LSE students condemn Islamophobia as racism

LSE Students Union logoThis week, the London School of Economics (LSE) Students’ Union held an Emergency General Meeting (EGM) in response to the increasing tension on campus among society groups. After weeks of low attendances, the EGM successfully brought a substantial amount of students to the Old Theatre during the Union General Meeting’s (UGM) constant Thursday allotment. The meeting, chaired by Jack Tindale, presented three motions to be debated.

The first motion was raised in response to the perceived rise of antisemitic sentiments on campus. ‘Stop Anti-Semitism Now!’ was a motion that was first implemented three years ago and was up for renewal. The motion aimed to detail what should be categorised as antisemitism, and to ensure that all antisemitic incidents are “dealt with swiftly and effectively in conjunction with the school.” The motion further called for the publication of “a semi-annual report detailing all incidents of racism, including anti-Semitic incidents of racism that have occurred on campus during the previous six months and the actions taken by the union and the School.”

The motion was submitted by Jay Stoll, President of the LSE Students’ Union Jewish Society, and seconded by Coren Lass, receiving  no opposition. The motion passed with a total of 507 votes, 78 per cent for and nineteen per cent against, with three per cent of voters undecided.

The second motion, entitled “No to racism – No to Islamaphobia,” was raised in response to increasing tensions on campus between various LSE student societies. Many Muslim students were offended by the LSE Students’ Union Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist (ASH) Society’s publication of a “Jesus and Mo” cartoon, in which the two are portrayed “having a pint.” The cartoon was originally posted on the ASH Society’s Facebook page in solidarity with a similar society at the University College of London (UCL) which was asked to take the cartoon down by the UCL Students’ Union.

The motion affirms that the Students’ Union believes in “the right to freedom of speech and thought” and “the right to criticise religion,” but also reiterates its “responsibility to protect its members from hate crime and hate speech.” Presented by Anneessa Mahmood, LSE Students’ Union Trustee, the motion defined Islamophobia as “a form of racism expressed through the hatred or fear of Islam, Muslims, or Islamic culture, and the stereotyping, demonisation or harassment of Muslims as barbarians or terrorists, or attacking the Qur’an as a manual of hatred.” All comments or incidents that can be categorised under this definition should be “publicly opposed” and “dealt with swiftly and effectively in conjunction with the School.” Moreover, the implementation of the motion would ensure the “promotion and enhance legitimate debate regarding the morality and legitimacy of international conflicts.”

Marshall Palmer and Jack Curtis, members of the ASH Society, opposed the motion on the grounds that it was an “unnecessary curtailment of free speech.” They firmly stated that “the motion conflated ideas with people. People deserve respect, their ideas and their religion do not.” Palmer argued that he, and other members of the ASH Society, firmly denounced all forms of religious oppression, including “anti-Muslim bigotry.”

“We did not so much as oppose the motion as much as we wished to amend it. Unfortunately, by the time the motions became publicly available they were too late to amend,” Palmer said. “Voting down the motion, reforming it, and resubmitting it was the only possible way to amend it. Our proposed amendments would replace the word ‘Islamophobia’ with ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ and would strike out the prohibition towards ‘hatred or fear of Islam’ and ‘attacking the Qur’an as a manual of hatred.'”

The Beaver, 30 January 2012

The Beaver has also published a good article by Tasif Zaman on the “Jesus and Mo” cartoon controversy.

You can read the LSE Students’ Union anti-Islamophobia resolution here.

The National Secular Society has reported this welcome decision by LSE students under the headline “London School of Economics brings back blasphemy”!