Sunday 18th October – talk by Chis Moos
Chris is a secularist activist and researcher. After getting harassed and threatened with physical removal by his university, he campaigned successfully for the right to wear ‘Jesus and Mo’ t-shirts at his university and subsequently in defense of LibDem PPC Maajid Nawaz. His activism and research focuses on the intersection of patriarchy, racism and political religion, and he has co-organised the successful campaigns against gender segregation and the Law Society’s sharia wills Practice Note. Chris was a nominee for the Secularist of the Year 2014 award.
John de Prey reports:
“Is It Your Right To Say What you Think?
I was once discussing an oil pipeline problem with a client who I knew to be devoutly Muslim. We needed to pass a cleaning pig, but I was careful not to mention the word “pig” for fear of upsetting him. He smiled and said “You know, Muslims are not offended by pigs. It’s only that they are forbidden to eat them”. We laughed, but my ridiculous self-censorship had been racist. I’m sure my client felt it was.
In Britain today our concern not to offend and so avoid possible hostility has allowed censorship to creep in to a degree that would not have been acceptable fifteen years ago. And what about atheists? They are often seen as offending or attacking faiths simply by expressing what they, as atheists, believe.
Christ Moos in his talk “Freedom of Expression and Multifaithism” to Farnham Humanists asked: Are we oppressing one group so as not to offend another? He described how he challenged that oppression by wearing a Jesus and Mo cartoon teeshirt that is popular with atheist students, at a Fresher’s Fair air in the LSE. Perhaps as predicted, the Students Union and the college authorities put a stop to his gesture because, they said, it might offend Muslims and so risk the safety of students. Chris sees the Students Union as being politicised, and their opposition to the wearing of the teeshirts as a political act.
Chris Moos argued: If the college had concerned for the safety of the students wearing the teeshirts they should have offered the students protection rather than suppressing the statement intended by their gesture?
In Britain, strong social disapproval would discourage the burning of poppies, blatant racist abuse or the writings of one Joseph Al-Quaeda. There is clearly a trade-off between the right to free speech and the content of free speech.
If we can reasonably predict that a gesture in the form of a teeshirt will offend some Muslims, should their feelings be ignored for the sake of a perceived “common good” in battling for freedom of expression? Does that gesture further the mutual understanding and trust between Muslims and non-Muslims?
Arguably the teeshirt gesture was taking a stand for freedom of expression, and to promote debate between cultures and faiths in this country on issues such as Sharia Law, and atheism. And perhaps it showed solidarity with those heavily persecuted for their beliefs in other countries. But was it the best way to achieve those aims?
Exactly how best to promote open debate and move towards resolution of points of conflict was hotly discussed at the humanist meeting. The British Humanist Association, and Farnham Humanists, bring together people of different faiths and secularists to explain and discuss differences. That is, after all, what freedom of expression is for.”