Tag Archives: University of Sheffield

The “interfaith” trap – particularly for atheists

The video above shows some of the hassling of Maryam Namazie by members of the Goldsmiths Islamic Society when she gave a talk to the London’s Goldsmiths College on the topic “Apostasy, blasphemy and free expression in the age of ISIS.” The talk was sponsored by the Goldsmiths Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society but was opposed by the Goldsmiths Islamic Society and the Goldsmiths Feminist Society who attempted to get her invitation withdrawn. Warwick University Students Union and Trinity College Dublin had also originally withdrawn invitations to Maryam Namazie, citing fears of incitement to hatred of Muslims.

The video is long and the sound quality is not good. However I persisted and found interesting the fact that female Muslims in the audience were not able to ask their questions until  near the end – after the male disruptors had left!

Now University of Sheffield

The other day I saw a similar example of this attempted censorship at the University of Sheffield. But this time, the Sheffield Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (SASH) itself was the censor – they “turned down a suggestion by a student to invite Maryam Namazie to speak at the university. The reason? Her ‘hard anti-Islamist approach’ is not ‘conducive’ to the direction that the society wishes to go in” (see Atheist students are losing their faith in free speech).

So this is yet another example of the way group thinking and irrational arguments are being used to prevent open discussion of important issues like human and women’s right? (I discussed this in my articles Richard Dawkins and the Skeptics Conference controversy and Misrepresentation, misogyny and misandry – these should concern sceptics). But it is also an example of how “interfaith” activity, and indeed finding common cause with groups holding different beliefs, can result in the suppression of such vital discussion.

The author of the article is Hallam Roffey who is a writer and a student at the University of Sheffield. He writes:

“This isn’t a wind-up. Not only is the suggestion that you can be ‘too hard’ on Islamism baffling, but the fact that this statement came from an atheist, secularist and humanist society is almost beyond parody. To clarify, this is a society which aims to defend human rights and promote secularism declining to invite a renowned and influential ex-Muslim, secularist and human-rights campaigner. (Namazie has done extensive work supporting refugees, and has tackled both religious fundamentalism and far-right bigotry.)

“In its response to the inquiring student, SASH said that it would like to concentrate on ‘interfaith’ activities instead, stating that ‘interfaith between faith societies is vital’. Apparently, inviting Namazie, which may not be welcomed by some members of Sheffield’s Islamic Society (ISoc), would be antithetical to their objectives.”

So, in effect, this student society has thrown away some of its basic aims simply to further its “interfaith” activities.


Photo credit: AP/Valentina Petrova

I find that incredible. While I accept that cooperation between groups of different beliefs is important and laudable what is this worth if it involves giving up such important principles. Would the Christian societies at Sheffield give up their bible studies and prayer meetings in order to further “interfaith ” cooperation with the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society? Would the Islamic Society give up their involvement in Ramadan activities for such vague “interfaith” reasons?

I think not.

I think that this example shows how the involvement of atheists and humanists or “interfaith” organisational activities can be a trap. After all, many of these sorts of activities already assume ideas and customs which exclude atheists (eg religious observations and collective ‘interfaith” prayers). Atheists should limit cooperation to issues where there is common ground – and they should not limit their own activity on issues like human rights because one or other of the theist groups do not support them.

Or is this just   a fashionable “political correctness?”

Mind you, I wonder if this “interfaith” issue is just a handy excuse for those who rejected the request that Maryam speak. I wonder if the bogeys of “anti-feminism” and Islamophobia” are not the real reasons, at least for some, in the way these arguments have been used in attempts to suppress the voices of others – like Richard Dawkins.

Hallam Roffey says:

“SASH was particularly concerned that there would be a repeat of ‘what happened at Goldsmiths’, when Islamist students disrupted a talk being given by Namazie. But this only projects a pretty dim view of Sheffield ISoc. As a Sheffield student myself, I’d like to think that ISoc members would be up for the debate, and would not act at all like those thugs at Goldsmiths. Not all Muslims resent apostates.

“What’s more, the subtext here is that Namazie was in some way to blame for the Goldsmiths incident. Though SASH insists it does not condone Goldsmiths ISoc’s actions, it is nevertheless siding with Islamists at Namazie’s expense. This is cowardly and pathetic.”

I agree – this sort of suppression of discussion on topic human rights issues is cowardly and pathetic.

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