Atheists have no right to decide what is, or what is not offensive to believers

THE University College London Union Jesus & Mo controversy rumbles on. Latest to join the fray is S M Tahir Nasser, Treasurer of UCLU Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (AMSA), who declared:

It is not for Atheists to decide what will or will not offend believers of different religions.

Responding to a petition deploring UCLU’s attempt to have a cartoon removed from the Facebook page of UCLU’s Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society, Nasser said on AMSA’s Facebook page:

Numerous Muslims wrote in their individual capacities to the UCL Union, complaining of this depiction of Mohammed, citing grounds of religious offense.

The latest J&M cartoon (click on image to see the whole collection)

The petition now has over 3,000 signatures.

Nasser went on to complain that the “debacle” had unleashed a great many Jesus & Mo cartoon strips on Facebook and on other sites. These show J & M in scenarios:

Such as comparing Twitter followers, playing music at an ‘open mic night’ and [shock, horror] sleeping in the same bed together.

Nasser pointed out that Richard Dawkins had praised the cartoon strip, saying:

Jesus and Mo cartoons are wonderfully funny and true. They could offend only those actively seeking to be offended – which says it all.

Nasser commented:

It is not for Mr. Dawkins or anyone else to decide what views are and are not to be found offensive to others. Once a particular act is deemed to be offensive to another, it is only good manners to refrain from, at the very least, repeating that act.

In this particular case, when at first the cartoon was uploaded, it could have been mistaken as unintentional offense. When certain Muslims voiced their offense over the issue, for any civil, well-mannered individual or group of individuals, it should then be a question as to the feelings of others and the cartoons should then have been removed …

Freedom to insult is the very worst aspect of freedom of expression. It may be argued that such cartoons are in the manner of satire and that satire is a key element in freedom of expression. When examined however, it is clear that these cartoons are not satirical in the least. Satire is characterised by the bringing to light of vices for the purpose of initiating reform within the individual or group of individuals who are satirised.

Was this the purpose of cartoons with Jesus and Mohammed (peace be upon them both) lying in bed together, or comparing the number of Twitter followers they have? It is clear that the purpose of the cartoon panels is not to initiate serious discussion regarding the holy founders of either religion. The cartoons only have one purpose – to mock and deride and poke fun. If Christians or Muslims take offense at this, it is not for atheists to rejoinder with ‘they could offend only those actively seeking to be offended.

It is not for Atheists to decide what will or will not offend believers of different religions.

UPDATE: The Guardian reports today that Professor Dawkins has thrown his support behind the atheist students, and the paper managed to contact J&M’s creator:

An individual who responded to an email address on the strip’s website confirmed he was a 47-year-old UK-based male, not a professional cartoonist, and the sole author of Jesus and Mo [who said]:

The student atheist society at UCL have my complete support. I am full of admiration for the firm and principled stance they are taking against religious censorship. My primary reason for drawing the cartoons is to make atheists laugh.