Sundas, who’s at the London School of Economics and a member of its atheist group, just posted about them requesting an official name change. Rather than just ‘atheist, secularist and humanist’, its members voted to call themselves the Atheist, Secularist, Humanist and Ex-Muslim Society. (It’s overinflated, agreed, but it does spell ‘ASHES’.)
Her post quotes an official statement outlining their reasons for this. To summarise:
- The group recognises ex-Muslims face specific challenges and threats, which former members of other faiths by and large don’t, and wants to draw attention to this whilst providing support.
- A large proportion of members, estimated at one fifth, are ex-Muslims, and it’s felt the group name should reflect this.
- The society wants to be as visible as possible to ex-Muslims who aren’t members already.
- At the same time, not all ex-Muslims wish to label themselves ‘atheists’, as that term can bear additional negative baggage, and a purely ex-Muslim society would be unlikely, at least initially, to have stable membership levels.
One of Sundas’ own additional points is that ex-Muslims face erasure from public consciousness and in the media – so, although there’s no reason ‘atheist, secularist and humanist’ couldn’t include ex-Muslims (indeed it clearly does), explicit use of that term helps create visibility.
Reasonable stuff, one might have thought. And yet – ironically, given that last point – LSE’s student union have just denied the group’s request for the new name. The message they were sent, posted on the society’s Facebook page, reads as follows (emphasis mine):
The Activities Committee have decided not to grant the name change that you have requested.
We decided not to grant the name change because given the email that you sent us as why you would like to change the name, we feel that by adding ‘ex-Muslim’ to the society name it will no longer become a safe space for ex-Muslims; in the sense that it may be an indication as to where ex-Muslims can affiliate to. For this reason would you please consider replacing the ‘ex-Muslim’ part of the proposed name change to either ‘Atheist, Secularist, Humanist and ex-religious’ or ‘Atheist, Secularist, Humanist and ex-religion. This will be in order provide the safe space for all students who join your society and potentially increase your society membership.
Please remember as far as anything to do with LSE and LSESU then the name will stay as ‘Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society.’
‘It will no longer become a safe space for ex-Muslims [because] it may be an indication as to where ex-Muslims can affiliate’. What does that even mean?
Of course the name was meant to show ex-Muslims can join the group. Is LSE SU against that? And how would it make the society less safe for them? Are ex-Muslims endangered by joining student bodies which acknowledge their existence? If they are, surely that’s still up to them?
It’s hard to say what’s worse about this SU: their gutlessness or their grammar. Remember, they’re the ones who’ve made it a campus crime to be mean about the Qur’an, and who accused this same society of ‘racism and discrimination’ when they shared cartoons from Jesus and Mo on their Facebook page, taking disciplinary measures which have only just – breathe out – been written off.
When I ran an atheist student group, I was lucky enough not to be faced with any of this; Oxford’s societies are, by convention, independent from its student union. If I was the LSE society, I’d have disaffiliated months ago.