College Newspapers Struggle Over Muslim Cartoon Question
Two editors at the University of Illinois’ student-run newspaper were suspended for deciding to run a series of cartoons that have sparked outrage and violence around the Islamic world without consulting the remaining editorial staff.
Editor-in-chief Acton H. Gorton says the Daily Illini’s publisher suspended him and the newspaper’s opinions sections editor, Charles Prochaska, for two weeks pending the outcome of an internal investigation into the publication of the cartoons, which ran in the paper’s Feb. 9 edition.
“I’m very disappointed. I think this is nothing more than a cover-up,” Gorton says.
Publisher and general manager Mary Cory released a statement shortly after the suspensions saying a student task force will “investigate the internal decision-making and communication surrounding the publishing” of the cartoons.
The paper’s editorial staff told readers that the decision to run the cartoons was made by Gorton and Prochaska without their knowledge. While the staff apologized to the Muslim community, it stopped short of saying it disagreed with the decision.
“We want to make it clear that while we do not necessarily disagree with the decision to print these cartoons, we disagree with how they were run,” the editorial reads.
According to the editorial, Gorton and Prochaska ran the cartoons without consulting the staff or the publisher.
The Daily Illini, which is independent of the university, ran six of the 12 cartoons first published in September in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The Daily Illini led with the cartoon that has caused the greatest furor: a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb with a lit fuse as part of his turban.
Other colleges and universities are struggling over whether or not to run the cartoons. University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor John Wiley says a campus paper was justified in reprinting one of the cartoons, but called upon the paper to address the indignation of Muslim students on campus concerning the matter.
The Badger Herald reprinted the image, saying the international reaction to the cartoon made it newsworthy. Herald officials say the paper printed it as a commitment to freedom of _expression and not to offend Muslim students.
But Mir Babar Basir, president of the school’s Muslim Students’ Association, called the decision to run the cartoons “pure racism” and his organization complained to university officials. He called the decision “a strike against the Muslim students on campus’’ that “had nothing to do with free speech.’’
A conservative independent student newspaper at Harvard University also chose to run the cartoons. The Harvard Salient partnered the images with an editorial commentary titled “A pox (err, jihad) on Free _Expression.” The commentary said that “it is shameful that these cartoons have led to the arson of embassies, death threats, and demands that ‘whoever insults the prophet, kill him.’”
At the University of North Carolina, The Daily Tar Heel published its own cartoon which shows an image, apparently of Muhammad, standing between two minaret-style windows: one showing a scene with Denmark’s flag and the other showing violent protest. A thought bubble beside the Danish flag reads, “They may get me from my bad side…” and the bubble beside the violence has him thinking “…but they show me from my worst.”
A statement from The Muslim Students Association at UNC called the cartoon “highly offensive.” The Muslim group added: “Though we value freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the DTH’s actions have irresponsibly misused these valued rights to offend and further only intolerance and disrespect. Such actions undermine the environment of diversity and multiculturalism that UNC’s student body, faculty, and administration try to create.”
— Associated Press and staff reports
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