all over London and the UK, many of them ex-Muslims, are holding a rally with the One Law for All campaign to defend free expression and oppose this kind of bullying from religionists.

The rally will be from 2pm in the Old Palace Yard, opposite the House of Lords. (Join the Facebook event for more information.) I’ll be speaking, as will Rhys Morgan and people from the atheist societies at QM, LSE and UCL plus a variety of other interesting people – I won’t name names publicly yet, but updates will follow.

If you can’t come to the rally, spread the word: tweet about it with the #rally11feb hashtag or think about using this image on your social media accounts. Other events in solidarity are happening around the world, including in Germany, Poland, France, Australia and the Gambia, so if you want to organise something where you are, let us know and tweet about #11FebFEDay.

I’ll keep you all in the loop about what’s happening, but right now it’s imperative we stand together and defend our right to criticise religion.


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