Still more religious craziness at British universities

February 10, 2014 • 9:55 am

The battle against the incursions of faith is leavened by moments of delicious irony. This is one of them, related to the London School of Economics’ banning of Jesus and Mo tee-shirts. According to reader Grania, who sent the link from, there’s been yet another incident of censorship involving putative offense to religion.

Yes, students at London’s South Bank University—in particular the South Bank Atheist Society (SBAS), have had a poster removed from their stall at a fresher’s fair last week. (The Jesus and Mo incident also occurred during a fresher’s fair.) The removers were authorities of the student union, and the excuse was that the poster was “offensive to religion.”

Here’s the poster at issue:


Yes, you’ve seen it: it’s His Noodliness creating humans using His Noodly Appendage. The Union censored the Flying Spaghetti monster as being anti-religious! Do they not realize that the Church of the FSM is a religion? It’s been so recognized by several countries that allow people to wear the symbol of their religion—a strainer—on their heads in driver’s license photos.

Moreover, the Union officials were disingenuous about their actions:

Union officials at the London South Bank University removed the posters from the society’s stall overnight and then barred representatives from printing off more, citing the visibility of Adam’s genitals as offensive.

But when society members offered to blur out the genitals, they were told the problem with the poster concerned religious offence.

The stall was removed by the student union authorities the next day.

The to-and-fro verbiage:

“This silliness is unfortunately part of an on-going trend,” British Humanist Society Andrew Copson said.

“In the last few years we have seen our affiliated societies in campus after campus subjected to petty censorship in the name of ‘offence’ – often even when no offence has been caused or taken.

“Hypersensitive union officials are totally needlessly harassing students whose only desire is to get on and run totally legitimate social and political societies.”

Barbara Ahland, president of the London South Bank Students’ Union, said: “The Students Union has been made aware of an alleged incident that took place at the Refreshers’ Fayre last week. We are taking the allegation very seriously and an investigation is taking place.”

“Very seriously”? Really? They cannot tolerate a bit of gentle spoofing?

I don’t understand why this hypersensitivity is taking place in England, a country supposedly far less religious than the U.S. Were this poster displayed at a public university or in a public space in my country, its removal would be forbidden under the First Amendment. Although Britain doesn’t have a constitution mandating freedom of religion and freedom of speech (note to Brits: get one ASAP!), they are also supposed to be less protective about religion.

And you can’t blame this one on Islamic sensitivities, as it’s not explicitly anti-Muslim. Unless, that is, the meatballs contain pork.

128 thoughts on “Still more religious craziness at British universities

  1. Thanks JAC for posting that … I can see that this will end in yet another illuminating climb down by the idiots at the Student’s Union. Won’t they ever learn?

  2. Quick – contact the Dico Tute. We have an early candidate for the 2014 Censor of the Year. Or would that be 2015? Not sure what Jerry won – his vile attacks on Hedin were launched in 2013 but just became award worthy. How do the Oscars do it?

  3. Provided the area of the university this is a very typical, hysterical volunteering of basic rights. In the U.K. we have developed a culture of lying down for Islamic fundamentalism and the culture of offence before we’ve even been asked. This has been noticed by a number of commentators including the late Hitchens (below). Recently ‘Universities UK’ announced that gender segregation was permissible in public events! This is before the majority of Islamic Student Societies have demanded it and carries the awful assumption that they were ever going to.

    This is liberal apology at it’s absolute worst where we have become careful to offend before even the suggestion of it.

      1. It’s happened all over Europe, if you look at France, Holland, Sweden etc and the real tragedy is that the silencing of honest debate and criticism of political (rather than personal faith-) Islam is certainly a contributory factor (along with euro-skepticism) to increased popularity of right-wing parties.

        Stemming this debate is giving credence to those willing to criticise Islam loudly (for all the wrong reasons). This is analogous to evangelism consolidating anti-Islamic sentiment which wrongly and all too often extends to Muslim individuals.

        This kind of apology, this bowing to (what is in Europe and certainly the U.K. a loud minority of fundamentalists (as opposed to entire Islamic states elsewhere) is making a caricature of the Islamic community and fails those it purports to protect.

        That’s just my analysis, but I think the neglect of the female genital mutilation issue in the U.K., rampant homophobia, creationism and sexism in state-funded Islamic schools and university societies and indeed Shariah courts, even Shariah controlled communities (whom surely don’t wish it unanimously) substantiates this view.

        ‘Liberal’ apologists are first volunteering the next generation of Muslims rights and capacity to object to some or all of the ideology which shapes their environment and next our own.

        The flying spaghetti monster time and time again reveals how, without embarrassment, they make the case for exceptionalism rather than religious freedom. If you want special treatment then you have to give it to Christians, Hindus, Pastafrians, Jedis and all others. This is something Americans are all too familiar with through the imposition of the Christian right upon schooling –they want prayer in schools and argue it under religious freedom but hardly want Zeus cited in assembly.

        1. ‘Liberal’ isn’t the problem it is ‘cowardice’ – if you aren’t prepared to have speech you don’t like then that is ‘freedom of speech washed down the toilet.

          BTW: I am using ‘liberal’ in its social context here, not its political ‘lib-dem’ [spits] sense

          1. I completely agree, by this I mean liberal cowardice –where those who purport to be liberals refuse to acknowledge, for example, the precedence ones freedoms should take over religious freedoms. This is primarily harmful to the group (Muslims) who they purport to protect by stemming criticism of the ideology which oppresses them and by extension defines them by the loudest and most fundamental individuals (i.e. assuming they are all wildly insulted by FSM).

      2. *and you’re right, although given the trend I wouldn’t view it as much as counter-intuitive but rather a missed opportunity to develop non-schismatic, tolerant and cohesive societies, starting with schooling by scrapping faith schools which gender segregate and pedal illogical nonsense pressuring young people to take a more fundamental approach to ‘their’ faith –learning from Europe’s failures.

      3. Hm, I really do wonder … it seems for me (as far as I can tell, not living there) the UK is also at the forefront of being paranoid in Europe, with all that surveillance and anti-social-behavior laws. Perhaps this is part of the same trend? Causing offence and not behaving properly is the same, after all.

        1. Arguably yes, I think it’s probably attributed to our focus on multiculturalism and liberal principles (even in the right from centre groups relative to other countries) whereas Europe is somewhat insulated by greater support for nationalistic parties which is hardly a lesser-evil in the long-term, equally dependent on dogma and prejudice.

  4. Would like to see someone do a protest using those optical illusions that are only completed when the sun strikes them at a certain angle or time. Then officials could ban the sun.

  5. As individuals we’re relatively unreligious here in the UK, and (I think) relatively easy-going about stuff like this. However, there is always the Daily Mail brigade and their ilk, who exist purely to be self-righteously outraged. And because of these huffing self-important jerks, establishments from Universities to television corporations find it easier to remove the “offensive” article than to field the complaints.

  6. For me, the major problem is in our preposterous knuckling under to the idea of being offended. Virtually everything is offensive to someone. I, for instance am offended by both craven bowing to religious sensibilities, and by beets. Too many authorities seem now to regard being offended as the exercise of a right requiring, often, deprivation of another right. Staggeringly stupid.

    1. Quite.

      “You have no right not to be offended.” — Philip Pullman

      The Education Act provides for freedom of speech unless it’s unlawful, but as insults are no longer illegal (reform of Section 5 of the Public Order Act), I can’s see how mere offence can be…


    2. Well, I think what you’ve got here is two separate problems coming together.

      1. You gave your student union people power to regulate offensive conduct.
      2. Per #8, some huffing, self-important jerks got into union office, and decided to use that power to remove anything offensive to them. Or just throw their weight around because they could.

      Now, the American solution is generally: “we must fix #1, because politics will always attract huffing, self-importat jerks.” But maybe you Brits can find your own solution to the combination of 1 and 2.

  7. I don’t understand why this hypersensitivity is taking place in England …

    It is because of substantial immigration from Islamic countries over the last couple of decades, such that Britain now has a significant minority Muslim population (America has plenty of recent immigrants from Mexico etc but these are mostly Christian).

    The Muslim countries this population derive from have little tradition of free speech or satirical lampooning, and have a near-totalitarian attitude towards religion and “respect” for that religion (check out the blasphemy laws in Pakistan).

    This has made everyone hyper-sensitive over “respect” for religion, with many in the UK going along with it partly out of respect for the *people* (which is laudable) and partly
    out of taking the easy option.

    Then factor in that many of the student-union officers making these decision are fairly young and may make mistakes of judgement.

      1. We’ve had some issues of secularism clashing with Islam, but primarily in the context of public schools hosting after-hours prayer meetings.

      2. We did have the Sharia Law request but I think what goes on in the UK made us more aware and we didn’t allow it. I suspect the UK is going through this first so it gives Canadians and opportunity to see what can go wrong. Also, we have a lot of Muslims who won’t tolerate extreme behaviour as well.

    1. Then factor in that many of the student-union officers making these decision are fairly young and may make mistakes of judgement.

      No, this cannot be chalked up to a mistake of judgement. It would’ve been a mistake if they had taken the posters, admitted exactly why when asked, and then returned them the next day. Here they lied about their reason for taking them, then shut the entire booth down the next day. That behavior is not indicative of ‘I interpreted the rules wrong,’ it’s indicative of ‘I think I’m right and, what’s more, I don’t I think I even owe you an explanation.’

      1. it’s indicative of ‘I think I’m right and, what’s more, I don’t I think I even owe you an explanation.’

        Yep, people who make mistakes of judgment do indeed often think like that!

    2. It’s basically a bowing to Islamism –which unlike Islam is the politicised focus on Jihad, the Umma and the Caliphate– Islamism requires Islam however and so honest inquiry about the faith, its prophet, its practices, anything is always going to place you in the firing line of Islamists.

      Rather than address this, our culture and our politicians have decided to ignore the problem altogether, label those interested in the culture of offence as ‘fringe extremists’ or indeed acting as an aberration to the faith and silence anyone point out that their extreme worldview is based on a reasonable reading of the Koran (which unlike the Bible is the LITERAL word of God to be read and regarded in no other way) in addition to the Hadith which chronicles Muhammad’s own Jihad against the polytheists.

      This unfortunately makes the awful assumption about the majority of Muslims, who, until Saudi money become of such high priority (and with it virulent Wahhabi Islam in schools and universities) lived cohesively in a diverse and celebrated society.

  8. “Very seriously”? Really? They cannot tolerate a bit of gentle spoofing?

    Let’s look at the frame they’re using here.

    Which groups are we not supposed to “spoof?” The handicapped. The bereaved. Victims. Small children. Despised minorities. Folks who are understandably sensitive to insensitive slights concerning those they love.

    Religion — which is not only about the development of powerful institutions but about powerful claims which allow no dissent — is being placed in this group. And atheists are thereby presumed to be the ones in power here, the status quo with the capacity to inflict harm from above onto the weak below us.

    Don’t worry. We are only empowered long enough to be for the argument to be made that we shouldn’t use it.

    Satire is an effective tool used against those who have an unearned respect, a strength built on shaky ground. It’s not funny if you’re picking on smaller, feebler opponents. The religious seem then to be using a Little People argument against themselves.

    Pick a horse and ride it. Does your faith make you stronger — or does it classify you as one of the simpletons?

    My guess is that an additional problem in England is that they’re currently dealing with the concept of respecting “honor culture” mentality, where one’s honor is defined according to the respect all things which touch you are treated and vengeance is supposed to be swift, secure, and often violent. You are not admired for the restraint you practice towards insults. You are admired for how you retaliate.

    1. Which groups are we not supposed to “spoof?” The handicapped. The bereaved. Victims. Small children. Despised minorities. Folks who are understandably sensitive to insensitive slights concerning those they love.

      The irony is, that list could be a Benny Hill episode. Or a Monty Python show. The Brits have a history of spoofing pretty much everything British – minority, majority, in power, out of power, you name it…including religion. Over the last century or so, I’d say they’ve been much better at laughing at themselves than we Americans have. Its something our older brother has pretty much always been better than us at doing. So when we see our older brother flop at it…its surprising and discouraging.

        1. I recently watched an interview with the surviving Pythons about their movie Live of Brian (an extra on a recent BluRay re-release of the movie). They described the Christian reaction at the time. They also said they would have a much harder time making it in today’s environment.

          (The interview is worth purchasing by itself, just for the interesting history it provides.)

          1. I used to think the Mother Country was better at comedy. But maybe the USA is now ahead, what with Sarah Silverman and Bill Maher.

      1. This is a good point. The religious spoofs on Monty Python episodes and movies were not successfully censored, if I recall, even when they made outrageous fun of canonical religious symbols like Christ on a cross. But here a student group making a mildly religious spoof of a painting — an object that is not worshipped — and they get taken down. I suppose the differences are the audience, the power of the spoofers, and the time. It is harder to mock religion today than in the ’70s.

        1. You don’t recall correctly, I’m afraid. Several local authorities effectively banned Life of Brian from being shown in cinemas in their areas.

          Trickier for them to do now, given the protection available for freedom of speech and freedom of religion under the Human Rights Act: note to JAC: this does exist, and if the University itself were banning things, it could be invoked. Not so sure that it would apply where a private group – the students’ union – is prohibiting things from happening at events it runs.

          1. And the banning worked much the the benefit of the Pythons. It created news stories about people climbing in busses to travel to towns where they could watch the film. Ticket sales soared.

    2. Religion is palpably a delusion, there is no possible way of knowing what they claim to (and must) know to be a theist.

      Therefore allowing people to claim offence and modifying our behaviour accordingly is unacceptable –could Pastafarian employers demand their employees drink beer and dress as pirates?

      Should we outlaw homosexuality, or women driving or indeed, cartoons (where they represent a free press) because of religious insult? Of course not.

      Anybody has the right to be offended and anybody has the right to offend, enforcing a totalitarian ideology on children offends me and I’ll argue all day why they’re wrong to do so, even stop them doing it in schools but I won’t attempt to dictate how people think.

      You’re right that satire can’t be overstated in its importance against stupidity and oppression

  9. Lucky Adam’s not being reached out to by Aphrodite. He might have needed boxers.

    From the union official’s point of view, this is a dangerous situation, better nipped in the bud; if they fail to censor depictions of religious figures, somebody will, sooner or later, place one up featuring Mohammed, and if they fail to censor that, there are people who know where they live. This is no joke…

    1. As a cynic, I think the union official’s point of view is more likely this: “this is a dangerous situation, better nipped in the bud; if they fail to obey my dictat, somebody will, sooner or later, question my ability to decide what’s decent and what isn’t. This is no joke. I’d better punish the folks questioning my power or right to censor.”

  10. There is no evidence that any religious group has applied pressure of any kind to silence atheist student groups from faintly mocking religion. This appears to be the handiwork of the Students Union at the LSBU who appear intent on making a complete tit of themselves (to use the technical term). Apparently their last outing did not sufficiently acquaint them with the Streisand Effect.

    1. A long and rambling piece, that.

      He seems to think that an evolutionary biologist liking cats provides significant insight into the human condition.

  11. Poor Michelangelo: There he painted the genitals extra small, so they don’t act as distraction, and it’s still not enough.

    1. He chose the wrong gender of genitals. If he’d made Adam a transsexual, then no-one would have thought a thing about her showing her bits off to the Papal bald spot.
      And it’s have quashed all those rumours about Michaelangelo preferring a “bit of the brown.”

        1. Gravel inspector, I beg your pardon. Maybe you are from “down under”, but don’t read anything into my metaphor.

  12. Britain doesn’t have a constitution mandating freedom of religion and freedom of speech (note to Brits: get one ASAP!)

    The biggest problem with that is that any debate about establishing a written constitution (hopefully debated and voted on publicly and rationally, but that’s a sub-set of “any debate”) immediately gets leapt on by the pro-monarchy people as being an attempt at getting Queen Brenda and the Robber Barons out of Buck House and out of public life.
    And, to be honest, any such debate on constitutional reform would get sucked into the Republicanism / Monarchist debate. Why re-build the fundamental laws of our society twice in one generation?
    Roll on King Talker-to-Pot-Plants, that’s what I say. Nothing like a congenital loon to bring a hereditary institution into the sharp focus of idiocy.
    I heard something on FOOC (From Our Own Correspondent ; on the Beeb’s podcast site) recently that implied that the Spanish royal family are doing their bit to bring monarchy into disrepute, so things are looking up. Problem is that Crown Prince Big Ears’ sprogs seem relatively sane, so we really need Charlie 3 to get onto that thrown and let slip the Frogs of Madness.

    1. The British monarchy has survived far worse “loons” than Charles, and will do so again if required. Charles has far more freedom to air his eccentric opinions in public now than he ever will when he takes the throne. Royal protocol will then require him to shut up and carry out his constitutional functions, as his mother does now.

      And as for the Republican/Monarchist “debate”, there is none, for the simple reason that the monarchy enjoys overwhelming public support and republicanism is a far more eccentric position than any supposedly espoused by Prince Charles.

      God save the Queen!

      1. If you lived on this side of the border, you’d probably have a different take on it.
        And the public support is no where near overwhelming. A majority, I agree. But don’t worry ; we’re undermining it all the time, and with Prince BigEars undermining it from the inside I am optimistic of dieing a citizen not a subject.
        Then again, I could always cheat and go and live in a proper country. I’ve been trying to persuade the wife that we should move for a lot of the time that we’ve been married.

        1. I pray to Ceiling Cat that Her Majesty can hold on until Prince Chuck is no longer with us or abdicates his right to be next in line. His boys aren’t quite as nuts as him.

          I remember saying to a Scottish friend that the House of Lords should be abolished, he replied “Spoken like a true Scotsman.” But I like the system overall and think constitutional monarchy is better by a mile than US style republicanism.

              1. Tell me, how old was the Queen Mum when she died? How old are the Queen and Prince Phillip and how inactive they are? All three have been using homeopathy and have had personal homeopathy doctors for decades. Sure, correlation is not necessarily causation but it doesn’t exclude it either.

                What saddened me is that you seem to lack a sense of humour and the ability to detect tongue-in-cheek that is expressed by :p which I actually had posted.

              2. Genetics could be a factor if on both sides of the family – i.e. the Queen’s side and Prince Phillip’s side a large number of their ascendants were that long-lived.

                I am troubled by your apparent obsession with male gonads, though.

  13. Why is it okay to display genitals in an art museum (or the Sistine Chapel, for Christ’s sake [wordplay intended]), but not on a poster for an atheist organization? I mean, all it is is a reproduction of a famous work of art. Disingenuous!

    I’m still waiting for signs on art museums: “Warning: Mature content. Must be 18 to enter!”

  14. from

    “…the artistic evidence implies that over-large genitals were considered aesthetically unpleasing by the Greeks and Romans. …the ideal type of male beauty epitomised in classical sculpture, Greek and Roman, normally depicts genitals of somewhat less than average size…certainly never more. Consequently, the exaggerated genitals of Priapus made him seem an ugly and grotesque figure, though benevolent.

    It has also been pointed out that many of these images are of athletes, and during and immediately after hard exercise (and not only in cold water) the penis is considerably shrunk and the testicles hoist high. This also affords a commonsense explanation for the apparently phimosed appearance of the foreskins in classical statuary and vase painting.
    The faces of people on bowls are almost invariably in profile, but we do not suppose the Greeks considered that full-face was “aesthetically displeasing”. So the small penises shown on ordinary mortals may have been no more than a convention, to distinguish them from fertility figures such as satyrs and Priapus.

    Why always covered?
    Chorus: My Comedy’s a modest girl: she doesn’t play the fool
    By bringing on a great thick floppy red-tipped leather tool
    To give the kids a laugh….
    Aristophanes, “The Clouds”
    translated by Alan H. Sommerstein

    The Greeks considered only the glans, not the whole penis, to be obscene. In the gymnasium, men kept their glanses out of sight by tying a thong (kynodesme) around their foreskins, and Hellenised Jews sought foreskin restoration to make that possible. The “red-tipped” phallus that the Chorus of The Clouds disdained would have belonged to a circumcised Egyptian (leather intact phalluses were part of the costume in all comedies, including The Clouds). The glans was only shown on purely phallic images, such as those used in religious festivals. On those, the artists showed wrinkling to indicate the foreskin.

  15. Regarding Jerry’s penultimate paragraph. The UK is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights article 10 of which provides for freedom of expression subject to limited exceptions which do not seem to include p***ing of up themselves student politicians.

    Article 10 – Freedom of expression

    “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

    2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

      1. # 2 does leave a lot of wriggle room but “necessary in a democratic society” should be conditioned by the list that follows.

        The other potentially problematic bit is “without interference by public authority” and exactly what constitutes such an authority but presumably includes a university (and student unions would derive whatever powers they have from that).

        Of course the real threat at a practical level is the legal costs involved in trying to enforce rights to freedom of expression.

      2. I think the key thing is “…as are prescribed by law…” i.e. you cannot do something inherently illegal under a defence of “freedom of expression”. The problem is not the Article or the law, it is the cowardly pandering to minority groups who *might* be offended in violation of those articles and laws. No one has the right not to be offended. This might be a particularly British thing as we have an over-developed sense of the importance of being “polite” and not causing offence where possible. (As a general rule, we’d rather eat a crappy meal in a restaurant and never go back than risk causing offence by telling the waiter that the soup is cold or the steak is burnt!)

  16. This uni will have a high Moslem intake; quite likely also the student union.

    The union itself may have have taken offence or just be scared ****less. Or, just possibly, they may think that they are acting reasonably.

    Seeing as this is already going global it will be should be rather fun to see how it pans out. Bit of a balls-up, what?

  17. The UK may not have constitutional rules, but all students’ unions, as charities, must have.
    If the SBAS wishes to get a proper explanation, they can use the rules to force the executive to justify its actions. These clauses are extracted from the National Union of Students model constitution (complete with dubious spelling and grammar):
    2.0 Aims and Objectives
    2.4 To promote, encourage and co-ordinate student clubs, societies, sports and social
    2.5 These aims and objects shall be practiced without discrimination on the grounds of age, sex, race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition, except that action may be taken to promote equality of opportunity.
    2.6 The union shall practice the above aims and objectives independent of any political party or religious organisation.
    7.0 Clubs and Societies
    7.1 Clubs and societies may be recognised by the union parliament provided that they meet
    the requirements set out in Schedule Two (Clubs and Societies) of this constitution and do not breach the union’s aims and objectives.
    9.0 Complaints Procedure
    9.1 Complaints about an individual officer, the executive committee or any member of union parliament shall be dealt with under the complaints procedure contained in Appendix
    Three (Code of Practice) of this constitution.

    1. The place of religion in Equality and Diversity is laws is a tricky one. If it was the Badminton Society, then that poster would be religious discrimination and should be removed. However, all religious organisations are clearly, by their nature, religiously discriminative. There should be special rules for religious clubs and societies, just as presumably there are special dispensations for Churches etc. to have religious discrimination/harassment of their employees.

  18. It’s about power.

    The most intolerant factions in Islam want to present themselves as speaking for the UK’s entire Muslim population. The spineless morons who are afraid of offending any sensibility presenting itself as religious play straight into their hands.

    The conflict within UK islam was dramatically illustrated earlier by the Maajid Nawaz story, which you covered last month. The LibDem political party, a byword for spinelessness, did eventually back Maajid’s right not to be offended by Jesus and Mo, but it took them a week of being shouted at.

  19. “I don’t understand why this hypersensitivity is taking place in England,…”

    It’s called the Chamberlain gene. One hopes that a threat to one’s lifestyle will bugger off without confrontation, if one just appeases them.

    Who’s the next Churchill?

  20. I can’t *believe* that some utter prat tried to object to Adam’s little blink-and-you-missed-it willy.

    When I was at school in UK in the 70’s – grammar school, so ages about 12 to 16 – one of the classrooms had that painting on the wall. Well, the one with God, not the FSM. Evidently no-one gave a moment’s thought to the fact that twelve-year-olds were going to see it.

    Or were they objecting to the FSM’s rather large meatballs?


  21. When I was a bairn it was only right-wingers who wanted to censor things (Mary Whitehouse et al), so its very depressing to see the way that over the years its become lefties and liberals who want to censor things.

    It started out as a nice idea about not mocking the afflicted, but now its just got silly.

  22. “I don’t understand why this hypersensitivity is taking place in England, a country supposedly far less religious than the U.S.”

    I don’t know, and I may be wrong, but given that this is LSBU, which has a high proportion of overseas students from Islamic countries, I suspect concern over Islam, rather than any other religion, is the issue here. This pro-active self-censorship is the result of an unfortunate combination of circumstances in which criticism of Islam is seen as inseparable from “Islamophobia”, which people who use that term equate with racism. The aggravating factor is the invasion of Iraq, which has hypersensitized many idealistic young people to criticism of Islam, as if such criticism were in some way an attempt to justify the invasion. In these people’s eyes any Muslim has a virtually unlimited right to be offended by criticism of their religion and for almost any act of censorship to be permitted if it will avoid such offence being given. Fear of seeming prejudiced against Muslims is a vastly more powerful motivation in such people’s minds than fear of compromising someone’s freedom of expression.

    1. “The aggravating factor is the invasion of Iraq, which has hypersensitized many idealistic young people to criticism of Islam, as if such criticism were in some way an attempt to justify the invasion.”

      It’s understandable, like the reluctance to criticise Jews/Judaism/Israel after the holocaust. The US/British invasion Of Iraq was unjustified and did horrible damage to Iraq and its people. It also unleashed the Sunni-Shia slaughter that’s consuming the muslim world. The colonialising west has much to atone for. I don’t think excessive deference to the sensitivity of Muslims is the appropriate response, any more than is turning a blind eye to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is an appropriate response to the Jewish sufferings of the holocaust, but it certainly is understandable.

    2. Islamic political ideology precedes any upset among British Muslims (which are not majority Iraqi, to sensitivity regarding the Iraq war).

      When the Woolich attacker calmly spoke to the camera following the attempted beheading of an off-duty British soldier he remarked (and do look up the full transcript, the interesting parts of which and explicitly Islamic justifications that are censored from news reports in their presentation of a short and seemingly political excerpt to which I’ll now refer) that until ‘we’ (he identifies as British here) leave Muslim lands then, to paraphrase, there will be bloodshed on British soil. This was a man born of a Christian family in Nigeria and living in the U.K. How, would it be in any-way reasonable to suggest that the Iraq war was an aggravating factor here? The aggravating factor is the acceptance of terms like ‘Muslim Lands’ –where no such thing actually exists.

      Do take the time by the way to research Al-Qaeda’s manifesto. Anti Western sentiment is surprisingly far from the top of their agenda, comfortably above that are the Hindus and the Shias.

      In Saudi Arabia it is illegal to be a Shia Muslim, Sectarian warfare has raged and continues to in Iraq since long before the Iraq War –what on earth do these things have to do with our foreign policy?

      I agree that the Iraq war was wrong but it is the totalitarian, political face of Islam that we have to thank for sensitivity regarding cartoons, not the Iraq war. This argument is not a new one just normally people try it pre and post 9/11, you would still have a job, using either of these justifications, to explain Madrid, Bali, Boston and many, many others.

      If I haven’t been clear enough in my refutation of even a hint of apology for these creeps may I finish by reminding you that the fatwa on Salman Rushdie was in 1989.

      1. You wrote:

        In Saudi Arabia it is illegal to be a Shia Muslim

        Allow me to correct you:

        “Approximately 10-15 percent[1][2] of citizens in Saudi Arabia are Shia Muslims. The modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, formed in 1932, is based on the belief that [Muslims] should return to the interpretation of [Islam] found in the classical texts, the [Quran] and the Sunnah. A scholar named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (Encyclopædia Britannica) is widely regarded for his efforts in reviving this view.

        “Due to this difference, the Shia minority have been at odds with the Kingdom, which is a Sunni majority, amid allegations of discrimination against the minority, and suspicions that Iran, a Shia power, supports the Saudi Shia for its own political gain at the expense of the Kingdom.

        “Most Shi’i Muslims are Twelver Bahrani people in the Eastern Province with the largest concentrations in Qatif, Al-Hasa. There is also a Twelver minority in Medina called the Nakhawila). Sizable Zaydi and Isma’ili communities also live in Najran along the border with Yemen.”

        (more at

    3. It is worth noting that the leaders of the Iraq invasion, Bush and Blair, are both evangelical christians. The promotion of the war to the American and British people was reminiscent of a religious campaign, maybe not unlike Pope Urban’s call for the first crusade. Anti-Islamic sentiments were whipped up to a fever pitch, not by Bush and Blair themselves, but by their enablers in promoting the invasion. The most rabid inflammers of anti-Islamic sentiment were religious zealots, christian end-timers who saw the situation as foreshadowing the second coming of christ, and neocon jewish supporters of Israel.

      Much of the deference to Islamic feelings today may be seen as a reaction to the wrongs done to muslims dating back to colonial times. The US and UK have much to atone for. After an invasion that resulted in a hundred thousand or more muslims killed and millions displaced, and in light of continuing efforts, by the same perpetrators of aggression, to vilify Iranian muslims in order to justify yet another military assault, deference to Muslim sensibilities does not seem unreasonable.

      It is important to keep things in perspective. Providing segregated seating for muslims in British universities may be wrong, but that wrong pales in comparison to the wrong done by US/UK in waging war against muslims. The boycott of Israeli universities by US and UK academics may be wrong, but that wrong pales in comparison to the wrongs being done by Israel to the Palestinian people.

      I’m in favor of eliminating religious privilege wherever it appears, but we westerners have plenty to work on with our own entrenched christian religions. Villifying islam plays into the hands of christian and jewish extremists who want to wage endless war on Islam.

      1. If I recall correctly Bush used the word Crusade right after 9/11. It’s interesting that no one in the White House warned him not to use it so it took someone else to point out the baggage that it carried.

      2. I am in complete agreement with your first paragraph. But I have to disagree with the general “gist” of your argument which basically absolves Islam for what is ultimately religion-driven violence. As others have pointed out, the conflation of religion and politics/governance is baked in to Islam and has been playing out for centuries. Blaming Bush/Blair for “death to the apostates and infidels” is quite absurd and makes me wonder how they were responsible for the fatwa against Salmon Rushdie.

        1. gbjames: It wasn’t my purpose to “absolve Islam for what is ultimately religion-driven violence”. It is reprehensible, and I condemn it, though not as much as I condemn the violence, religious or otherwise, of my own country, because I feel somewhat responsible for that. I was absolving the kids of the student union, and others in the US and UK like myself, who are hypersensitive to stirring up hatred of muslims, because of the military aggression that has led to in the recent past, and the danger of more to come, if the bomb Iran crowd has its way.

          1. Here’s the thing. Why are you compelled to absolve the students who removed the posters? They did a stupid thing (for which the University has now apologized). By all means, wail on Bush/Blair and all of the (largely but not exclusively religions) idiots who took us into the horrors of Iraq.

            But you do no good, IMO, by “absolving” wrongful behavior by pointing to some other guy’s wrongful behavior. Every beheading by an Islamist doesn’t need to be followed by an “absolution” because of 19th Century British foreign policy. (or 20th Century US policy)

            Your absolutions sound like all the world as excuses. And there is no excuse for trampling free speech rights because of colonialism or Bush.

            1. gbjames: There are powerful forces pushing for a military attack on Iran, either by the US, or more likely, by Israel with support from the US. Obama is being portrayed as weak and dishonest for not attacking Syria and for Kerry’s interim agreement with Iran. A major part of the effort to garner US public support is the demonization of Iran and Islam. This demonization is not being led by atheists, but by adherents of rival religions, Christianity and Judaism. Atheists should be careful not to play into the hands of religionists in their partisan battles. There is plenty to criticize about Islam, from an atheist point of view, but in the context of a demonization campaign, such as that leading up to the Iraq invasion, adding fuel to the fire should be considered carefully. McCain famously chanted “Bomb bomb Iran”. Romany promised to attack to prevent a nuclear Iran. What will Pres. Cruz do?

              1. Romany

                noun: Romany; noun: Romani; plural noun: Romanis; plural noun: Romanies

                the language of the Gypsies, which is an Indo-European language related to Hindi. It is spoken by a dispersed group of about 1 million people, and has many dialects.
                a Gypsy.

                adjective: Romany; adjective: Romani

                relating to Gypsies or their language.

              2. And your point is, paxton…?

                I’m not going to argue for the merits of going to war under false premise. I thought it was clear that I was/am exceedingly hostile to the McCain types whether they are singing Beach Boy covers or not.

                I am going to insist that pretending that Islam is not a very serious threat because of the hyper conflation of religious idiocy with politics amounts to “demonization”. It doesn’t. It amounts to being honest with ourselves and others. The fact that we live in a country highly influenced by a different kind of theocratically minded war-mongering idiots is no reason to shut up about the sort of threat that the OP was about.

                If you want credibility when attacking religious right theocratic tendencies you have to be willing to attack theocratic idiocy from Islam with at least as much seriousness. When people like you and me “absolve” Islam of responsibility we leave the door wide open for the right wing god-bots to own the obvious. Religion poisons everything. And Islam should not absolved of passing being a poisoner.

              3. And your point is, paxton…?

                I’m not going to argue for the merits of going to war under false premise. I thought it was clear that I was/am exceedingly hostile to the McCain types whether they are singing Beach Boy covers or not.

                I am going to insist that pretending that Islam is not a very serious threat because of the hyper conflation of religious idiocy with politics amounts to “demonization”. It doesn’t. It amounts to being honest with ourselves and others. The fact that we live in a country highly influenced by a different kind of theocratically minded war-mongering idiots is no reason to shut up about the sort of threat that the OP was about.

                If you want credibility when attacking religious right theocratic tendencies you have to be willing to attack theocratic idiocy from Islam with at least as much seriousness. When people like you and me “absolve” Islam of responsibility we leave the door wide open for the right wing god-bots to own the obvious. Religion poisons everything. And Islam should not absolved of passing being a poisoner.

              4. I should quit gbj, because I don’t really disagree with you. I’ll just point out that it is customary, in “polite” societies, to show some deference to groups that we have harmed in the past. Demeaning comments about blacks and native Americans are considered in bad taste in the US. Many consider compensatory efforts, such as affirmative action, and even reparations to be appropriate. Germany paid reparations to families of holocaust victims. There is still widespread prejudice against blacks, natives, hispanics, and muslims in our society. It is wise and just not to exacerbate these prejudices, especially when doing so could lead to such things as lynchings or bombings. I think that Judaism is often accorded such deference, in these discussions and elsewhere, as a result of the holocaust.

                Words and actions have consequences. It is not “absolving” Islam to exercise prudence when blanket denunciations incite reckless violence of our own.

              5. The problem, paxton, arises when one confuses “demeaning comments about blacks and native Americans” with mockery of ideas. You can tell the difference, I hope. The people at the student union, described in the original post, could not.

              6. Distinguishing between attacks on ideas and attacks on people is a reasonable and important distinction, gbj, but not so easy to achieve in practice. I don’t mock my 92 year old mothers religious beliefs, because she wouldn’t make that distinction.

                Consequentialism judges the morality of behaviors by their consequences, not by their intellectual consistency. The real world is a messy place where we have to weigh multiple costs and benefits in deciding the best way to proceed.

              7. If you can’t decry the actions of the student union at South Bank University without attributing it to George Bush you need to try harder.

                Similarly, if you can’t decry invading Iraq without without blaming it on an attack by Saudi Islamic radicals, you need to try harder.

                It goes both ways.

              8. And if you can’t see the connection between these things you need to try harder.

                This discussion brings to mind the distinction between science and my profession of engineering. Science seeks to isolate variables in order to determine the influence of one thing on another whenother variables are held constant. Engineering seeks to achieve certain desired outcomes in an evnvironment where a variety of scientific forces are working simultaneously, e.g the flight of an airplane in turbulent conditions. Science is reductionist. It seeks universal laws. Engineering is synthetic. It seeks certain outcomes. I am seeking an outcome, not to attack Iran. You are seeking universal principles of behavior, to reject beliefs and behaviors based on superstitions.

                I think we share these objectives but perhaps prioritize them differently. My larger point however is that appropriate behavior is always contingent on circumstances.

              9. “appropriate behavior is always contingent on circumstances”

                This is a truism. What isn’t contingent on circumstance is honest assessment of situations like the one under consideration here. Blaming it on Bush is only marginally more absurd than blaming the fatwah against Salmon Rushdie on the Armenian genocide.

              10. Sigh. How can I get it across to you that it’s not about blaming Bush. It’s about the risk of a similarly reckless attack on Iran. The past is relevant when it alerts us to dangers in the future. To ignore the context is, as we engineers say, to be operating open loop, i.e. not incorporating the feedback.

              11. Yes, it is important to work against a stupid war against Iran.

                This does not mean that one excuses anti-blasphemy laws or pretends that there is something wrong with posting cartoons of Jesus and Mo. And it doesn’t require us to change the subject when the student union is called out for pulling down Pastafarian posters.

                If you can’t oppose both stupid wars AND stupid restrictions on free speech, something is terribly wrong.

        1. Can’t one be an evangelical catholic? By evangelical, I mean someone who is a fervent believer, not a nominal attender.

  23. I seem to remember that some ten or so years ago, I applied to be and was “ordained” online as a Pastafarian minister, before they began issuing and selling certificates of ordination at $20 a pop…


  24. I am struck by the irony that we are all championing the cause of a *religion*. 😉

    (Because we all know the Church of FSM isn’t a real religion… If it was, we would have to oppose it as much as we oppose, say, Scientology. Of course, the dumb f*cks who persecuted the FSM are acting on the same presumption – that it isn’t a real religion.)

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