The recent outbreak of asshattery at a London-based University has proved to be contagious with a second university atheist society at the London School of Economics being ‘instructed’ to remove a Jesus and Mo cartoon from its Facebook page or face disciplinary sanctions from its main Student Union.
I picked this story up late last week via Alex Gabriel who reported that LSE’s atheist society (LCESU ASH)had been accused of ‘Islamophobia’. Although this first report indicated that complaints against the society might relate to an article on the ‘ethics of offence’ by a society member published, in a personal capacity, on Tumblr, after it was rejected by LSE’s student newspaper. However, a follow-up article posted on Friday indicates that these complaints actually relate to the publication of the same Jesus and Mo cartoon that landed UCL ASH in hot water earlier in the week:
Essentially, a large of group of Muslim students felt offended that there were pictures of Mohammed on the Facebook group. As a result, they felt that our Facebook group was no longer a ‘safe space’ for Muslims. Thus, they have ‘requested’ that we remove the offending images. Until an official complaint procedure is completed they cannot mandate we take it down. However, they made it pretty clear that would be the next step should we choose to keep the images.
As with UCL, the issue here appears not to be that of the usual Keystone Kaliphate threatening violent reprisals but rather that of weaselling and the blatant misappropriation of the language and rhetoric of victimisation by Muslim who wish to portray themselves as ‘moderates’ in an effort to censor criticism and entirely legitimate – and funny – satire. On this occasion, our would-be thought police have added a new element, abuse of the concept of ‘safe spaces’, proving yet again that some childish arseholes really don’t care what they shit on and devalue if think it’ll get them they own way.
LSESU have, inevitably, issued a wholly self-serving statement, which I’ll get to in a moment. Before giving it the full treatment, however are a couple of general observations about this particular student union that bear consideration.
First, in more than ten years of dealing professional with issue of organisation governance in the charity sector, one thing I learned was that, once you disregard the unavoidable core constitutional stuff, the size of an organisation’s rulebook is inversely proportional to its capacity to manage its own business in a mature, rational and adult fashion. It comes as no particular surprise to find that LSESU’s current byelaws run to forty-two pages in total, most of which deals, in excruciating detail, with matters that a grown-up organisation would tackle by simply following the normal rules of business.
Second, and having looked at its governing documents, rulebook and ‘policies’ adopted by the student union at the behest of some of its member – several of which would leave the Dibley Parish committee wondering WTF? – it appears that is one of those student unions that time forgot, if it Doug McClure hasn’t been made honorary president. Although there are some student unions that have wisely come to appreciate that the credibility of their particular brand of student politics disappeared down the shitter more than thirty years ago, at the point at which the words ‘People’s Front of Judea’ entered public consciousness, this simple observation seems to have bypassed the Rip Van Winkle’s at LSESU. FFS, LSESU even has a formal policy for picking the brains of LSE staff – with its own ‘Dialogue Commission’ naturally – a feat we used to manage perfectly well, back in my own university days, by the simple expedient of going to the pub and having a pint with them. In fact, there was one particularly convivial psychology lecturer who’s office hours, so far as the student body were concerned, were 12pm-2pm in the pub over the road from the Health Sciences building, not that that was what it said on his office door or on any official paperwork.
Getting back to LSESU’s official statement, this reads as follows (with my own annotations, of course):
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.
Yep, so it the same Jesus and Mo cartoon.
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.
Wow, all of forty complaints from a student body of 8,800, almost 5,000 of which are post-grads who should be old enough to know better than get involved in this kind of trivial crap.
So far as this ‘further information regarding more posts’, I haven’t got a Scooby as to what they’re banging on about as the only ‘contentious’ stuff I can see on the ASH Facebook page at the moment are a few factual accounts of the recent silliness over at UCL and a report of the altogether more unpleasant events that occurred prior to a talk on Sharia Law and Human Rights at Queen Mary’s College:
A talk organised yesterday by the Queen Mary Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society on ‘Sharia Law and Human Rights’ had to be cancelled after threats of violence.
The President of the Society, describes what happened:
‘Five minutes before the talk was due to start a man burst into the room holding a camera phone and for some seconds stood filming the faces of all those in the room. He shouted ‘listen up all of you, I am recording this, I have your faces on film now, and I know where some of you live’, at that moment he aggressively pushed the phone in someone’s face and then said ‘and if I hear that anything is said against the holy Prophet Mohammed, I will hunt you down.’ He then left the room and two members of the audience applauded.
‘The same man then began filming the faces of Society members in the foyer and threatening to hunt them down if anything was said about Mohammed, he added that he knew where they lived and would murder them and their families. On leaving the building, he joined a large group of men, seemingly there to support him. We were told by security to stay in the Lecture Theatre for our own safety. On arriving back in the room I became aware that the doors that opened to the outside were still open and that people were still coming in. Several eye witnesses reported that when I was in the foyer a group of men came through the open doors, causing a disruption and making it clear that the room could not be secured. Unfortunately, the lack of security in the lecture theatre meant we and the audience had to leave and a Union representative informed the security that as students’ lives had been threatened there was no way that the talk could go ahead.
Although the talk had to be cancelled due to these threats, I strongly suspect that many of those in the room when the action started left the event with a clear view of the nature of the relationship between Sharia law and human rights, as the former is interpreted by some Muslim; so much so that you might think that this would prompt other student unions into getting a bit of perspective when it comes to the odd J&M cartoon.
But no, you’d of course be completely wrong:
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.
Now, if we take that statement at face value, it seems to suggest that student union had decided that the posting of a Jesu and Mo cartoon breached student union policy before it had even bothered to speak to the atheist society or hear their views on the matter, which strikes as more than just a little bit worrying given that we have a university with a highly regarded law department and a student union that seems not to understand even the most basic notions of natural justice and due process.
Believe me, I’ve looked at the rule book and I’m buggered if I can find the student union’s Kangaroo Court clause although, from my long experience with organisation governance, I can easily see ample grounds for a no confidence motion in the committee member’s responsible for this egregious breach of due process.
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.
In short, remove the cartoons or else, to which the only appropriate response is a swift referral to Arkell vs Pressdram.
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.
Fascinating – here we have a student union that’s falling over itself to protect Muslim students from the heinous sight of a cartoon of a bearded bloke with a turban and pint of unspecified liquid and yet the same organisation appears to think nothing of making what many would interpret as defamatory statements about other members of its student body.
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.
Bollocks – LSE has, somewhat unbelievably int he circumstances, its own Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method…
… and a student union that can add ignorance of the meaning of the word ‘special pleading’ to its manifest ignorance of due process.
But hey, what do you expect from an organisation that has 35 page governing document, 42 pages of rules and byelaws and 56 pages of agreed policy all of which, taken collective, contain precisely zero references to freedom of speech/expression. It does appear to have, or have had, a ‘Freedom of Religion taskforce’ but seemingly no real understanding that the concept of religious freedom in law encompasses the right to non-belief as much as it does the right to belief.
Thankfully, the British Humanist Association has stepped up to the plate and is supporting the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, as is the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, but if I can throw in my own twopennorth as a specialist in organisational governance, the very first thing that I would be paying very close attention to is the extreme scant provision that LSESU’s byelaws make in regards to disciplinary hearings.
7. Depending on the area of Union activity that the breach of discipline has been made, will determine the staff and sabbatical officers who will be responsible for hearing the disciplinary and taking action.
8. Typically, the composition of the Disciplinary Hearing will be at least 2 members of the Executive and up to 2 others which may include Union Staff.
It is, to say the least, rather odd to find that an organisation that feels the need to have a 42 page rulebook covering other stuff setting out the rules for discimplary hearings in a mere two clauses, both of which are concerned solely with the composition of the disciplinary panel.
Now, although I’m not a big fan of compendious rulebooks -as noted earlier, I’ve always found the size of the rulebook to be inversely proportion to an organisations capacity for managing its own affairs in a sensible manner – I am something of a sticker for a written disciplinary procedure that covers the essentials, such as rights to notice and notice periods, rights of prior access to complaints and evidence, conflicts of interest, etc. all of which are noticeable by their absence from LSESU’s rulebook until it go on to cover disciplinary appeals.
So, for starters, the student union’s written procedures are woefully deficient and this, amongst other things, raises some considerable questions about this so-called meeting at which the LSESU ASH was instructed to remove Jesus and Mo cartoons from its Facebook page.
To ask the most basic of all questions, what exactly was the purpose of this meeting?
It clearly wasn’t a disciplinary hearing – and if anyone at LSE thinks it was then they’re patently unfit to run a piss-up in a brewery?
If it was supposed to be an investigatory meeting, then the LSESU representatives present had no business making any demands of the atheist society, least of all in regards to censorship of its Facebook page, and they have not only clearly exceeded any legitimate authority that they might be deemed to have under ‘normal rules of business’ – which is how you do business on matters on which a constitution or rulebook is silent – but any investigation they might believe they’ve carried out is now hopelessly compromised by their apparent admission that they’d prejudged the matter and decided that the atheist society had breached union rules before they’d even conducted the meeting.
And if this meeting was intended as an exercise in either mediation or dispute resolution then the student union’s position is, again, hopelessly compromised by its open admission of bias in approach to the meeting. Sorry, but you just can’t operate as mediator if you’ve entered the meeting with a predetermined view on its expected outcome.
Either way, none of the SU representatives can reasonably take on any role in any further proceedings in this matter by virtue of their having issued a public statement which quite clear indicates that they’ve run a biased process, whatever that process might actually be, which isn’t particularly clear.
As thing stand, LSESU’s Memorandum and Articles Association states that:
Under the Education Act 1994, the London School of Economics has a statutory duty to ensure that the Union operates in a fair and democratic manner and is held to proper account for its finances. The Union therefore works alongside the London School of Economics in ensuring that the affairs of the Union are properly conducted and that the educational and welfare needs of the Union’s Members are met.
This being a direct reference to section 22(1) of the Act, a section which continues, at 22(2), to provide a non-exhaustive list of matters encompassed by this statutory duty including, at (m) and (n) provision for a formal complaints procedure, while 22(3) and (4) refer to a code of practice which, itself, encompasses a statutory duty set out at section 43 of the Education (no. 2) Act 1986, as follows:
43 Freedom of speech in universities, polytechnics and colleges.
(1)Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any establishment to which this section applies shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.
(2)The duty imposed by subsection (1) above includes (in particular) the duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the use of any premises of the establishment is not denied to any individual or body of persons on any ground connected with—
(a)the beliefs or views of that individual or of any member of that body; or
(b)the policy or objectives of that body.
LSE has a code of practice on freedom of speech, in line with its statutory duties, and this not only refers not to article 10 of ECHR and article 19 of the UN covenant on civil and political rights but, under the general heading of events, its gives some examples of situations in which the right to free speech can reasonably be limited or curtailed, to whit:
(a) where the bounds of lawful free speech are exceeded or thought likely to be exceeded such as by incitement to commit crimes or breach of the peace;
(b) where physical harm to persons, damage to School property or a breach of the peace is taking place or thought likely to take place;
(c) Where the frequency of bookings made by an individual or organisation seems calculated to inhibit access of others to the School’s facilities;
(d) if, in the opinion of the School authorities, unlawful acts are likely to take place, or indeed are taking place, as a result of the event in question.
Personally, I can;t see that a Jesus & Mo cartoon on Facebook page crosses any of those boundaries, unless ASH is being threatened in violence in which case the student union has clearly taken aim at the wrong group, and as this duty applies to all LSE premises, inclusing those occupied or used by the student union, including any premises off campus, vis:
(8)Where a students’ union occupies premises which are not premises of the establishment in connection with which the union is constituted, any reference in this section to the premises of the establishment shall be taken to include a reference to the premises occupied by the students’ union.
I don’t know about you, but I think a complaint to LSE on grounds of the student union’s self admitted procedural unfairness and bias plus abrogation of right to free speech is worth as punt and I’d be asking for a retraction of the statement which implies racism, and a full apology of course, not to mention that I’d happily advised the student to swivel on my middle finger as well, not that I’m being vindictive of course – I just have this rather unfortunate medical condition which situations like this bring out…
…I’m bullshit intolerant.
As for the last word on this subject for the moment, that goes to Jesus and Mo who’ve dealt with this kind of crap before, way back in 2007…