London Atheist Group Accused of Bullying After Posting a Harmless Image of Muhammad

Earlier last week, the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASHS) at University College London became involved in a fight over censorship for including a picture from the webcomic, “Jesus and Mo” on their Facebook page for an event.

It was an event for their weekly drinks social.

For those of you who have never read Jesus and Mo, it’s a webcomic that deals with religious satire where the title characters engage in theological and philosophical discussion, usually in a bar. As far as “offensive” goes, I would rank it on the low end of the scale, but the ASHS has had to deal with several complaints alluding to the depiction of the prophet Muhammad and the possibility that the drink he is holding might be something containing alcohol.

The student union of University College London contacted the president of the ASHS and demanded that he remove the image from the page.

Rightly so, ASHS decided not to remove the image. They also stood up against their student union. They launched an online petition last week, and managed to rake up 3700+ signatures, including that of Richard Dawkins.

From their Facebook group page, the president of the group released this statement:

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.

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.

I’m glad to see that they’ve made progress with their case, but it doesn’t seem like they’re quite out of the clear. The backlash from Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (AMSA) hasn’t been the friendliest. Their treasurer declared:

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

It’ll be up to the student union as to what happens from here, but the cartoon they used for their event seems to me to be one of the least offensive images they could have used.

About Kelley Freeman

Kelley is a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina. She is a former president of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of South Carolina and a former intern for both SSA and Foundation Beyond Belief. Kelley is also a board member for both Camp Quest South Carolina and the Carolinas Secular Association, a Volunteer Network Coordinator for the southeastern region for the SSA, runs a vlog series called Secular Start Up, sometimes does stand up comedy and can crochet like a fiend. She's on her way to becoming a Jane of All Trades. Follow her on twitter @ramenneedles

  • Anonymous

    It’s not even Mohammed, but a body double:

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2005/11/24/body/

  • Erp

    What is odd is it is the “Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association” that is protesting.  Now first they are right that those offended are the ones to decide if they are offended (recourse if any is another matter); however, the very name of their organization is offensive to many Muslims who don’t consider Ahmadiyya Muslims to be real Muslims.  I wonder how they would feel if other Muslims insisted they drop ‘Muslim’ from their name because it was offensive to them.

    • larynx

      Other Muslims do insist they drop the name. I have often heard them referred to as non-muslims. Believe me the hypocrisy is totally lost on them. However, they still believe they are Muslims and are taking a Muslim stance on this issue.

      Ironically, I, an atheist, met my Ahmadiyya wife while we were both studying at UCL. A university often referred to as the Godless institution of Gower Street, due to it’s secular origins!

  • Gus Snarp

    I think there can be real issues with sensitivity toward Muslims where they are a minority. But in the case of this picture, where they’v place Mohammed next to Jesus, it’s clearly anti-religious satire in general, not anti-Islam, let alone anti-Muslim, in particular. Calling that bullying is a bit absurd.

  • Guest

    The Muslim group is clearly the bully in this situation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thaumas-Themelios/100001074236927 Thaumas Themelios

      Their hypocritical offendedness offends me.

      It is not for the offended to decide who may speak freely.

      Nor the bully to decide who is being bullied.

  • Richard

    Correct, it is not for atheists to decide what might, or might not, offend religious people. Believers have the right to be offended, but not the right  to deny freedom of expression, just because something that is depicted offends them! I am truly offended by the amoral God of the Abrahamic religions, and the ignorance with which its followers infect the vulnerable young minds of their children; however, I wouldn’t dream of denying them their right to express their beliefs.

  • http://twitter.com/ThyGoddess Michelle

    You know what? I think we have the right to offend them, just has they have the right to offend me by saying I’m evil for not believing in their sky faerie.

  • L.Long

    They are right to be offended…I’m offended!
    Everyone knows there is only one correct way to show Cheeses&Mo…
    In bed kissing with two tall drinks and a box of condoms on the bedside table.
    Oh! & smiles on their faces.

  • T-Rex

    Waaaaahhhhh! Next!

  • Rich Samuels

    Rhys Morgan posted this image on his facebook page in solidarity with the group. This resulted in a muslim student at his school asking him to take it down and him refusing. Brief debate, loads of threats about burning his house down etc and then he gets threatened with expulsion by his school. 

    That’s a very brief summary but for those interested the whole thing is here http://rhysmorgan.co/2012/01/intolerant-islam/

  • Ggsillars

    I’ve always wondered why Pat Condell is always so angry and harsh with respect to Islam and “multi-culti” political correctness .  Now I have an inkling.

  • george.w

    I completely agree: it isn’t for atheists to decide what will or will not be offensive to different religions. Meaning what, exactly? If being offended means you get to shut other people up, then I have a long list to start in on religions.

  • Achess

    “It’ll be up to the student union as to what happens from here, but the
    cartoon they used for their event seems to me to be one of the least
    offensive images they could have used.”

    That was unnecessary: how offensive the image was (or wasn’t) is completely irrelevant. Bottom line here is: blasphemy only exists in the mind of bigots and free speech is non-negotiable.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Rev. Ouabache

    Ooh, you were offended. So what?

  • Anonymous

    They can decide it offends them, and I can decide I don’t give two shits. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thaumas-Themelios/100001074236927 Thaumas Themelios

    It would be nice if the OP included a link to the Muslim group’s treasurer’s quoted post. It is unclear, as written, where it could be found, and I for one would like to see it in its original context. Good article; thanks for keeping on top of this issue.

  • Michael Caton

    Seriously, what oversensitive wimps.  Get over yourselves.  You’re not special.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5509de8970c Mikko

    You do not have a right to not get offended

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

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

    Yes. And it is not for atheists to have to stifle their own opinions to make sure that people of religions are not offended.  And it is not for religious people to expect people outside their religion to follow their religious rules, such as not drawing forbidden pictures.  If your skin is so thin, don’t go outside, and don’t talk to anybody. If your religion can’t stand up to the slightest questioning or challenge, then it is so frail and decrepit that the poor thing should be allowed to expire.

  • Dan W

    You don’t have a right to not be offended. When will these religious morons realize this?

  • Sean Robsville

     Secularists should encourage the spread of the METAMEME.  It blocks the growth of violent, intimidating, dogmatic religions  such as Islam, in the same way that the  mild cowpox virus blocks the spread of lethal smallpox.


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