THE Scholarly Web - 17 October 2013

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

October 17, 2013

When two students from the London School of Economics’ atheist society were allegedly threatened with being kicked out of their institution’s freshers’ fair for wearing T-shirts featuring cartoon versions of Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad, the online community was quick to wade into the debate.

According to reports, students’ union officers and security guards threatened to expel two LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society members from the event. It was alleged that complaints had been received about the two students’ choice of shirts, which featured the webcomic characters Jesus and Mo.

Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis were told that wearing the T-shirts might constitute “harassment”.

“As much as we respect and defend the rights of others to wear whatever they choose to wear, we claim this right for ourselves,” the two students say in an article on The Independent’s website.

“Our right to free expression and participation in the LSE student community is being curtailed for no other reason than that we are expressing views that are not shared by others.”

In a post on her blog Nothing Is Sacred, human rights activist and broadcaster Maryam Namazie asked LSE: “What happened to freedom of thought?”

“Yes, we know people have a ‘right’ and ‘choice’ to wear the burka (which is a mobile prison for women),” she writes, “but two LSE students don’t have a right to wear a T-shirt poking fun at religion?”

“I am coming to your university for a debate on the burka, and guess what I’m wearing? A Jesus and Mo T-shirt. Now where can I get one of those quick?”

Atheist, ethologist and author Richard Dawkins, who had already used his Twitter account (@RichardDawkins) to describe the union reps as “sanctimonious little prigs” for their actions, was quick to offer Ms Namazie some guidance.

“Get Jesus & Mo T-shirt here,” he tweeted, adding a link to the T-shirt store. “Wear it at LSE and marvel at the inadequate crybabies ‘offended’ by such gentle satire.”

The cartoon’s creator published his own response in cartoon form on the Jesus and Mo website, featuring the two characters questioning whether threatening to physically remove people from a building in which they were playing a gig constituted an “anti-harassment” stance.

A joint statement from the university and the students’ union was published on, among other places, the union’s Tumblr page.

In the statement, students’ union general secretary Jay Stoll says that the two students were asked to cover the T-shirts “in the interests of good campus relations”.

“LSE is committed to promoting freedom of expression and is known for its public events and wide range of speakers. In this instance, it was judged that the actions of the students were undermining what should have been a welcoming and inclusive event,” he concludes.

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tsleducation.com

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