An unknown party posted what many called an anti-Muslim cartoon across Yale’s campus Wednesday morning, the third recent instance of anonymous postering on campus.
The cartoons on the posters — which were taken down mid-morning by members of the Muslim Students Association — depicted the prophet Muhammad with a sword in one hand and a decapitated head in the other, underneath a speech bubble which included the phrase: “Don’t mess with Ahmadinejad’s nukes.” Though most Muslim students expressed surprise and dismay at the cartoon, some viewed the incident as an opportunity to open dialogue on campus about Muslim issues.
MSA President Altaf Saadi ’08 said she was shocked that the cartoons would be posted on a campus like Yale’s and was unhappy that the individuals responsible decided to remain anonymous.
“I’m very appalled by what happened,” she said. “I’m disappointed that whoever put this up would be so cowardly. I would hope that people would acknowledge the hurt that it causes.”
Saadi said the group has contacted the offices of President Richard Levin, Dean of Undergraduate Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, and Yale College Dean Peter Salovey about the incident. The MSA plans to hold a dialogue after Thanksgiving break in conjunction with the College Dean’s office in response to the cartoon, she said.
The MSA also contacted Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who oversees the University Police and Security Departments, in the hopes of prompting a police investigation into the postering.
According to the Undergraduate Regulations, students and campus groups must print their names on any posters displayed on University property. Highsmith said she received several complaints about the flyers and contacted the Yale Police Department, which will not continue investigating the case.
“There is no further action that is appropriate,” she said. “They have basically no information for them to pursue further.”
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, who was not on campus today, said the posters sounded “disgusting and insulting” based on the description he received.
While free speech allows groups and individuals to publicly spread messages that may be considered offensive, Salovey said, posting flyers anonymously is not tolerated at Yale.
“Our freedom of expression policies allow individuals and groups to post in appropriate places material that may be offensive,” Salovey said in an e-mail. “However, as I understand these policies, we have no obligation to allow anonymously posted material, repulsive or otherwise, to remain on display.”
Students expressed concern that the cartoons are part of a trend in hateful speech on campus, citing flyers widely perceived as anti-gay that were also anonymously posted around campus on National Coming Out Day this October. The two individuals behind those flyers — which were accompanied by an e-mail to the entire Yale community — revealed their identities last week and apologized for the campaign, saying the messages were meant as a sarcastic prank.
Last February, a group of anonymous students posted fliers across campus showing Yale undergraduates’ personal facebook.com profiles, which the group said contained homophobic and misogynistic content.
Saadi said the most recent posters highlight a need for more sensitivity to students’ backgrounds at Yale.
“Repeatedly, we keep seeing that this campus is not as safe and welcome for students as it should be,” she said.
Highsmith said the cartoon’s content does not violate University regulations because of Yale’s commitment to free speech, and students disagreed over whether the content of the cartoon should not be protected.
Saadi said the derogatory nature of the cartoon places it in the category of hate speech.
“I think discussion about free speech is irrelevant,” she said. “This is about something that is blatantly racist and has no place on a campus like Yale.”
But Emaan Ammar ’09 said that while the cartoon was offensive, the rights of individuals to express their opinions should be protected.
“It’s particularly offensive to me as Muslim, but I think people have a right to post whatever they want,” she said.
Students and University religious officials said the incident represented a chance to engage in constructive dialogue.
Ahmed Makani ’07 said discussion about the cartoon may help MSA to spread a more positive image of the prophet Muhammad.
“My own expectation is that it’s a great opportunity for us to inform people about the ignorance on campus,” he said.