A political cartoon circulated at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee depicting a prominent national conservative author last week is sparking a free expression debate across the nation.
David Horowitz spoke at UWM Thursday evening, drawing supporters and protesters, which resulted in a dialogue over a cartoon he is calling anti-Semitic.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, Horowitz said the depiction of him with a hooked nose by the Muslim Student Association in Milwaukee was inappropriate for a campus organization to circulate, but it was still protected under the First Amendment.
“I haven’t asked anybody to be outlawed or put in jail,” Horowitz said. “Sure, it’s free speech. It’s just inappropriate for a campus. I don’t think the university should have banned it from being posted, but had that been a cartoon on blacks or gays, there would have been hell to pay — there should be one standard rule.”
Some conservative bloggers called for disciplinary action by the university, but UW-Madison political science professor Kenneth Mayer compared the situation to The Badger Herald reprinting a controversial Danish cartoon offensive to some Muslims in February 2006.
“This is exactly like the Danish cartoons. Horowitz sees them as different, but that’s just his interpretation,” Mayer said in an e-mail. “Muslim students saw those cartoons as hateful religious bigotry and wanted the Herald punished. But free speech rights do not depend on how a viewer or listener interprets the speech or message.”
Horowitz, however, responded to Mayer both on conservative blogs and in an interview, saying reprinting of the cartoons by various media outlets was different since the cartoon was circulated by a campus organization.
“It’s nothing like the Danish cartoons,” he said. “There, the editors of a newspaper made a decision that those cartoons were fair comment. What ensued was riots and some people were killed globally; that’s an attack on free press.”
Horowitz said he took more issue with how UWM’s MSA allegedly tore down 2,000 of the posters promoting his event.
Mohamed Elsayed, president of MSA in Milwaukee, said the group never called for the event to be canceled and emphasized that even hate speech is protected.
“No flyers were removed by anyone from MSA or anyone affiliated with MSA,” Elsayed said in an e-mail. “In typical demagogic form, Horowitz tries to characterize the very legitimate and very justifiable attack against him as an attack on all Jews. How ludicrous.”
Sabih Khwaja, president of UW-Madison’s MSA, said the cartoon did not contribute to a meaningful discussion.
“We the UW-Madison MSA feel that the cartoon was is in poor taste and does not offer constructive dialogue or discourse,” Khwaja said. “Furthermore, we reject the notion that fascism can be association with any religious organization.”
Horowitz said universities should have a “zero-tolerance policy for those who disrupt or interrupt invited speakers” since all sides of issues should be able to be discussed in a civil way. He pointed to his October visit to UW-Madison as a model example as opposed to Milwaukee, where 16 individuals were escorted out.
“At least half the audience (in Madison) that came to hear me speak was hostile, but was very well-behaved,” Horowitz said, laughing at the exception of who he called the “loony” Sept. 11 conspiracy theorist Kevin Barrett who was “assholed” out of the event. “I’ve never objected to people disagreeing with me.”
Horowitz said disruptive attendees often have him on the defensive before he even begins his lecture, detracting from the experience.
Mayer said Monday universities are often “not very good at standing up to those who want to impose a heckler’s veto,” and should protect controversial speakers, but added there is a difference between posting cartoons and disrupting a speech.
UWM spokesperson Tom Luljak said the university has policies against tearing down approved signs and brings in extra security for high-profile events where “passions run high.”
“Our goal is in no way to inhibit the freedom of speech but guarantee that it can take place and the individuals will remain safe in the environment,” he said. “We certainly recognize the need to balance the right for individuals to speak, as well as those who are opposed to protest.”
Horowitz said the UWM Post was one of only a handful of campus newspapers to print an advertisement from his organization denouncing MSA’s alleged connection with the Muslim Brotherhood and a malicious terrorist agenda. Horowitz said MSA differs from groups such Jewish organization Hillel.
“MSA isn’t a religious or ethnic group; it’s not like Hillel or Campus Baptists, it’s a political organization and it supports jihad,” Horowitz said. “I would have the same feeling with Hillel if they were bringing extremists to campus — they shouldn’t be political, they should be representing all people.”
Milwaukee’s MSA refuted the claims in their pamphlet distributed on campus along with the controversial cartoon.
“Given that the MSA is an organization that openly operates hundreds of independent chapters across the country, why hasn’t the right-wing Bush administration closed them down?” the pamphlet said.
Greg Steinberger, executive director of Hillel in Madison, said both the Milwaukee MSA and Horowitz use similar anger-baiting techniques to promote responses.
“My guess is if a Jewish student was walking down in the Union and saw [the cartoon], many of them would feel upset, offended or threatened,” Steinberger said. “We’ve got to do better with civility and can’t focus on this heightened hostility.”