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Censorship fight over Jesus and Mo cartoons at University College London

Here we go again. The atheist/secularist/humanist student Society (ASHS) at UCL has a Facebook Page where they use an image from the well-known internet cartoon "Jesus and Mo" to announce their weekly drink gatherings. The student union has contacted the ASHS and demanded immediate removal of the image from their Facebook page because they have received many complaints from students, mostly Muslim, who find it offensive. The ASHS is fighting the student's union attempt at censorship. The Muslim students association has made a statement saying that once an image is deemed offensive, it is "good manners" to remove it. As you guys can imagine, many commenters, as well as PZ Myers in his blog, expressed their happiness to know that now all we atheists need to do when we find religious statements or videos offensive, as well as creationist drivel, all we have to do is ask politely and good manners will dictate that they will refrain from such acts in the future.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Student atheist society in censorship row with student union over M...

The Jesus & Mo image used on the society's Facebook page
The Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASHS) at University College London has become embroiled in a censorship row with the university's student union over the use of a Muhammad-related cartoon on a Facebook page advertising its weekly drinks social.

The image is taken from Jesus & Mo, a well-known web comic that depicts the title characters engaging in theological and philosophical chats while propping up a pub bar. Consistently amusing, frequently thought-provoking and often heart-warming, Jesus & Mo is anything but savage and crass, with its gentle take on the absurdity of theological differences and underlying message that humans really ought to just get along providing the perfect antidote to the violent and illiberal censorship it aims to satirise.

It would, therefore, be somewhat ironic for someone to demand the censorship Jesus & Mo on the grounds that it is offensive, but that's precisely the mistake UCL's student union have made in response to the atheist society's Facebook page. Citing a "number of complaints" regarding both the depiction of Muhammad and the fact that the image shows him with a drink that looks like beer, the union contacted the ASHS president demanding that he removed the image as soon as possible.

Having given a talk and chaired a debate on offence and censorship with the ASHS a few months ago, I know that they're a clever and inquisitive bunch who have thought long and hard about these issues, so I'm not surprised to learn that they're taking a stand against the union's attempted censorship. Pointing out that UCL was the first university in Britain to be founded on secular principles, the ASHS have refused to remove the Jesus & Mo image and have launched an online petition to defend free expression at the university. The petition, which you can sign, includes the following statement:
"In response to complaints from a number of students, the University College London Union has insisted that the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society remove the following image from a Facebook event advertising a pub social. It has done so on the grounds that it may cause offence to Muslim students. 

This is a gross infringement on its representatives' right to freedom of expression taken by members of the first secular university in England. All people are free to be offended by any image they view. This does not give them the right to impose their beliefs on others by censoring such images.

We the undersigned urge the University College London Union to immediately halt their attempts to censor the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society and uphold its members' right to freedom of expression."
It will be interesting to see how the student union responds now that its attempted censorship has been made public. A request for some students to remove an image from Facebook may seem like a relatively minor issue, but the fact that a student union would take this action can be viewed as evidence of the way in which our society has become quietly accustomed to such censorship in the aftermath of the Danish cartoons controversy of 2005-6.
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once an image is deemed offensive, it is "good manners" to remove it.

A good-mannered world would need to be uniformly and lethally bland. 
On the other hand, Hindu cows in Manhattan... 

In a private home or in the workplace, maybe, where good manners are generally observed, we would all try not to deliberately or thoughtlessly offend a guest.  But the public sphere is different.  There, where everyone mingles and where the whole range of convictions and opinions may be encountered, mannerly politeness is not necessarily to be expected.  Human society is sometimes a harsh spectacle.  One of the marks of maturity in our culture is a person's ability to tolerate harmless offenses and to appreciate the supreme value of free expression. 

Good point about maturity. This is what clearly seems to be lacking in this case. It's hard to think of a more harmless offense: the Jesus and Mo image was on a Facebook page, a very public space.

Right.  I think the stubborn petulance among those who can't bear to have their beliefs denounced, or even ridiculed, is an adolescent quality that suggests their unacknowledged level of conviction or certainty is too weak to withstand criticism.

I very much appreciate the insight into their unacknowledged level of conviction or certainty on their beliefs. It speaks volumes...

What are they so frightened about, after all we are all just human beings with different beliefs ?

I also wonder very much about public politeness regarding politicians and that in any country... !

Lethally bland is a very good description. Good manners a comment from a religious group? Lol!

Update! (and it's positive):

Friday, 13 January 2012

Progress in UCL atheist society's cartoon censorship dispute with s...

This image from Jesus & Mo was used by the UCL atheist
society to promote their weekly meet-up

Earlier this week, I reported on a dispute between the student union and the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASHS) at University College London over the atheists' use of a frame from the cartoon strip Jesus & Mo on a Facebook page advertising their weekly drinks social. The story attracted an unexpected level of interest, generating nearly 300 comments on our own site and coverage by Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, the Guardian and numerous other busy websites. In addtion, a petition started by the ASHS saw 3,700+ people back the society's refusal to take down the Jesus & Mo image at the union's request.

While debate raged online, however, both the UCL union and the atheist society have been working to resolve the matter, and the ASHS have this morning announced that progress has been made, with the union agreeing that they can not ask the society to take down the image. This is explained by the society's president, Robbie Yellon, in a statement on their Facebook page:
"We feel that thanks are in order. They go to our friends at the British Humanist Association and those at the National Secular Society for their unwavering support. They go to the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies for their unending levels of advice and know-how. They go to the inspiring Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and they go to every blogger, from the marvelous individuals at New Humanist magazine, to the uncompromising Alex Gabriel. They go to every single society member, and to every one of you who signed our wall and petition in support. And of course, they go to the marvelous Mohammed Jones, whose Jesus and Mo comics have kept us laughing the whole time.

We can now tell you that the University College London Union has recognized that mistakes were made and that the initial correspondence with our society was flawed. The Union is to review its stance on such matters and has said that this will not happen again. They can no longer call on us to withdraw the image. We welcome these developments, which set an important precedent for other universities. We also feel it appropriate to recognize the swift response of the Union, which certainly helped us reach this positive conclusion.

Read the rest here.

I am very glad of the responses and of this development...


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