No One Expects The Islamic Inquisition

I’ve been occupied with other matters which have, to date, meant that I’ve not got around to passing comment on the absurd row over UCL’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society posting a Jesus and Mo cartoon on its Facebook page…

…until now.

If you’ve not caught up with  this story at all then most of the relevant ground is covered by these two articles at New Humanist:

Student atheist society in censorship row with student union over Muhammad cartoon

Progress in UCL atheist society’s cartoon censorship dispute with student union

So the short version is that the ASH Society used the cover artwork from a collection of Jesus and Mo cartoons to promote an event, an Islamic Society complained that they found the cartoon ‘offensive’ and the Student Union got a bug up its ass and chose to try and censor the atheist society rather than tell the Islamic society to grow up and stop whining about a trivial bit of butthurt.

As things stand, the main row has rather blown over, although not with UCL’s Student Union resorting to fair amount of mealy-mouthed bullshit in an effort to save face:

Unfortunately, the Union has considered the possibility that posting the image might have constituted an act of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination. We firmly believe in the protection of our fellow students through University and Union policy; however we cannot accept such a suggestion. They have also considered the force of our actions and unwillingness to concede. As such, the society may be risking a disciplinary hearing which could lead to the forced resignation of committee members, or disaffiliation from the Union. In light of our now constructive relationship with the Union, such an event seems unlikely, though we would ask for your support should it ever occur.

Just fuck right off, okay?

Nevertheless, this particular exercise in synthetic outrage has not been without its consequences.

In the last few days, Rhys Morgan has been harassed and threatened for simply using the same artwork in his Facebook profile as an expression of solidarity with UCL ASHS, and although the school – Cardiff High School – promised to take action against the students who turned on Rhys they also managed to imply that Rhys could be either suspended or expelled if he didn’t remove the image from his profile.

And today the BBC reports that the President of ASHS, Robbie Yelland, has resigned because “he signed up as president to organise events and run a student society” but “did not appreciate the stress he would be under when dealing with a controversy like this”.

Now, if you’ve been taken in by prevailing media narratives around Islam over the last few years you could be forgiven for thinking that both ASHS and Rhys have fallen foul of some sort of ‘extremist’ Islamic group/sentiments…

…and you’d be completely wrong because, on this occasion, it would appear that the extremists have been rather too busy trying to shut down public debate on Sharia law to pay much attention to a petty squabble over a cartoon.

This isn’t one of those issues that fits neatly into the prevailing Good Muslim/Bad Muslim meme.

The group that’s been leading the charge against UCL ASHS, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association counts itself amongst the ‘moderates’. It does inter-faith work with other religious groups, its members go out and collect money for the Royal British Legion and it’s main weapons are surprise, weaselling and a grossly overinflated sense of entitlement…

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association is continuing with its protest against the image, saying it has wider implications.

Adam Walker, the association’s national spokesperson, said the two student groups had worked well together in the past and said the offence was unnecessary.

“The principle is more important than who is being attacked – this time it is Muslims and Christians but in the future it could be atheists themselves.

“There is no need to print these things other than to cause offence and history has told us that these things cause offence.”

He added: “I wouldn’t say we’re specifically pursuing UCL atheist society, it’s more about the broader principle.”

Wow… what a weaselling sack of shit!

And when you look at the statement that this organisation put out in response to this issue it gets even worse:

”Perhaps what is most shocking is that at an esteemed house of learning intelligent people, fully aware of the offence that such cartoons have caused in the past, consciously chose to post them. I genuinely thought that things had moved on from this and that people, regardless of their background, understood that there is a clear difference between freedom of speech and outright insult.”

No, there isn’t a difference between freedom of speech and outright insult.

There are reasonable limits that can be placed on the manner in which freedom of expression is exercised in relation to threats, incitement to violence and/or other criminal acts and in regards to sustained abuse and harassment of the kind that female bloggers were justifiably complaining about late last year – there is such a thing as taking things too far, which the law rightly recognises and, on occasion, punishes because it visits genuine harm on others.

Freedom of speech, however, includes the freedom to cause offence. In fact, freedom of speech is, arguably, the freedom to cause offence because, by its very definition, inoffensive speech doesn’t need to be protected or defended from anyone, because no one objects to it.

Walker’s statement continues in a similar vein with the following comments:

These cartoons are likely to hurt the feelings of Muslims within society and whilst we do not agree with the notion that causing offence to others should be a crime, we do believe that in order to produce a cohesive and harmonious society all people should observe not only tolerance of each others’ way of life, but should avoid making others feel insulted.”

Well, its big of you to concede that you don’t want ‘causing offence’ to become a criminal offence but you’re still not getting how this whole free speech thing actually works, are you, let alone tolerance which, of course, also has it limits.

I belong to a culture which values, amongst other things, rational thought, critical inquiry, satire and irreverence in the face of specious claims of supernatural authority – things that Walker seems to have some difficulty tolerating.

That’s because this isn’t about tolerance at all – that’s nothing more than Humpty Dumpty language. What this is really about is the exemption of religious belief from any shred of rational analysis, inquiry and criticism, irrespective of how this might be expressed – and humour is a perfectly valid means of expressing criticism of religion, of exposing its contradictions and hypocrisies and deflating its pretensions; and those of its believers and supporters as well.

And if that causes some people to experience a bit of first degree butthurt then that’s just tough shit.

The principle that people should be free to express honestly held opinions, even if some of them are stupid, offensive and insulting, is one of the cornerstones of a free society, as George Orwell rightly pointed out in his essay on ‘The Freedom of the Press’*:

“If the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilisation means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth, provided only that it does not harm the rest of the community in some quite unmistakable way.”

* Orwell’s more famous quotation – “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – is to be found in the final paragraph of the same essay.

This may well offend some people but…

I don’t personally believe in the existence of Allah, Jehovah, Satan, Vishnu, Ganesh, Zeus, Thor, Quetzalcoatl or any other so-called gods or supposedly supernatural or magical entities, up to and including unicorns, gnomes, djinn, ifrit, fairies at the bottom of the garden or Santa Claus. These are not real entities in any meaningful sense, they are all figments of human imagination and serve as testimony to our species’ unparalleled capacity for making shit up rather rather than admit that there are things we genuinely don’t understand.

I don’t believe that any of the supposedly sacred texts were written by a god, or that these were dictated to or given to any human by god, an angel or an incorporeal ‘holy spirit’ – whatever the fuck that last one is, anyway – let alone that any of them are ‘divinely inspired’ or contain the ‘wisdom of the ages’. Although these texts are not entirely without some redeeming features – they all seem to espouse the ‘golden rule’ in some form and some of the stories can make for an entertaining read. they also contain a lot of material and ideas that I consider to be, at best, outdated and ignorant and, at worst, morally reprehensible.

There is no divine creator, no heaven and no hell – so you can neither seduce or scare me into line with any of that shit, no great plan for the universe and anyone who claims to possess any kind of special knowledge or understanding of the intentions, thoughts or opinions of any non-existent supernatural entity on any conceivable subject is, so far as I’m concerned, talking out of their arse.

You are, however, perfect entitled to believe in any or all of that stuff, all of which I don’t personally believe in.

That is your right as a human being but you should also be aware of the fact that any opinions you may have, or arguments you make, that are based solely on the presumed opinions of a supernatural entity – regardless of their source or supposed origins – carry absolutely no weight with me whatsoever. If you’re only supporting argument is ‘but god says…’ then I’m afraid you’re out of luck, you’re not going to be taken seriously and, more importantly, you can have no reasonable expectation of being taken seriously or of being afforded any respect for your views, particularly if you’re trying to argue the kind of shit that I consider to be either complete and utter nonsense or morally degenerate.

It’s nothing personal, but if you insist on talking shit, and particulalyr if you come across as trying to enforce that shit on people who – like me – don’t believe in any of it then I reserve the right to tell you that I think that you’re talking bollocks and, personally, I don’t feel that I’m really under any kind of automatic obligation to sugar coat my opinions or not take the piss just because they might give you a bit of butthurt.

These things have context, which has be taken into account, and If I happen to consider your arguments, behaviour or personal beliefs to be harmful, dangerous, morally reprehensible or just egregiously stupid then there’s every chance that you’re going to find that out in no uncertain terms. It’s not that I don’t care about other people’s feelings, its just there are some situations in which its necessary to cause offence in order to open people’s eyes to stuff they shouldn’t be ignoring or because people sometimes behave in ways that deserve to be ridiculed – and there are also some people out there who are just so wilfully ignorant and stupid that they deserve to be ridiculed and offended at every possible opportunity.

Getting back to Adam Walker and the moderate Islamic Inquisition, and in keeping with the original Python sketch, he forget to mention another of his ‘weapons’…

… sucking up.

”The AMYA prides itself in the fact that as a wider organisation it involves itself in regular interfaith and community activities with people of all faiths and of no faith at all. And so it is also a source of great hurt that the depiction of Jesus, a beloved Prophet of Islam and the holiest person to our Christian friends, is also treated with such disrespect. It is our hope that ASHS, an organisation that our members have enjoyed a fruitful relationship with in the past, will reconsider its position”

Oh, for fuck’s sake – when is this assclown going to get over himself and his sanctimonious nice guy act and realise that the only Christians who’re like to be offended by a Jesus and Mo cartoon are the fundamentalist nutjobs who’s beliefs and attitudes are way out there with the Taliban and almost the complete antithesis of his own moderate Muslim shtick.

This really isn’t fucking difficult, you know – we live in a society in which we don’t just have freedom of speech we also have freedom of choice, so ff you do happen to find something offensive in Jesus and Mo then you’re perfectly free to choose not to visit the website and look at the fucking cartoons. In this case, it really is that fucking simple, and its the same for the Facebook pages belonging to UCL ASHS and to Rhys Morgan and, of course, for this article – if you don’t like what I have to say then there’s a little button on your browser with a picture of house on it, use it and go somewhere else.