Jesus and Mo and Free Speech

The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Last summer, they issued a statement on the UN’s opposition to anti-blasphemy laws.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has issued a commentary on freedom of expression that says anti-blasphemy laws and restrictions on criticism of governments are incompatible with existing norms and that free expression is essential for the protection of human rights….

“It is a strong reaffirmation of the central importance for all human rights of the freedom of expression and sets out the very strict parameters within which the right can be restricted by States.”

“Freedom of expression is a necessary condition for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of human rights,” the report said.

“States parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

This does not have the authority of law, but it can be used as a good guideline for ethical decisions in incidences where that freedom of expression is under attack, an idea that has been lost among some Muslims and their supporters.

Recently, the Jaipur Literary Festival cancelled a live appearance, and then a video statement, by  Salman Rushdie because of threats of violence from Muslims.

The decision to call off the video address by the author of the banned book “Satanic Verses” came after a meeting festival organisers had with leaders of Muslim organisations during which the protesters told them “even seeing his face is intolerable”.

“This is not a decision that we can support, we have been pushed to the wall. It is unfortunate that we are being bullied again and we had to step down…We had no other way but to listen to save the people here, our children and everyone here,” said Roy, as he left the stage in tears.

“We have been informed by police that even as I speak there are large crowds that have gathered in parks, that are marching toward the Diggi Palace (the venue),” said Roy.

The Rushdie session –Midnight’s Child – was planned for 3.45 pm where he was to discuss his childhood, his work, problems faced in the past years and the adaptation of his novel Midnight’s Children into a film.

“There are large number of people who are averse to this video link and they are actually inside the property. A lot of them have gathered in and around the property…and they have threatened violence” if the video link takes place, Roy said.

“This is unfortunate but necessary to avoid harm to the property, to all of you, to my children and all the youngsters who are here,” he said.

In support of Rushdie, four of the participants read excerpts from his work, and now a police investigation has been launched–not on the threats of violence, but on the reading from an author whose works have been declared illegal in the country.

In Indonesia, an atheist was arrested for being an atheist.

An Indonesian civil servant could face a five-year jail sentence for using social media to deny the existence of God.

Alexander Aan, 31, wrote on a Facebook page that “God does not exist,” prompting an outpouring of religious fervor in the largely Muslim country of 240 million, the Associated Press reported.

“If God exists, why do bad things happen?” Aan continued, according to the Telegraph. “There should only be good things if God is merciful.”

After the controversial post, a mob attacked Aan on his way to work and police arrested him on charges of blasphemy.

Chairul Azis, police chief of Dharmasraya, said Aan lied when he said on his job application that he was a Muslim.

The incident highlighted Indonesia’s lack of tolerance for unbelievers. The country’s government recognizes five religions, but atheism is illegal there, according to AP

At the London School of Economics, a shitstorm has developed over the posting of a Jesus and Mo cartoon to the facebook page of the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. Not only were Muslims offended, but the LSE Students Union is supporting the Muslims.

On Monday 16th January it was brought to our attention via an official complaint by two students that the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society posted cartoons, published by the UCLU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, depicting the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus “sitting in a pub having a pint” on their society Facebook page. Upon hearing this, the sabbaticals officers of the LSESU ensured all evidence was collected and an emergency meeting with a member of the Students’ Union staff was called to discuss how to deal with the issue. During this time, we received over 40 separate official complaints from the student body, in addition to further information regarding more posts on the society Facebook page.

It was decided that the President and other committee members of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society would be called for an informal meeting to explain the situation, the complaints that had been made, and how the action of posting these cartoons was in breach of Students’ Union policy on inclusion and the society’s constitution.  This meeting took place on Friday 20th January at 10.30am. The society agreed to certain actions coming out of the meeting and these were discussed amongst the sabbatical team. In this discussion it was felt that though these actions were positive they would not fully address the concerns of those who had submitted complaints. Therefore the SU will now be telling the society that they cannot continue these activities under the brand of the SU.

The LSE Students’ Union would like to reiterate that we strongly condemn and stand against any form of racism and discrimination on campus. The offensive nature of the content on the Facebook page is not in accordance with our values of tolerance, diversity, and respect for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religious affiliation. There is a special need in a Students’ Union to balance freedom of speech and to ensure access to all aspects of the LSESU for all the ethnic and religious minority communities that make up the student body at the LSE.

In other words, they are supporting the Muslims ‘right’ not to be offended. Not only is this statement at odds with the UN’s statement, it is deeply offensive to many others. As you would expect, the right of the religious to not be offended, trumps the rights of others. These cartoons are satirical and do not suggest violence against any individual or group. If a Christian  group suggested, as many do, that if you don’t believe  Jesus is God, you will be damned to eternal torment, or a Muslim group  claims that:

Allah forgiveth not (The sin of) joining other gods with Him; but He forgiveth whom He pleaseth other sins than this: one who joins other gods with Allah, Hath strayed far, far away (from the right).

are they not suggesting a form of eternal violence against us, the unbelievers? How are these concepts related to tolerance?

Karen Armstrong, a religious apologist, states that Islam is not a religion of violence, but one of peace; that the claims of violent Islamists do not represent the ‘truth’ of Islam.  Certainly the majority of Western Muslims are non-violent; indeed the came can be said in many other parts of the world. However, it appears that there are very different viewpoints within the religion itself. This, of course, is true of virtually all religions, and who can say which is the correct interpretations. Are those who follow the path of peace the ‘true believers’ or are those who preach and practice violence? Most likely, they are all true believers and interpret the ‘word of God’ to support their own world views.

Enough words. Time for some Jesus and Mo.


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One Response to Jesus and Mo and Free Speech

  1. Pingback: Angels and Demons | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

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