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Monday, January 30, 2012

LSE passes motions against anti-semitism and Islamophobia

Two recent incidents at the London School of Economics have caused the LSE Student Union to pass two motions, that seem on the surface to be analogous, one against anti-semitism and one against Islamophobia.

The anti-semitic incident happened last month:
According to a statement released by the LSE’s Jewish Society, a student objected to a drinking game that was being played, leading to a physical confrontation.

According to the Jewish Society, the group of students was playing a popular drinking game called Ring of Fire, but with a Nazi twist. This involved playing cards being arranged on a table in the shape of a swastika, with players required to “salute the Fuhrer.”

A Jewish student present, offended by the goings on, asked to stop the drinking game and the anti-Semitic gibes and jokes being thrown around. A fight then broke out, either right away or later in the evening, according to competing versions of events, and the complainer’s nose was broken.

Jay Stoll, president of the LSE’s Jewish Society said that “there is simply no context for what has happened here. Those who believe the game was all in good humor need to realize that when a Jewish student is subject to violence and the Nazi ideology glorified it is no joke but a spiteful, collective attack on a community.”
As a result of a Jewish student getting physically attacked over objecting to an undoubtedly anti-semitic game, the LSE passed this motion:
Union believes
1. All forms of racism are abhorrent and should be opposed.
2. Anti-Semitism is specific form of racism, relating to Jews and Judaism.
3. Anti-Semitism includes but is not limited to:
4. Denying, trivializing and misconstruing the Nazi Holocaust. This includes denying the fact, scope, method, or motivation for the genocide of 6 million Jews at the hands of the National Socialist regime. It also includes the accusation that Jews or the state of Israel have fabricated, cause or over-exaggerated the Holocaust.
5. Calling for, aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews for the sake of their Jewish religion, ethnicity or identity.
6. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such. This includes accusations of Jewish control of the world, government, media, as well as blaming Jews for imagined and real atrocities
7. Questioning the loyalty of Jews to their nation of citizenship simply on the basis of their Jewish identity. This includes claims that Jews as a collective or a community subvert or mislead the general population, as well as the claim that Jews are more loyal to the state of Israel than their country of citizenship.
8. Claiming that Jews do not have the same rights as any other ethnic group. This includes the right to free speech, free practice of religion, free use of native languages (i.e. Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, etc.) and self-determination.
9. ‘Equating Jews or maliciously equating Jewish Foundations of the state of Israel with the Nazi Regime. This includes, but is not limited to equating Zionism with Nazism and claiming that ‘History is repeating itself’ with regards to the Nazi Holocaust and the state of Israel. This also includes using Jewish symbols and religious imagery alongside Nazi symbols and imagery. This does not necessarily include analogies between historical events.’
10. Using Jewish symbols to antagonize, harass, and intimidate Jewish students.
11. Legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and its actions are not inherently anti-Semitic.

Union resolves

1. To publicly oppose actions on campus that are anti-Semitic based on the aforementioned definition.
2. To ensure all anti-Semitic incidents aimed at or perpetrated by LSE students either verbal, physical or online are dealt with swiftly and effectively in conjunction with the school and, if appropriate or requested by the victim, the Metropolitan Police.
3. To mandate the SU Anti-Racism officer to publish 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 first report to be published Summer Term 09.
4. To work with Pro-Director for Teaching and Learning and Deans to address racism and anti-Semitism on campus and methods to alleviate it.
5. To ensure that this definition is used to promote and enhance legitimate debate regarding the morality and legitimacy of international conflicts and oppose illegitimate acts of anti-Semitism on campus.
(I don't understand the reference to Summer 09. Does this mean that the motion had been voted down in years past?)
This seems to be an appropriate response to a serious incident, and the motion is clearly against discrimination of Jews as a group.

The "Islamophobia" incident is more problematic. As described by the National Secularist Society:

The Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH) at the London School of Economics has been told by the Students Union that unless it removes a Jesus and Mo cartoon from its Facebook page it could be expelled from the Union. ASH had posted the cartoon "in solidarity with University College of London Atheist and Secularist group" which had been told by its own Student Union to remove the image.

The LSE Students Union (LSESU) said in a statement that the cartoon had been brought to their attention via a complaint by students - the number complaining varied from two to forty.

The statement continues:

"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".

This last sentence stops short of expelling them but is certainly reads as a veiled threat of expulsion.

The statement continues: "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."

ASH's president Chris Moos, responded by saying, "We firmly reject the allegation that actions of our members have 'sought to marginalise' anyone, have caused 'harm to the welfare of Muslim students' or constituted a 'targeted campaign.'"

Moos continued "Although we reserve the right to criticise religious ideas, as humanists we will always oppose any targeted campaign against any community. We strongly oppose any form of anti-Muslim prejudice. The cartoons criticise religion in a satirical way. They do not target or call for the targeting of Muslims or any other religious group. Framing the criticism of religion as 'discrimination' or 'Islamophobic actions' is highly misguided and results in the stifling of valid debates. We do not discriminate amongst religions in our criticisms."
Here, there was no incitement; no physical violence; indeed, nothing remotely resembling creating a hateful atmosphere towards Muslims. It was simply a critical (and satirical, in this case) discussion of Islam and Christianity.

The motion against Islamophobia is therefore not against attacks on Muslims but against attacks on tenets of Islam:
Union believes
1. In the right to criticise religion,
2. In freedom of speech and thought,
3. It has a responsibility to protect its members from hate crime and hate speech,
4. Debate on religious matters should not be limited by what may be offensive to any particular religion, but the deliberate and persistent targeting of one religious group about any issue with the intent or effect of being Islamophobic (‘Islamophobia’ as defined below) will not be tolerated.
5. That Islamophobia is a form of anti-Islamic racism.

Union resolves

1. To define 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, including but not limited to portraying Muslims as barbarians or terrorists, or attacking the Qur’an as a manual of hatred”,
2. To take a firm stance against all Islamophobic incidents at LSE and conduct internal investigations if and when they occur.
3. To publicly oppose actions on campus that are Islamophobic based on the aforementioned definition,
4. To ensure that all Islamophobic incidents aimed at or perpetrated by LSE students either verbal, physical or online are dealt with swiftly and effectively in conjunction with the School,
5. To work with the Pro-Director for Teaching and Learning and Deans to address Islamophobia and other forms of racism on campus and methods to alleviate it,
6. To ensure that this definition is used to promote and enhance legitimate debate regarding the morality and legitimacy of international conflicts and oppose illegitimate acts of Islamophobia on campus.
Despite the preamble pretending to support free speech, the actual definition of Islamophobia - and the LSE Student Union's actions based on the cartoon - show that they are essentially outlawing "blasphemy."

The difference between the two motions can be seen in a hypothetical case of the atheists writing an article attacking all religious belief, and giving specific examples of problematic issues in Jewish, Christian, Islamic and, say, Hindu beliefs. Only their statements about Islam would be censured by the LSE according to these motions.

It is also fascinating that the "offensive" Jesus and Mo cartoon was attacked only for supposed "Islamophobia" but not for any anti-Christian content, even though the cartoon is even-handed in its barbs to both religions.

Here is the most recent Jesus and Mo cartoon, relevant to this issue:


(h/t AM)