Open Letter to the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society at London School of Economics [en]

Subject: Your controversy with the LSE Students’ Union

Dear Members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society,

I’m writing to support and encourage you in your struggle with the LSE Students’ Union, which apparently originated around your endorsement  of a Jesus and Mo cartoon on Facebook. Actually, to me it seems the conflict only arose because some people decided to be pissy about it.

I mean, come on! This whole issue is utterly ridiculous! I’m not familiar with the organization structure of the groups at your University, let alone their statutes. Admittedly, I wasn’t even able to reconstruct which particular Jesus and Mo strip caused all the hassle. (Was it seriously just the cover art of the Jesus and Mo Vol. 3 book?) Nevertheless, as someone who has read most Jesus and Mo strips in the past, I can say that the issue has been blown out of proportion tremendously.

Can people be offended by Jesus and Mo? They certainly can! Do people have good reason to be offended by Jesus and Mo, based on “any form of racism and discrimination” or lack of “tolerance, diversity, and respect”, as the LSE Students’ Union claims? I strongly disagree with that notion! Being familiar with the cartoons, I can say that Jesus and Mo do not engage in discrimination, intolerance, disrespect, or similar towards any person or group. The strips criticize concepts, rather than people. And IMHO they pick on concepts that deserve criticism, and they do it in a calm, civilized and well-rationalized manner.

Now, if people are offended by that, that’s all well and good. But are you the ones to blame? Heck no! Different people are offended by all kinds of things. And I think its not very polite to knowingly rub such things in their faces.  However, you did not rub anything into anyones face. You did not walk up to arbitrary students and try to convince them to like Jesus and Mo cartoons.  You did not nail a Jesus and Mo poster to a church door. You did not shout Jesus and Mo punchlines from a minaret. And even if you did, the worst thing I could say is that you were not being very polite. Or as you yourself put it, “offence is not a sufficient reason for certain artistic and satirical forms of expression to be prohibited.”

I for one feel offended by the prevalence of religious ideology in our society. I feel deeply troubled by the effects of superstitious believes on public live and politics. The fact that well-educated and influential members of our society still believe in supernatural deities is an insult to my intellect. But I’m not blaming these people for offending me. You won’t see me running to mommy (or the authorities) and demand that everyone else changes their offensive beliefs. Likewise, the people that are offended by your reference to Jesus and Mo should stop being such crybabies about it!

Sadly, this controversy is not going on in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Sumatra, or the US Bible Belt. This is happening in Britain, in Europe, for Bobs sake! In 2012! Whatever happened to our ideals of free speech and tolerance? Didn’t we learn anything from Voltaire? You are not the ones who are running contrary to these principles! But the LSE Students’ Union certainly appears to be.

That’s why I’d like to encourage you ‒ the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society ‒ not to give in to the demands of the LSE Students’ Union. I seriously doubt their claim that “the action of posting these cartoons was in breach of Students’ Union policy on inclusion and the society’s constitution.” And even if it was, there are higher values at stake here, and the respective statutes would need to be adjusted accordingly.

I’m confident that you’ll be be able to “engage with LSESU and work with them further to resolve the situation.” But please don’t compromise your ideals just to avoid conflict. I’m sure there are many people out there who fully agree with your stance on the issue. I certainly do. Please let all of us know, if you need any support!

Best regards,
Michael Riedel

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
probably not Voltaire

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