Do Atheists have the right to offend Muslims?

JP –

A cartoonist, unlike a a violent extremist, can innocently claim, “But these are just harmless cartoons, only a lunatic would take offence, let alone seek to ban them”. But make no mistake, cartoons are a political tool since the days of Thomas Nast, and they merit our intellectual attention.

Recently some atheists at the LSE Freshers day were asked by university authorities to remove T-shirts depicting the Prophets Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them both) sharing a beer together. Well, to be more exact, they were asked to remove “Jesus and Mo” cartoon t-shirts, where “Jesus” is depicted as a cartoon caricature of the real Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) and “Mo” is ostensibly a ‘body double’ of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Such conflicts are proliferating, and present an interesting challenge to our democratic society in the UK: do atheists have the right to offend Muslims?

On the face of it, this may seem a simple question, and most people probably will start reading this article with a fixed opinion on the issue. But it’s actually a rather complicated question!

The European Convention of Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression in Article 10 of that Convention. However, like all fundamental rights, it recognises exceptions. Particularly relevant exceptions in this instance are for the purpose of preventing social disorder, of protecting morals, and protecting the reputation or the rights of others.


Additional Reading

Freedom of Speech: A Core Islamic Value!

A Critique of President Obama’s UN Speech

A challenge for Dawkins: Where did carbon come from?

The Muslim Times’ Editor’s comments

Article 10 of European Convention of Human Rights provides the right to freedom of expression, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”. This right includes the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas, but allows restrictions for:

  • interests of national security
  • territorial integrity or public safety
  • prevention of disorder or crime
  • protection of health or morals
  • protection of the reputation or the rights of others
  • preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence
  • maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary


139 Comments on “Do Atheists have the right to offend Muslims?”

  1. Mike de Fleuriot
    November 24, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    There are many things that are believed but cannot be shown. That includes imaginary things (of physics, reactance) as well as of feelings. Let us say, love, hatred and happiness, sorrow, pain.

    NO, remember that there was once a time when we could not see air, but now moving air fast enough we can actually see it compressed into solid matter. The same applies to emotions, we can examine the human brain and see the electro-chemical reaction happening when these emotions are in play. Only a primitive mind would limit “seeing” to what is observed though the human eye.

    In fact, when you get down to anything science has discovered, there is a method for it to be observed. If it can not be observed by any method of science, then it has to be discarded as being unnatural and unreal. Religions on the other hand do not have this check in their method and are free to make up whatever they need to fill the demands of those who run the religions. A most dishonest process, is religion.

  2. Zia Shah
    November 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    Fayyaz Shah has asked an important question, “So my question is if someone slanders my father, who is not alive, could I prosecute that person?”

    Any answers from our atheist friends, who are so hawkish about complete freedom of speech, without any stated exceptions.

    • Eric Metze
      November 24, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

      Slander is a completely different term than insult or offend. It implies that the rumors going around have had a negative financial impact on the person, and they therefore have grounds to sue the offender for lost revenue. But saying something offensive is completely different. No one has the right to sue or prosecute anyone for simply being offended.

  3. Ghulam Sarwar
    November 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    For Mike de Fleuriot: a man of God, in India, in years 1880 to 1908 claimed communian with God. He said God was speaking to him. He invited any one to come to him to get the proof and that he will surely show them God (meaning proof of living God).
    He wrote registered letters to hundreds of well known persons of the world and invited them at his own expence to come and see God according to his conditions (of time duration only).
    Those who came to him were satisfied about his claim. But pehaps no scientist came forward.

    To predict something about the future is also not an ordinary matter. He wrote in his book, before he passed away in 1908, about the calamities in the near future in the world. He wrote that it will be very hard time for the people and “Even the Czar of Russia will be in a very bad state.”

    We know what happened to Czar and his family in 1918, after WWII. There had been many more news of the future with open challenge. All those proved true as they were told to him by God Almighty.
    That person claimed that the living God was speaking to him. Some one should have come forward to stay with him. But not many came.
    That man of God supported science. He said “Science i.e nature is the WORK of God and Quran is the WORD of God, and there cannot be any difference (disparity) between the WORD of God and the WORK of God.”

  4. A friend
    November 24, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    I am a disciple of Osho. My master not only ridiculed other “religions” himself, but encouraged us in the strongest terms to offend christians, muslims, buddhists, and the followers of every other pseudo-religion. My religion thus literally obliges me to ridicule all others. If muslims have a right not to be offended, then my religious freedom is destroyed.

    • Rafiq A. Tschannen
      November 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

      ‘A friend’: weird …

    • Eric Metze
      November 24, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

      I don’t know who Osho is, but if what you said is true then he’s a hypocritical douchebag.

  5. ikhan
    November 24, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    Does the right to offend involves all senses: see; hear; touch; smell; taste; etc.?

  6. Falak Rahman
    November 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    We are all from the same Source, Creator, Allah, God, Bhagwan, Superbeing, No-being or No-God. We are all different and yet the same. We are different races, colors, creeds, religions, belief systems or no belief. Yet we are all same as we hurt, bleed, feel the same way. We are all ONE big family on this earth. With all our differences and likenesses, we are supposed to live in harmony, love and peace. In the absence of these, there is chaos in the world, which we see now as there is lack of tolerance, patience and love for each other. Absence of love is Hate and absence of peace and harmony is chaos.My religion teaches me, Love for ALL, Hatred for NONE and also peace within oneself and around me. If God or No God wanted we would all have been the same and it would have been soooo boring. But instead, we are all different/same with a CHOICE given to each of us. The Choice is to how to refine ourselves individually and make/leave this world a better place for our future generations to come. So, let’s join hands to refine ourselves first and make our World a Heaven.

  7. A friend
    November 24, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    @Eric Metze: Now you’re getting the hang of it!

  8. Mike de Fleuriot
    November 24, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    I do believe that logical fallacies were designed specifically for the religious to use in debates. Reading an extended comment section on almost any blog post about religion will confirm this. Circular reasoning, No True Scots, arguments from populace, authority and ignorance, not to mention strawmen and all the rest of them, they are all there.

    If you think that speech should be restricted in any way, then it is you who have the problem with what is being said. Your choices are to ignore, disprove the speech or resort to violence. Each of these has an effect, so choose wisely.

  9. Matt Leonard
    November 26, 2013 at 1:06 am #

    Nobody has the right to not be offended. Such a concept is not possible since some people will take offence at anything. If mockery or criticism of your chosen prophet, god, or cult doctrines is offensive to you, too … bad. Your actions based upon your beliefs are not only offensive, they are disgustingly asinine and very detrimental to the advancement of society and mankind. Believe whatever your psychosis demands, but don’t, for one second, believe that your delusions will be allowed to dominate the world. Religions are on their way to rest in the dust of history where they belong.

  10. Rob
    November 26, 2013 at 5:38 am #

    “do atheists have the right to offend Muslims?”

    Let’s flip this around a little, shall we?

    “Do muslims have the right to offend atheists?”

    If the answer to this is not the same, why not?

    What do muslims think of atheists that were formerly muslim? Are they treated with respect and not offended?


    What can offend is when you comment on my belief (without sharing it). (Is that not a sensible guideline?)

    An apostate or infidel does not share beliefs. Therefore, no statements can be made against apostates or infidels. Sensible guideline, no?

    • Rafiq A. Tschannen
      November 26, 2013 at 6:08 am #

      Rob: You are asking “what do Muslims think of atheists that were formerly Muslim?” – A good question. Personally I feel sorry for them. Apparently they did not have good Muslim teachers. Or did not read The Muslim Times may be? I am not ‘personally offended’ as it is his/her choice. I would also not like to offend them. I would not be happy about their choice, but that is my choice also, is it not?

  11. A Hermit
    November 26, 2013 at 5:52 am #

    There’s a big gap between saying something someone might be offended by and hate speech and we need to be careful not to leap across that gap so easily.

    An honest expression of an opinion about religion, (like the Jesus and Mo T-Shirts for example) is NOT hate speech. You might be personally offended by it, but that is not enough to justify silencing that opinion.

  12. Acolyte of Sagan
    November 26, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    The ‘offence’ in question is simply the act of Author (see drawing a cartoon picture of Mohammed (actually a cartoon picture of a body-double so as not to offend, which suggests that the ‘offence’ is deliberately taken), which some Muslims claim is not allowed in case it leads to idolisation of the prophet rather than their version of god.
    However, the idea of showing Mo in pictoral form is a relatively new one, since Mecca is liberally decorated with pictures of Mohammed.
    Stop looking for reasons to be offended; stop inventing reasons to be offended. Islam is a religion like any other, based not on fact but on wishful thinking and ignorance of reality, and I for one will not have my freedoms restricted on the basis of any of the fairy tales.
    If that offends you, I most respectfully suggest that you grow up.

    • Rafiq A. Tschannen
      November 26, 2013 at 6:27 am #

      Sagan…: I have visited Mecca several times and I would like to confirm that I have not seen any picture of Mohammed (peace be on him). But that is another topic. I agree however that it is a waste of energy to be offended by a cartoon. Even if someone wants to ‘ridicule’ our Prophet I consider that to be between that person and God the creator of us all. I may not like it, but I will not waste my energy on it.

  13. Acolyte of Sagan
    November 26, 2013 at 6:29 am #

    In my comment above, “However, the idea of showing Mo in pictoral form is a relatively new one….” should have read “However, the idea that showing Mo in pictoral form is forbidden is a relatively new one…”

    Note to self: either type, or play with your grandsons. Trying to both at once leads to confused posts.

  14. Acolyte of Sagan
    November 26, 2013 at 6:46 am #

    Rafiq, I saw the images shown in a series called ‘The Life of Mohammed’ by Rageh Omah for BBC1; they formed ancient ‘story-boards’ which enabled the illiterate to follow the story of the alleged (‘alleged’ because, as an atheist I do not belive that anybody has ever received messages from gods, but am still open to good old-fashioned evidence) prophet. That the face of Mohammed was later scratched out of the paintings is neither here nor there; the fact is that they were happily depicting him as late as the 10th Century CE. One can only assume that a more puritanical branch of Islam rose to prominence and vandalised them – much like the Protestants did for Catholic items of ‘idolatory’.

  15. James
    November 26, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    “No human being has the right to offend another person.”

    This comment offends me greatly. You have no right to make it.

  16. Mike
    November 26, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    Do Muslims have the right to offend atheists? They do it every day and especially with nonsense articles like this.

    It’s a ridiculous idea. Where do Muslims get the arrogance to claim they should be able dictate speech because of their ludicrous, barbaric beliefs?

  17. Reggie Conway
    November 26, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    To everyone in this thread who says no human being has a right to offend another person, I have one thing to say:

    I had sex …

    Welcome to 2013 and if you want to go through life without getting offended, go live on Mars and try to fill up the old riverbeds with your wuss tears, you worthless sacks of shit.

  18. Alberto Knox
    November 26, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    I, and many others, find it offensive that in this age of technology and enlightenment some people try to use the government to force me to limit what I can say and print to better conform to ancient superstitions.

    It is extremely offensive that I be asked to treat children’s magic stories and ghosts as deserving of respect.

    I am overwhelmingly offended and embarrassed that my Western culture still allows special consideration to those lacking the wit or fortitude to accept the world as it clearly is.

  19. Rover
    November 26, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    I find the notion to impose limits on the freedom of speech and expression based on the subjective whims of one group, highly and incredibly offensive. Please refrain from offending me and never say such things again.

    If you get to restrict my free speech because of your inability to deal with the fact not everyone holds your fables and myths in as high a regard as you do, I get to restrict your freedom of speech too, it should work both ways. After all why should your feelings of offense be considered more important than mine?

  20. sanford sklansky
    November 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    From Ed Brayton
    If offending Muslims (or anyone else) leads to social disorder, that is the fault of those who respond violently to being offended. The commenters are equally clueless.
    The answer is simple. No human being has the right to offend another person.
    Really? Because I find what you just said incredibly offensive. There are few things that offend me more than someone who blathers this kind of totalitarian bullshit. By your own reasoning, you have just committed a crime.
    One person’s freedom ends where another’s begins. Therefore offensive ‘anything’, should NOT be allowed under the guise of freedom of expression.
    In fact, it is more hate mongering than so-called freedom of expression and therefore should be made illegal and a crime for it costs many lives.
    There is no other freedom being impinged. You do not have any right to go through life with no one ever saying anything that offends you. And the only thing that costs lives are barbaric authoritarians who think they have a right to kill someone who offends them.
    Hell yes, we have the right to offend you. And you have the right to offend me, as you do every day with your authoritarian demands.

  21. Paul
    November 27, 2013 at 7:16 am #

    ALL theistic religions offend me. Their groups (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc..) are allowed to offend me EVERY DAY by spreading the lie that there is a god, by indoctrinating children with this lie, by carrying out and causing to be carried out atrocities in the name of a non existent made-up supreme being based on fictional books written by the death-dealers and sick, power hungry slave owning human sacrificing rulers of old.
    They are nothing more than a bunch of hate-mongering death cults that want to have as many indoctrinated members as possible before their ‘loving’ god comes and kills all of humanity.
    There is no evidence for their gods and as such no reverence or respect is owed to them.
    If I decided all potatoes were part of god, then every time someone ate a chip or a french fry I would have the right to be offended???
    What a load of rubbish!
    If you are going to believe in god without a shred of evidence, then you deserve no respect.
    It is impossible to offend god since he does not exist.

    • Paul Perry
      November 27, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      But Paul, your being offended only counts if A) the feelings being offended are religious in origin and B) you are likely to become violent.

      Doesn’t that make it logical…?

  22. FO
    November 27, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    I find your post extremely offensive, as it hurts principles I hold dear and sacred.

    Please take it down.

    Or do you mean, you can be offensive as long as you are offending only few people?

  23. Karsten
    November 28, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    This article offend me greatly. I will therefore immediately resort to not trying to opress your opinion by restricting free speech. Then, I will start not being violent whatsoever. Whatch me throwing no stones and not burning down your house while I chant no death-threats on that non-demonstration where we will also probably not burn q’rans.

  24. anon
    November 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Sure people have the right to offend, just as they have the right to lie. However, that doesn’t mean its OK or morally good to do so, just as dishonesty and lies are not morally good.

  25. FO
    November 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    BTW, I notice that the author cites Voltaire.

    He obviously disapproves of what atheists say (and I am very fine with it).
    But will he “defend to death” our right to say it?
    Apparently not.

    You know, everyone can defend the stuff they like.
    Will you defend the stuff that offends you?

    I will defend your right to publish stupid articles like these, to daily offend human intelligence and compassion with your ridiculous, vicious, stupid ideas.
    But with that comes my right to call your ideas for what I think they are.

    NO ONE wants to prohibit religious people from exchanging their ideas or making them public.
    But we want the right to call bullshit for what it is.

    Free speech **IS** the right to offend.

    Because WHATEVER you say, someone somewhere will be offended by it.

    Anyone with a slightest intellectual honesty would see this outright.

  26. Raven
    November 28, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    It seems pretty clear to me that free speech is one of those cases where what is moral and what is legal ultimately have to be different. Morality is complex and nuanced, while laws have to be able to serve the greater good despite human beings having varied and biased interpretations of them.

    Causing offense solely for the sake of causing offense makes you a jerk, and sometimes even immoral, but history has shown that there’s no authority that can be trusted to fairly and justly regulate speech, especially since authority is exactly the thing that most needs to be criticized from time to time. The best solution to the problems caused by free speech is more free speech, and the internet has empowered people more than ever to call out and correct injustices and lies. It’s not a perfect system, but it does seem to be the least bad so far.

  27. Non
    November 29, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    Yes we do. Muslims don’t get to wriggle out of this, no other religion does. I think you should take a long reflection why we atheists are saying such offensive things, because you deluded fools persecute us and others like us more than anyone, take a good long look in the mirror, Muslims. We are tired of you killing us and pretending you are the ‘new jews’ (hint, you’re not) when we speak out against your religion. The world is getting so sick of this, it’s started to ban your religion. Today Angola, tomorrow, who knows?

  28. Boutros Boutros-Ghali
    November 29, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    A religion that can’t handle criticism and mockery deserves MORE criticism and mockery.

    Blasphemy laws are not written to “protect gawd”, they’re written by sociopathic thugs who want to legalize violence, who want the government to commit terrorism on their behalf to silence valid criticism and factual disagreement.

    If “gawd” created the universe and is all-powerful, then it can deal with me itself. It doesn’t need petty, pathetic and fascistic mass murderers acting on its behalf. The fact that “gawd” does nothing to me proves one of two things:

    (a) “gawd” doesn’t exist, so there’s no need for a “blasphemy law”, or

    (b) “gawd” doesn’t give a crap about what I say, so the rabidly religious don’t need to act out either. Again, no need for a “blasphemy law”.

    The only respect religion deserves is the right to have it, and nobody is trying to stop you. I am free to mock anyone who still likes Ian Watkins of Lostprophets without fear of violence, and I am free to mock your religion’s prophet without fear of violence. That is an apt analogy in more ways than one.

    Most important of all, you have to prove that your fictitious sky-pixies exist before you can claim that anyone has “offended your religion” or that any “blasphemy” has occurred. There’s more reason to believe in Harry Potter or the Iliad and Odyssey then your fiction.

    • Rafiq A. Tschannen
      November 29, 2013 at 8:31 am #

      This does not sound like the retired UN Boutros-Boutros Ghali ??? or is it???

  29. Matt Davis
    December 1, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    In this official European document, it clearly states that the right to have a religion does not give you the right to have a religion that is free from ridicule or criticism. Therefore, yes, anyone can criticise any religion they feel like.

    Quote: iv. Recall that the most effective way to combat a perceived offense from the exercise
    of freedom of expression is the use of freedom of expression itself. Freedom of
    expression applies online as well as offline18. New forms of media as well as
    information and communications technology provide those who feel offended by
    criticism or rejection of their religion or belief with the tools to instantly exercise
    their right of reply.
    o In any case, the EU will recall, when appropriate, that the right to freedom of religion or
    belief, as enshrined in relevant international standards, does not include the right to have
    a religion or a belief that is free from criticism or ridicule19

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