07/10/2012 16:43 BST | Updated 06/12/2012 05:12 GMT

Blasphemous Pineapples

If they aren't ruining a perfectly good gammon then they're insulting a major world religion. Pineapples: you just can't trust them.

On Wednesday 3 October, members from Reading University's Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society held a stall at the university's fresher's fair to promote the society and their upcoming debate: "Should we Respect Religion?" On display was a pineapple labelled "Mohammad", which in visual aids-speak roughly translates as "no, we shouldn't". This lead to some complaints alongside open criticism from a few Muslim students, prompting members of the student union to inform the society - quoting from a Clint Eastwood classic - "Either the pineapple goes, or you do." As it happens, the students were eventually escorted off the premises by security, and the pineapple still wasn't allowed to stay.

I'm inclined to agree with those who cite this as an attempt to provoke outrage; surely no one would disagree that these students are exploiting the obvious relationship between pineapples and pigs (established with the sublime Hawaiian pizza). If not to cause offence than why, when Islam perceives pork as filthy, would these students equate the prophet with the most porcine fruit? Reading, you've been rumbled.

It's understandable Muslims would be insulted. I, for instance, would be offended should someone write The Beatles on a sign and erect it in a pile of horse manure (and I, unlike some, don't consider The Beatles sacred). But unless we are being physically harassed by these provocative pineapples or faecal matter, what right have we to demand their silence?

Well, none. Unless, of course, you are religious. The University's Vice-President of Student Activities, Nick Cook, claimed the union

""is dedicated to promoting an environment in which all students feel welcome and included in all of our activities, while at the same time being committed to our members maintaining a culture of free speech.

"Our Equal Opportunities Policy and our Behavioural Policy... state that RUSU will create a culture based on the principles of fairness, respect and of valuing difference. The events did not comply with these ideals and we took the action we felt necessary to maintain the culture that we exist to promote."

No doubt, Mr Cook's intentions were noble, but in seeking to maintain this culture he culled it. The damaged feelings of the religious are collateral when defending the higher principle of freedom of speech. Luckily, offending the religious may only cause a minor scandal in a university; at other times it can spill the blood of innocent ambassadors, of a Dutch director, and send an atheist author into hiding.

There is, of course, a difference between criticising Islam and persecuting its adherents. Too often discourse on Islam is divided between those who buy into hyperbolic headlines of "Muslim Rage" and those who repeat the insidious neologism "Islamophobia". For the rest of us in between the extremes, we must admit that both the good and the bad are committed in the name of Islam, and that the fear of criticising Islam is legitimate; it's rather telling that the student's first move after coming under pressure was to rebrand the pineapple "Jesus".

In the end, the religious apologists of Reading wouldn't be satisfied until the cause of their offence was silenced and stamped out. What a day it will be when a fraction of that which offends atheists is stamped out: suicide bombings and the rape and genital mutilation of children committed in the name of religion. Crimes far worse than any pineapple could commit.