Cartoons spark debate in CU

By Kiran Sood and Yuri Ozeki

After political cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad were first published in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, controversy spread across the globe. Most of the media in the United States would not republish the cartoon, leaving many people unable to see them.

The Daily Illini printed six of the 12 cartoons in the Feb. 9 issue. At least ten other U.S. publications have elected to run some of the cartoons.

“After hearing that CNN and other major newspapers were respectful to not print it, I was shocked that our own paper at such a higher education institution would print it, said Shaz Kaiseruddin, Muslim Student Association president and graduate student. “The fact that comparable anti-Semitic sentiments and other forms of racist expression are socially unacceptable is an indication that Islamophobia is rampant in our community. This is not an issue of free speech, but rather a failure to recognize hate speech.”

Islamic law prohibits recreating the image of Muhammad because it would foster idolatry.

Kaiseruddin, in collaboration with the Council on American-Islamic Relations is organizing a peaceful demonstration to take place Tuesday from 12-3 p.m. on the Quad.

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“The Muslim community and others offended by the printing of the cartoons are not asking for censorship, but for respect,” she said. “We ask the community, including the DI staff members, to join us in our series of peaceful, educational events in the name of achieving a more free, educated and responsible common citizenship.”

Chancellor Richard Herman said he has received a number of phone calls and e-mails in agreement with his letter published in the Feb. 10 issue of the Daily Illini.

“Many people also regretted the publication of the material,” Herman said. “I will be arranging a meeting with some of these people in the near future.”

Engineering professor Gustavo Gioia, said he was very surprised to see the strip published in the newspaper.

“I believe it was very courageous of the editor and staff to decide to publish the cartoon,” Gioia said. “We shall see the level of repercussions in the coming days.”

Robert McKim, director of the program for the study of religion was against printing the cartoons.

“It is very unwise to insult the person you want to start a dialogue with,” McKim said. “What do you want to dialogue with them about? How badly offended they are is hardly a topic of discussion.”

Other student organizations are acknowledging that the issue warrants discussion.

“My personal opinion is that it is definitely the duty of the press to present information accurately and to present all sorts of information,” said Colin Bishop, president of the University’s American Civil Liberties Union and junior in LAS. “I just worry about the motives behind presenting information that obviously will be inflammatory.”

Bishop said he thinks it will be the topic at the next student ACLU meeting.

The Muslim Student Association, along with members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, hopes to channel efforts toward a platform that is more conducive to open dialogue exclusive of free speech, instead of focusing on reactionary initiative.

“I don’t believe it should have been published at all,” Kaiseruddin said. “If the editor wanted to open it up for dialogue, it would have been sufficient to describe the cartoons in words.”

Anil D’Souza, president of the Indian Students Association, said the printing of the cartoons was an irresponsible publicity stunt that flies in the face of the sentiment behind free speech.

“If open dialogue was the real intention of printing this obviously offensive material, it should have been sought with a well-written piece on the topic that would gain attention by provoking the readers’ intellect, rather than reducing the topic to an out-of-context visual,” he said.

For some, the right to know outweighs the offensive aspects of the cartoons.

“The Daily Illini’s first obligation is to reporting the truth,” wrote Jonathan Ray, senior in Engineering, in a letter to the Daily Illini. “If people are offended by those satirical cartoons they should elaborate on why they are untrue. Merely publishing something that offends many is nothing to be ashamed of, ever. The only thing that a newspaper should be ashamed of is publishing falsehood. In my opinion, some aspects of every religion deserve ridicule, including Islam.”