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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.

66 Responses to “Atheists have no right to decide what is, or what is not offensive to believers”

  1. Mike Ursu says:

    Oh my, the religious twits are offended by someone’s cartoon strip. How sad. Suck it up and get over yourselves. Despite what you think, your beliefs aren’t sacred or holy. They’re a bunch of myths created by ignorant people that didn’t know any better. Everybody gets offended by something in the course of their lives. That’s par for the course. The idiocy of religion offends me but I don’t go around telling people they can’t follow a religion if they want to.

  2. Sandman says:

    My suggested response to AMSA:

    Dear sirs

    I am deeply offended by the docrtne and practce of Islam. I am offended by the so called holy book the Koran, its contents, its interpretation and every aspect of the faith.

    Using YOUR rule I therefore respectfully request that you and all other adherants of the faith IMMEDIATELY cease and decist all practice of it, and any further injection of your faith into the public sphere.

    If I need to gather names on a stupid petition signed by other people offended by Islam I am sure that there are a few million willing signatories I could gather in a matter of weeks.

    Please understand that I also take serious offence with other Abrahamic forms of faith, and take similar offence at their practice, particularly when it raises its head in public, of Christianty and Judaeism. Should they, as you have, state that offence is a bar to an act then I will copy similar demands to ths one to them.

    Yours

    etc etc

  3. Umer says:

    Cartoons such as this resurfacing only add fuel to the fire of not establishing a peaceful society between athiests and religious people, in this case muslims. Especially when these cartoons have caused violence in countries where illiterates take to the streets and wreak havoc mostly at non-muslims and at public property. Humorous for the lot perhaps but definitely wasn’t a thought out move by the ASHS.

  4. John Phillips, FCD says:

    Umer, what value freedom of any kind if it can be negated through fear of how others might react. I have no real problem with people who choose to govern their lives through such fear, but I cannot live in such a fashion in a so called free society. And yes I have faced such situations and have refused to kow tow in the face of such terrorist activity, for make no mistake, terrorism it is. To quote one of the many versions of the phrase attributed to Benjamin Franklin and my personal favourite as I find it the truest throughout history;

    “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”

    If I tell them that I am repeatedly offended by all the BS that their religion causes them to spout at the rest of us and threaten humanity with, do you think they will stop? Somehow I don’t see it, yet this group expects us to do so because they claim offence. But of course they will say that is different because their epileptic prophet told them what is the truth so their being offended is different. Actually, it is not.

    BTW, actually, the deaths, injuries and burning of property due to the Danish cartoons##, and other such incidents, was largely caused to other Muslims and their properties. So while a number of non-Muslims were affected, some badly, by far the majority of sufferers, as is usual when Muslims go on the rampage, were, once again, other Muslims. Perhaps instead of putting the onus on us you could try and get the Muslims, those believers in the religion of peace, to stop acting so violently when words or images offend them.

    Say or draw offensive things about me, even about something that really matters to me, and I will either laugh, just ignore you and walk away or, if I think it worthwhile, tell you why I think you wrong. What I won’t do is call for a jihad on you or yours or go postal on you. But then I am just an amoral atheist with no god or religious leaders telling me how to behave, so what do I know.

    ## The three worst cartoons were smuggled into the collection by the three Muslims behind the fuss and were not drawn drawn by the Danish Cartoonists the originals obviously were not offensive enough.

  5. Barry says:

    Looks like the UCL group has caved in.

    The president of the society has resigned, the Jesus and Mo image has been taken down and the petition removed.

    Pretty weak effort i would say.

  6. […] “STRESS” lies behind the resignation of the President of University College London Union’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society, Robbie Yellon, following the row that broke out over the use of a Jesus & Mo cartoon on the society’s Facebook page. […]

  7. Barry Duke says:

    Just blogged the news

  8. Roger Pearse says:

    Firstly, if atheists want to produce stuff like this, let them. That is what freedom of expression means. I’m a Christian, and I object to this censorship of anything Moslems object to.

    Secondly, atheists have rarely extended any such toleration to Christians. On the contrary, atheists always shriek at any Christian accused of ‘intolerance’. The biter has been bitten, it seems.

    Thirdly, if people produce material specifically to offend — as atheists routinely do — then they must expect people to be offended. There’s nothing very respectable about setting out to insult others and then whining when you get a punch in the face. By all means do the first, and endure the second; but they go together.

  9. Ruth says:

    “…if people produce material specifically to offend — as atheists routinely do — then they must expect people to be offended. There’s nothing very respectable about setting out to insult others and then whining when you get a punch in the face. By all means do the first, and endure the second; but they go together.” — Absolutely. Please, dear atheists, if you can’t stand the heat, don’t go into the kitchen, the comments here are really quite sad considering that this is all a storm in a teacup (or a beer-glass) that you set yourselves up for, knowingly and deliberately. By the way, do you actually have a message, other than that you don’t believe in anything that anyone who isn’t an atheist believes in? oh yes, wasn’t it ‘there probably isn’t a god. now stop worrying and enjoy your life’? If you ever get over your very weird obsession with gods you supposedly don’t believe in, and get on with practicing what you preach, you’ll undoubtedly be a lot more appealing.

  10. Tally Isham says:

    The Koran says atheists will all burn in Hell, for all eternity, and deserve it. As an atheist, that offends me. Ban the Koran.

    It is not for Muslims to decide what will or will not offend atheists.

  11. Tahir Nasser says:

    Dear well…EVERYONE…(apart from a few of the last commentators)

    It appears that this page is rather focussed on my words so I thought I’d pop in and just clarify a few things that people seemed to have got the wrong end of the stick.

    1) The Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (AMSA) of which I am the treasurer, never asked the Union to remove the cartoon, nor did we not support the Atheist society’s freedom of speech-what we called for was the responsible use of that freedom.

    2) There seemed to be particular anger directed towards this particular passage of my post: “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…”

    It should be noted that here we are talking about the case of a cartoon, the sole purpose of which is to deride and make fun of the beliefs of others. There is no higher purpose than that in the publication of such cartoons. Our calling for the Atheist society to remove such a cartoon (of their own volition) is certainly NOT comparable to the case of people taking offense, for example, from others praying/wearing a headscarf/reading the Bible as while the principal purpose and intention behind the former case is to deride and mock, the purpose and intention behind the latter is certainly not. If you happen to take offense at the case of the latter, then that is, ultimately, your problem. In the case of the former, the stated purpose from the beginning is to mock and by implication therefore, is intrinsically anti-social.

    The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is censored and criminalised in Pakistan and increasingly in Indonesia, for the very reason that our views-which are held sincerely and devotedly-are apparently “offensive” to other Muslims. We would never call for people to self-censor their own beliefs/practises, no matter how offensive we found them. But putting up cartoons the only purpose of which can be to hurt others, does not fall into this category.

    As for the issue that the cartoons were in an Atheist Society facebook group and therefore Muslims must have gone looking to seek offense, the reality is that many, many Muslims are part of the Atheist society Facebook group-even the AMSA facebook profile is registered to their society and receives notifications therefrom.

    From reading many of the posts which are directed personally at me, I would also request that people show a modicum of decency and restraint. If you cannot speak civilly to others, then do not speak at all.

  12. […] Atheists have no right to decide what is, or what is not offensive to believers (freethinker.co.uk) […]

  13. DayaBaba says:

    “It is not for Atheists to decide what will or will not offend believers of different religions.”
    Uh huh? And it’s not for believers of different religions to decide what will offend atheists. So…When will we see pages of the koran and bible censored because of the highly offensive nature of the verses against non-believers?

    This twittering of baboons only confirms the stereotypes of religious Muslims being humourless and easy to cry “ZOMFG PERSEKOOSHUN!”.

  14. Dear Tahir – thank you for commenting. I know your intentions are noble, but I think you are simply talking past most people here. It seems that you fundamentally misunderstand the position of the people you are addressing, so I will try to explain as frankly and clearly as possible. I hope you don’t take offence, as I do not intend to give it, but I’m afraid you probably will.

    We do not respect your beliefs because we do not think your beliefs deserve respect. I’m talking about basics here. You believe that there is no god but Allah, that Mohammed is his prophet, and that the Koran is his perfect, uncreated word.

    There isn’t. He isn’t. It isn’t.

    OK, we could argue in circles for years about the 1st proposition, but the evidential case for second two is overwhelmingly strong if we take as evidence the scriptures upon which you base your religion. Leaving aside the question of why an adult should require a role model in the first place, it is obvious to us that Mohammed is a very bad one. As far as the Koran is concerned, it is one of the most transparently fraudulent texts ever created by man.

    Tahir, your cherished beliefs are not only untrue – they are obviously untrue to anyone with a modicum of intelligence who approaches your texts unburdened by tradition, invested identity, or peer pressure (something which you, in your defence, are probably unable to do). You have no good reason to believe these things. You have only bad reasons.

    Therefore, we think you should stop believing them.

    You are obviously an intelligent person, but I have to tell you that your beliefs are stupid. They deserve to be mocked. Mocking your beliefs is a necessary and moral act, because believing in things that aren’t true is a bad thing which should be discouraged. It would be better for you, and for everyone else, if you didn’t believe them. They are regressive and intrinsically anti-social.

    Demanding that we respect your religious beliefs is like demanding we respect your halitosis. Just brush your teeth, for crying out loud. We’ll all benefit!

    I don’t expect for a moment that these words will make you change your beliefs. But I hope at least that they help you to understand what you are up against.

  15. Tahir Nasser says:

    Dear Dave McKeegan

    If Atheists involved in this cartoon-debacle had invested even a tenth of the amount of energy and zeal into respectful, reasoned discourse rather than mockery, they would further their cause far more.

    Unfortunately, you, like many atheists have simply put forward assertions without providing any evidence. I am certainly willing to listen to evidence regarding your view that Muhammad(peace be upon him) is not God’s prophet or that the Qur’an is not a perfect book. Please proceed to give me a evidence and you will find me a receptive and respectful listener.

    You may say that the onus of proof lies upon me-and you would be right, but as you have made these claims, let us your evidence before I produce mine.

    Many thanks
    Tahir

  16. Dear Tahir

    You have missed my point entirely. I did not present evidence for the unsuitability of Mohammed as a role model or for the awfulness of the Koran because that was not my intention. I simply wanted to help you to understand that there is a large number of non-believers out there who, having examined the claims of your religion, do not think your beliefs are worthy of respect.

    This is something you simply have to accept.