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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Atheist society president forced to resign when Muslim students protested over cartoon of Muhammad having a drink with Jesus

university college london
University College London
UK - A row has erupted over an atheist society at a top London University after posting a cartoon sketch featuring the prophet Muhammad having a drink with Jesus on its Facebook page.

A student Muslim group is demanding the offensive image of Jesus and Mo having a drink at the bar, taken from an online satirical sketch (, be removed from the social networking site.

The president of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society at the prestigious University College (UCL), Robbie Yellon, has stepped down over the controversy.

But the Society still refuses to take down the image, claiming its right to defend "freedom of expression."

Secretary for the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, Michael Paynter said: "Robbie stepped aside because he signed up as president to organize events and run a student society."

"He did not appreciate the stress he would be under when dealing with a controversy like this, so he wanted to make way for someone else," he added.


Elias Skourletos: 'Jesus and Mohammed are just historic figures such as Churchill and Hitler and we have every right to express our opinions on them.' (Comment on Atheist Society's Facebook page).

Martin Foreman: 'The right to offend is essential in a free society and must be defended.' (Comment on Atheist Society's Facebook page).

Richard of York: 'The thought that saying nothing won't cause offense, offends me.' (Comment on Richard Dawkins website).

Richard Dawkins: 'This sums up the gentle inoffensiveness of Jesus & Mo. Inoffensive, that is, to all who aren't out there eagerly scouting for offense opportunities.' (Comment on Richard Dawkins website).

Rational Conclusion: 'You cannot put regulations on things that offend because offense is subjective. A person can be offended by damn near anything. If we went about putting a halt to things that people find offensive we'd have almost nothing left.' (Comment on Richard Dawkins webstie).

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association's protest against the photo has been backed by UCL's Union.

A UCL Union statement said: "The atheist society has agreed they will take more consideration when drawing up publicity for future events."

"The society was asked to remove the image because UCLU aims to foster good relations between different groups of students and create a safe environment where all students can benefit from societies regardless of their religious or other beliefs," UCLU added.

The image that started the controversy was taken from an online twice-weekly satirical comic strip called Jesus and Mo, and has been running since 2005.

The Association aims to continue its protest until the image is taken down, claiming it is offensive and has wider implications.

The association's national spokesperson, Adam Walker, said the two student groups had worked well together in the past and said the offense was unnecessary.

He said: "The principle is more important than who is being attacked - this time it is Muslims and Christians but in the future it could be atheists themselves."

"There is no need to print these things other than to cause offense and history has told us that these things cause offense."

"I wouldn't say we're specifically pursuing UCL atheist society, its more about the broader principle," he added.

The row has prompted debate on the internet with prominent academic and author Richard Dawkins backing the atheist society.

A spokesman for UCL said: "A situation has arisen surrounding publications by the UCLU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society on its Facebook page of a cartoon entitled Jesus and Mo, representing Jesus and Muhammad sitting in a pub."

"A number of complaints about the cartoon have been received by UCLU from UCL students."

"UCL believes that managing the conduct of student societies is primarily a matter for the UCL Union and not the university centrally."

"We understand that the Union has asked the Society to take the cartoon down, and this request has been refused."

Apparently, this is not the first time a comic strip has caused large-scale controversy.

In 2005, cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten sparked world-wide controversy.

The newspaper claimed the publication was an attempt to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship.

But Danish Muslim organizations that objected to the depictions, describing them as Islamophobic or racist, responded by holding public protests attempting to raise awareness of Jyllands-Posten's publication.

Further examples of the cartoons were soon reprinted in newspapers in more than 50 other countries, further deepening the controversy.

This led to Islamic protests across the Muslim world, some of which escalated into violence, including the bombings of the Danish embassy in Pakistan and setting fire to the Danish Embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, storming European buildings, and burning the Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, French and German flags in Gaza city.


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