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Anti-Muslim cartoons were designed to spread hate
We have to stand against racism

By Elizabeth Schulte and Martin Smith | February 24, 2006 | Page 2

ANGRY PROTESTS against anti-Muslim cartoons published in a Danish newspaper and reprinted in right-wing publications around the world have reached the U.S.

Demonstrations against the cartoons--one of which depicts the prophet Muhammad with a bomb on his head--have rocked Europe and the Middle East. On February 17, more than 1,000 New Yorkers turned out to the Danish Consulate in Manhattan to protest.

"We should not be fooled by freedom of speech as an excuse for racist speech," Kamal Aljayeh, a 45-year-old engineer, told the North Jersey Herald News. "We teach this to our kids: Don't insult anyone, don't curse anyone. It seems this cartoonist never learned from his parents the 10 basic rules you learn in kindergarten."

Another front in this confrontation opened up last week on U.S. campuses--after several student newspapers decided to reprint offensive caricatures. At the University of Illinois in Champaign, some 100 people gathered to express their anger when the Daily Illini printed six of the cartoons.

Now, activists at other schools are preparing to respond if the provocations are published on their campuses.

At the New York demonstration, the crowd included South Asians, Arabs, African American and other Muslims, who came to protest the real point of the cartoons--not "freedom of speech" but racist scapegoating.

"Here in America, Native Americans were portrayed as savages, so when they were killed, people wouldn't feel as bad about it," said Dr. Shaik Ubaid, a spokesperson for the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, an umbrella group of 30 different mosques and Islamic groups that organized the protest. "The same with slavery; even the New York Times at one time depicted African-Americans as apes--as less than humans. They would not do that now, so why is the clock being turned back for Muslims now?"

"We were tired of demonization," Ubaid said. And demonization is what it is.

That was obvious by the response of the Bush administration, which has shifted its message to denounce the anti-cartoon demonstrations, rather than the racist cartoons. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for example, accused Iran and Syria of going "out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this [for] their own purposes."

But it is the administration and its right-wing, pro-war friends that are stoking the fire. "This is a moment of truth in the in the global struggle against Islamic extremism," wrote right-winger William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard--which, of course, reprinted the cartoons. "Will Hamas succeed in creating a terror state on the West Bank?" he asked. "Will a terror-sponsoring Iranian regime succeed in its quest for nuclear weapons? Will Danish imams succeed in intimidating Europe--or the free world as a whole?"

On some campuses--the University of Wisconsin, Harvard University, Illinois State University, University of Illinois, and University of North Carolina at Raleigh--newspaper editors have decided to reprint the cartoons, in the name of "freedom of speech."

In Champaign, a coalition of more than 15 organizations called an emergency protest on February 14, with more than 100 students turning out. "Don't give voice to HATE," read one demonstrator's signs. "Islamophobia increased 50% in 2005...How much more in 2006?" said another.

University administrators scrambled to put a lid on the incident and avoid negative press. On the day of the protest, the two editors who printed the cartoons, Acton Gorton and Charles Prochaska, were suspended from the paper--but for two weeks with pay, a slap on the wrist.

The two editors have become the poster boys of right-wing pundits and Web sites, which claim Gorton and Prochaska as champions of "free speech" and the latest victims of political correctness. "We did this to raise a healthy dialogue about an important issue that is in the news, and so that people would learn more about Islam," Gorton said.

But what is being learned is racism. Arab and Muslim students at the protest spoke of racist epithets being hurled at them.

The hostile environment that the cartoon's publication stoked was clear when a counterdemonstrator held up a blown-up picture of the cartoon depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban--with the added inscription "Muhammad Rapes." Another right-winger attempted to interrupt the rally by spewing racist filth--while university officials and police stood by and did nothing.

Arabs and Muslims have a right to be angry--and about much more than the racist depictions in the newspaper cartoons. With the media focus on the right of bigots to free speech, the conditions that sparked anger across the Muslim world remain obscured--including the racist "war on terror," immigrant-bashing in Europe and the U.S., torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the illegal occupation of Palestine, and the poverty faced by millions of Arab and Muslims ruled over by U.S.-backed dictatorships.

We have to stand in solidarity with Arabs and Muslims when they come under attack--and speak out against racism.

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