NEWS

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February 21, 2006

Daily Illini editors suspended after publishing Danish cartoons

Two editors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Daily Illini student newspaper have been suspended after “breaking ranks” to republish the controversial Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, without the knowledge of the editorial board, in the February 9 edition of the paper, according to a press release from the paper.

The 12 cartoons, satirizing the Prophet Muhammad, were first published in a Danish newspaper late last September. Riots and violent protests sparked by these cartoons, on the grounds that they are blasphemous and insensitive, have resulted in numerous casualties, a Middle-Eastern boycott of Danish goods, the burning of Norwegian and Danish embassies, as well as international condemnation.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of the few major daily newspapers in the U.S. which republished the cartoons.

Acton Gordon, the suspended editor-in-chief of The Daily Illini, said he decided to print the cartoons because he felt “nobody understood what was going on” without seeing the cause of the uproar.

“I wanted to fill a hole that the mainstream media refused to fill,” Gordon said. “The only way to fill people in is to publish the cartoons.”

In an editorial accompanying the cartoons, Gordon wrote that he felt the nationwide refusal to reprint the cartoons was a sign the first amendment was being challenged.

“All across this nation, editors are gripped in fear of printing,” he wrote in the editorial. “This flies in the face of everything I hold dear.”

According to Jenette Sturges, interim opinions editor, the suspension of the two editors was not because of the publication of the controversial cartoons, but because of “issues of responsibility to the newsroom […] and to the greater community.”

Sturges said she wished the cartoons had been contextualized more.

“There’s been obviously a lot of anger and hurt in the community. It’s been a very, very, very difficult thing for us to deal with,” she said.

Following the suspension, Sturges said she received a large volume of hate mail from across the country and sympathized with Muslim organizations in the community.

“It was very amazing and very disheartening to see all of this go down on our campus,” she said. “The amount of bigotry in this country against the Muslim group has been really, really difficult to see.”

Sturges also expressed her disappointment about there not yet being an organized discussion of the issue at UIUC.

Gordon claimed, however, that the editorial board took issue with his decision after seeing the reaction of the Muslim community and that the news staff of The Daily Illini was afraid they would endanger their ability to land future jobs with major newspapers.

He added that fear of retaliation among the American press was a pervasive problem.

“If people are afraid to publish something that is critical of Muslims, the terrorists are winning,” he said.

Travis Kavulla, editor of the biweekly conservative journal Harvard Salient, also decided to reprint four of the cartoons.

“No one had seen [the cartoons],” Kavulla said. “People didn’t have a good sense of what Muhammad was depicted as. They had somehow had the assumption that these cartoons were more vile.”

Kavulla reprinted the cartoons with not only an accompanying editorial, but also two “truly vile” anti-Semitic cartoons from Islamic newspapers, one of which depicts Jews, marked with the Star of David, running children through a papermill and then drinking their blood, he said.

He said his intentions were to “make the contrast really obvious” between reactions to cartoons offensive to Muslims and to other races.

“There’s a special culture of sensitivity surrounding the culture of Islam,” he added. “I think it has to do with the inability of Muslims to cope with these imageries.”

Kavulla acknowledged that although fully expecting the “campus outrage” that ensued, he felt it was necessary to print the cartoons in order to promote dialogue on campus.

“The most productive thing that has been accomplished was the overwhelming tide of private conversations,” Kavulla said, adding that some reactions have been far more positive than anticipated. “The silver lining of all of this was when I got back to my apartment…and there was an e-mail waiting in my inbox inviting me to Friday prayers. I was overjoyed.”

Kavulla defended running the cartoons, saying the situation has “hidden treasures.”

“All this would not have come out if we hadn’t pushed the situation in the first place,” he said. “I’m vindicated, and the Salient is vindicated.”

Hasan Ali, president of the Muslim Students’ Association at the U of C, said he strongly disagreed. “I don’t think it requires a discussion to say, ‘This is wrong and should be denounced,’” he said.

“Trying to complicate the matter is another kind of intolerance,” Ali added, citing any reprinting of the cartoons as “a direct slap in the face.”

Shaz Kaiseruddin, president of the Muslim Students’ Association at UIUC, also disagreed with Kavulla.

“Instead of promoting understanding, the editors effectively through their reprinting promoted more stereotyping and hatred,” she said.

She added that her organization did not wish to limit the first amendment, but rather was concerned with issues of “responsible journalism” and “human decency.”

Kavulla said he felt that the Salient had not violated any human decencies.

Gordon maintained that any reluctance to publish the cartoons is due to fear of retaliation.

“I think that’s just an excuse to cover up what’s going on,” he said.

“The majority of the offense is a result of the desecration of his [Muhammad’s] image to a point beyond recognition,” Kaiseruddin said. “What I mean by that is as a man who taught patience, love, and avoidance of anger, to depict him as the exact opposite of being a terrorist and a womanizer… is part of Islamophobia.”

Kavulla said he hoped more college newspapers would reprint the cartoons. “It’s an ethical obligation to show the cartoons that have been causing so much fuss,” he said.

Gordon said he agreed. “My first obligation is to the readers, and then to the [news] staff.” He added that he has gotten letters of support from across the country, and even from France and South Africa.