Free speech must not entail racism

Does freedom of speech entail freedom to hurt, freedom to promote hatred and stereotypes and freedom to dehumanize a group of people? The answer is 'yes' and 'no.' Legally, as a person: Yes; morally, as a society: No!

Undoubtedly, there is a big gap between the moral limits and the legal limits of freedom of speech, especially when it comes to societies and needless to say, the same moral obligations go towards any respectable organization of a society. Having said that, however, one of the student newspapers of UW-Madison decided to forgo these obligations not once, but twice within a week and embarked on a journey of promoting stereotypes against a group that has already had more than its fair share of stereotypes after 9/11.

Just to clarify, I am referring to the openly racist cartoon published in The Badger Herald Feb. 7 and subsequent publication Feb. 13 of one of the 12 Jyllands-Posten's controversial Danish cartoons, one that the editorial board of BH itself acknowledges to be the 'most offensive' of the lot, along with the accompanying editorial that tries to justify the decision under the umbrella of 'freedom of speech' and 'newsworthiness' of the cartoon; even though that the cartoon carries nothing more than a distorted image of 1.2 billion Muslims of the world as blood-thirsty violent people.

Nevertheless, carefully analyzing the arguments given in that editorial makes it abundantly clear that either the editorial board has made a serious judgmental error on this issue (in which case an apology from BH is forthcoming) or they are just trying to prove that racism and freedom of speech are synonymous.

The editorial says "… the world has come to include similar declarations of a right to free speech checked only by decidedly minimal restrictions." Of course the key terms here are 'decidedly' and 'minimal.' Now, the natural question to be asked is: who 'decides' these 'minimal' restriction and the simple answer is: 'Society.' For example, Nazism is outlawed in Germany which, by the way, was one of the first countries to republish these cartoons, and in US, it is a crime to incite violence and rioting by using the same notion of free speech when all a person would be doing is saying some words from his 'free' mouth.

More than that, however, all of us are fully aware of the reaction that our society would have if today any newspaper were to publish an openly racist cartoon against African-Americans in which, lets assume, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is portrayed as a violent figure, even though such a paper would be well within its legal rights to do so. Then, I must ask, why is it acceptable for some people to let others discriminate against a religious group of the society but not acceptable to let them do the same against an ethnic group?

With this, I rest my case. Now, I am going to wait for one more thing: People, who are proud of the openness of America and its freedom of speech on one hand and its respect for the humans on the other, what are they going to do to make sure that America does not become a culture where the notions of 'Racism' and 'Freedom of Speech' take the driving seat and humans are left to make a choice of either giving up their dignity if they want to live in America or move back to some other dignified place.

Waheed Bajwa

Doctoral Candidate

Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

University of Wisconsin-Madison

UW community shows misguided affinity for censorship

I'm very disappointed by the largely pro-censorship response from a university long known for celebrating freedom, civil liberties and the right to shock and offend.

The promoters of cultural sensitivity need to make two distinctions: the first is the difference between tolerance and acceptance, the second a difference between being tolerant of other cultures and being tolerant of terrible things done in the name of that culture.

There are plenty of things that I tolerate but don't accept, Islam being one of them. As a Christian, I tolerate Islam by respecting those who choose to practice it peaceably while respecting my rights to practice my religion. As an American, I cherish the freedom of speech and of the press and understand that a by-product of that freedom is that the things I believe will be criticized and satirized.

So while I'm tolerant of Islam, I'm not tolerant of those who think that violence is an appropriate response to a whole range of minor offenses against their religion. Is that every Muslim? Of course not. But those who do believe that (and their apologists) have been a disturbingly powerful faction, both before and especially after the cartoon brouhaha.

That's a legitimate cause for satire and criticism. The resulting violence and intolerance represents an even bigger test of that freedom. The Badger Herald passed that test, whereas those who favor self-censorship simply don't get it. What good is the concept of a free press if, under the guise of "cultural sensitivity," we allow certain groups to veto its practice?

David Harkins

UW Classified Staff

Facilities Planning and Management

Herald shows bias

I would like to comment regarding my concern about the Badger Herald's decision to post the highly polarizing, very controversial, and clearly offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. While I personally value freedom of speech as well as that of the press to a great degree and understand the importance of each, it must be realized that these freedoms must be properly understood and employed while keeping in mind the importance of journalistic integrity. We must realize that there are limits to our freedom of speech and that speech of underlying hatred and intolerance, of any group, must not be accepted. The potential for the controversial cartoons to create open discourse and inspire others to think outside the box, while important, cannot be done at the expense of the individual right to feel secure in one's environment. I think it is clear that the republishing of the cartoons have created an anti-Muslim, anti-Islam, and anti-Arab sentiment that cannot be tolerated, and must be addressed. It is imperative that we understand that there is a role for self-censorship in the world of journalism and that it must be taken into consideration when such blatantly offensive topics are addressed. If the intent behind such representation was solely to cover a "newsworthy" story, the manner in which it was covered should have followed suit. Instead, the Herald chose to address the issue according to their own biases, failing to contextualize the situation for the broader student readership while also failing to provide them with accurate, timely, objective news. Never did I expect such carelessness on the part of such a well-respected campus newspaper. I look forward to a retraction or an apology; either way, something needs to be done.

Farha Tahir


Cartoon not repugnant

I support your decision to publish the cartoon linking Islam and terrorism. This cartoon is a valid commentary on Islam and its very questionable affiliation with and apparent blessing of terrorists. The cartoon points out Muslims' obligations to defend their religion from being co-opted by terrorists. An obvious analogy is with the many cartoons and jokes showing the Pope supporting pedophiles, which led to protests against the Catholic Church hierarchy, not the cartoonists or newspapers that published them.

Islam actually prohibits the depiction of any life, not just Muhammad. Of course, most Islamic people don't follow this prohibition; if so, Al-Jazeera would be out of business. Besides, depicting Muhammad is a religious prohibition for devout Muslims. For non-Muslims, there is no such prohibition. Kosher includes dietary restrictions for orthodox Jews, but does not apply to gentiles. We advertise bacon cheeseburgers with impunity.

Much of the outrage may be based on false claims by Muslim clerics that obscene depictions of Muhammad were included in the cartoons. Danish clerics went to the Middle East and shopped around a set of cartoons — including obscene ones — that were never published, to foment violent protest. Not to mention the radical anti-Western militants who literally fan the flames of protest.

For these reasons, in addition to the need to promote dialogue of these issues, I support your publishing decision. No need to dismiss the cartoon as "repugnant."

David Raitt, MSSW '96

Madison, Wis.

Provide background information

I am appalled to hear that you have published the racist and defaming cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad. By doing this, you are choosing to ridicule and humiliate the religion of Islam through racist rhetoric under the guise of freedom of expression. Whatever principle you are attempting to make about the freedom of expression is insignificant compared to the disrespectful and dehumanizing expressions you are making about the religion of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

I have a suggestion for you. If you are trying to be the first paper in America to make a point or assertion about these cartoons, do it in a way that is positive for all parties concerned. Educate. Feature or write an article about the Prophet Muhammad, Western source or non-Western, so people can have some background knowledge with which they can understand these cartoons.

Thank you,

Yamaan Saadeh

University of Michigan

Legal but immoral

The Badger Herald's re-publishing of the Prophet Mohammed cartoon on Monday comes to the great dismay of People Opposing Prejudice. It is the blatantly offensive nature of this action that we find most troublesome.

In this particular case, The Badger Herald editorial places freedom of speech over responsibility of speech. Although it is not an obligation to be a member of Islam, it is an obligation to respect that faith's religious beliefs. Since we are all members of a diverse community, we all have the responsibility to adhere to certain universal rules if we want a diverse community to remain a peaceful community. The most important of these is to respect those things which are valuable and precious to each one of us as long as those precious things are not universally abhorrent, and Islam is not universally abhorrent by any means.

The Herald failed to distinguish that these cartoons are inaccurate depictions of Muslims. If the Herald wanted to write an article about freedom of speech, their point is lost if they do not first explain that "freedom of speech" does not mean everything that is controversial is also accurate. Specifically, these cartoons did have the legal freedom to be published, but that does not change the fact that they are grossly inaccurate and prejudiced depictions of Muslims. For example, it was offensive for the Herald to publish these cartoons without explaining that these are controversial not because they reveal something about Muslims, but because they reveal something about Muslims that is clearly a false depiction of all Muslims.

The Badger Herald invokes the First Amendment of the Constitution as its premise for printing this article. However, the Constitution was created as a legal code, not a moral code, and this case demands that we appeal to a higher level of judgment. It is our opinion that sacred religious beliefs should be dealt with with care. We think a dignified discussion of Islam qualifies as being in the "marketplace of ideas" instead of a shameful political cartoon. Moreover, although journalist students are taught that their primary job is to inform the public while being a forum for intellectual discourse, they conveniently forget that they are invested members of our community with as much responsibility for maintaining equitable peace as any one of us. We are disappointed that they neglected this important obligation.

Therefore, we will support those student organizations that seek justifiable action. Since The Badger Herald failed in its responsibility, now we have to fulfill ours.

April Anderson, Christina Vue, Maggie King and Quilen Blackwell

People Opposing Prejudice