Debate over Muhammad cartoons, free speech comes to U

by Elizabeth Giorgi

Cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that appeared in a Danish newspaper have raised political concern all over the world. On Tuesday a forum at the University addressed the controversy.

Al-Madinah Cultural Center hosted a forum titled “Freedom of Speech or Moral Responsibility: Critical Discourse on the Cartoon Conflict,” to address the cartoons and their relevance to freedom of speech and moral responsibility in the media.

Panelists spoke to about 50 people in Rapson Hall.

“Discussions of this type are indispensable,” said forum speaker and Macalester College professor Ahmed Samatar.

Samatar said the cartoons are a result of arrogance and racism in Denmark and that there was a lack of protection for the Muslim minority in this incident.

The cartoons were reprinted in several European nations in order to defend Denmark, but also to stress that those countries value their freedoms of speech, he said.

The reprints were a sign of arrogance and a misuse of the freedom of expression, Samatar said.

Minnesota Daily cartoonist and forum member Adam Elrashidi said it was arrogant for papers to reprint the cartoons and that it showed, “a lack of honor and talent.”

Elrashidi said there needs to be research done on all sides of an issue so cartoons are done properly and stereotypes are avoided.

Another member of the forum, Star Tribune cartoonist Steve Sack, said racism distracts from the messages that cartoons are intended to portray and that the Muhammad cartoons lost their message because they were a failed use of freedom of speech.

“The point, the joke, would be lost in the disrespect,” he said.

Sack said the Muslim communities’ cries for punishment of the cartoon artists might be extreme.

It was an assignment, he said. No one should be given a death sentence, but the editor should be held responsible.

Electrical engineering graduate student Hakim Alhussien said there is not a common ground within the Muslim community regarding what should be done about the issue.

Alhussien said he attended the event because he wanted to seek additional opinions on the issue and what will be done in the future to address it.

Forum speaker and University journalism professor Chris Ison said the forum was a positive way for people to discuss the importance of the issue.

The forum was an opportunity to demonstrate to the community that the violence was the response of a small group of people.

“The fact that this has caused so much tension around the world is an indication of how important it is that universities and communities be able to talk about it in a reasonable fashion,” he said.

Ison pointed out that the cartoons not only deeply affected the Muslim community, but also the journalistic community, from a news standpoint. Editors had to decide whether it was appropriate to print the cartoons.

Journalists need a guide to figure out how to deal with these issues and must remain independent of interest groups and religious groups, he said.

The Muslim Student Association will have a similar forum today to discuss the figure of Muhammad from a historical perspective.

The event will be at 6 p.m. in 310 Anderson Hall.