Mohammed cartoon sparks free speech debate

by Beacon Staff • February 15, 2006

The Beacon's decision to print the editorial cartoon that has incited rage and violence across the globe was not a simple one. When Assistant Opinion Editor Patrick Boyle wrote his piece this week, "Mohammed cartoon creates controversy," he approached our editor and asked for permission to print the cartoon alongside it.

Permission was not easily granted and the decision to print the cartoon, which shows the Islamic Prophet Mohammed with a bomb as a turban, was not one made lightly.

With every difficult editorial decision The Beacon has faced, the editors ask two questions: why should we print this and why shouldn't we print this?

The answers to these questions are never simple, but this was an enormous challenge. Printing this cartoon will offend many people; its portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed is highly provocative, not only because portraying the prophet is considered sacrilege by many Muslims, but also because this particular illustration reinforces the misguided notion that all Muslims are terrorists and even worse, that one of the cornerstones of Islam is violence.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and this constant and continued stereotyping of the Muslim world has made the events of the past five years more difficult than they already were.

Since 9/11, the question has continued to arise: "Why do they hate us?" The real question should be: Who are "they?" It is unfair and irresponsible for the media and general public to classify an entire part of the world, in any situation.

The perpetuation of the image of Muslims as terrorists is similar to the perpetuation of the image of Africa as the famine-raged, war-torn "dark continent."

By harping on one facet of a society or culture-be it an ongoing war, religious clash or natural disaster-the perception of that group or place is distorted, leading to prejudice and intolerance.

The Islamic world has become today's dark continent, and the only way to reverse the stereotyping of this already marginalized group is through education and conversation.

And the outreach must be on both sides-instead of the violence we have seen from Bangladesh to South Africa, there should be peaceful protest and well-constructed rhetoric.

Holding a story, cartoon or letter because it will make people angry is never a solution.

Printing it to prove that we are not afraid, however, is not a reason either. In this case, The Beacon's choice not to be intimidated by the potential for violence is secondary.

The reason to print the editorial cartoon is to bring an open dialogue to a campus famous for debate. Whatever ire we may raise is worth it, as long as meaningful and respectful discussion comes with it.

While this may have started with a cartoon, it quickly morphed into social commentary, not just on the state of Islam and the interpretation of the religion and its followers but about freedom of the press and press responsibility.

The anger over this cartoon is evidence of a larger problem and if reprinting it here calls attention to the situation and opens dialogue, we are doing our job.