Monday, February 13, 2006

Cartoon Jihad at UNC?

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The Muslim Students Association at the University of North Carolina is demanding an apology from The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC, over an original cartoon of Mohammed drawn and published last week. From the News and Observer:

Philip McFee, a senior English major at UNC-CH who draws editorial cartoons for The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper, wanted to contrast peaceful tenets of the Koran with the violence and ransacking that erupted over the depiction of the prophet.

With only a small space to make his point in Thursday's Daily Tar Heel, the cartoonist depicted a turban-topped Muhammad between two mosque windows -- one with a Danish flag flying among fluffy, white clouds and another with a machete-armed man in front of a burning embassy.

On campus Muslims immediately responded asking for an apology and citing the prohibition against depicting the prophet Mohammed. So far the editor of the paper, Ryan Tuck, is standing firm by apologizing if people were offended but not for exercising free press and speech:

Ryan Tuck, student editor, posted a statement on a blog. He knew the cartoon would be controversial, he said in an interview Friday, but decided to publish it for a number of reasons, including his desire to spark discussion.

"I do apologize to any Muslim personally offended by the cartoon," Tuck said. "Sometimes that happens in the point of trying to make a larger point. But I do not apologize for publishing it."

Here is the cartoon in question:

The message of the cartoon is that while publishing the cartoons may have been offensive, the actions of Muslim extremists are even more damaging to Islam. McFee indicated that the cartoon was a positive one and should not be treated as an attempt to offend. Tuck was also correct to apologize for any offense but defend the right to publish this. At this point it is full-on McCarthyism where any depiction of Mohammed is objected to without first considering that, in this case, the artist was actually making a valid point in favor of Islam. The cartoon is a criticism of the Muslim extremists and should have been applauded by moderate Muslims. I also think McFee should be commended for his willingness to draw a new cartoon on this particular topic.

The statement by the UNC Muslim Students Association can be found here. They basically say that if the point had been made in a written article they would not object nor do they take issue with the right to free speech. While Tuck did tell the N&O he published the cartoon to spark discussion, the MSA alleges he did so as a blasphemous act and that any depiction of Mohammed is forbidden even a positive one such as this one. As of this morning two administration figures had also complained about the publishing of the cartoon and its "insensitivity"

Since the sharks are already circling I suspect a full apology and retraction is in the offing. Whether Tuck keeps his position is probably at issue to knowing how these things usually play out. Here is the email address for the editor of The Daily Tar Heel: Ryan Tuck. The feedback page for the Daily Tarheel can be reached here. Ryan Tuck should be commended for his stance on his right to publish this cartoon under the auspices of free speech.


The Editorial Board at The Daily Tar Heel has called Vice Chancellor Margaret Jablonski to task for co-authoring the aformentioned letter condemning the cartoon. The board says that Jablonski "holds a great deal of authority and comes off as condemning the actions of an autonomous organization." The board goes on to criticize the letter as "hyprocrisy" considering the UNC administrations long history of coming down on the side of journalistic freedom. They also call Jablonski's involvement a "slippery slope" in terms of the administration's interference with the editorial decisions of the campus paper. The article points lauds Chancellor James Moeser for his past defense "unfettered freedom of the press, even from our campus administration" and calls on him to continue that trend.

I hope Moeser and others at UNC continue to show the same fortitude in the face of blatant censorship gone awry.

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