Letter: Cartoon not just political, but a symbol of hate

Yesterday, Matt Shaffer accused students who took part in the protest against Kurt Westergaard’s visit including me of “dishonesty” and “hatefulness” in his column “Cartoons tactless, not hateful” (Oct.6). Although I cannot speak on behalf of the other protesters, I would like to respond to this charge.

Shaffer claims that the now infamous cartoon cannot be compared to other symbols of hate speech, such as swastika. To him, the image of Muhammad wearing a turban concealing a bomb in his turban is not hateful enough. Though he believes that the cartoon insults Muhammad, to him, it is merely a political cartoon.

But there is a fundamental difference between a political cartoon and a cartoon lampooning religious symbols. Politicians, no matter how much we respect them, are not held sacred by any sections of our society.

Moreover, the cartoon not only insults Muhammad but also all Muslims. By writing the Islamic creed, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his Prophet” on the turban, Westergaard attacks a the core Muslim belief and associates it with terrorism. A cartoon that connects a religious creed to terrorism is not hateful enough?

Shaffer uses the wrong metric to determine what makes a symbol of hate. While a Nazi would not consider the swastika, which in itself is a harmless image, hateful, Jews would feel differently because of the horrible history associated with it. Similarly, it is appropriate for Muslims to deem the cartoon hate speech, since it signifies American and European arrogance and oppression. I was not being “dishonest” when we said the cartoons are hateful. Insulting our prophet, attacking the Islamic creed, making us—one billion people—terrorists is hate speech.

Although Shaffer emphasized that Westergaard has denied that his cartoon expressed ill-will towards all Muslims, he failed to acknowledge the fact that Westergaard has never actually apologized for his deed.

Westergaard, as painted in Shaffer’s piece, is some sort of a hero, a tortured man by an intolerant world. But it is not suffering which makes people heroes; it is the good they do that counts. Westergaard did no good. He just misused the liberties in his country to attack, insult and vilify an already vulnerable community.

Syed Salah Ahmed

The writer is a junior in Saybrook College.

Comments

  • Alum

    Put swastikas on Jesus and Buddha, while you’re at it. When is the universe going to stop bending over backwards for people who believe in invisible men?

  • Madas

    You bring up an interesting point, but your argument is lacking.The swastika is directly associated with the systematic murder of more than 6 million Jews and millions of other individuals by the Nazis. While you might successfully argue that the cartoon is insulting or insensitive, comparing the two is patently ridiculous.

  • everyone

    …pretty pathetic.

  • Diana

    Beliefs do not merit respect simply because they are religious. If people have unwarranted and bizarre beliefs regarding mathematics we do not insist on coddling them and respecting those beliefs. Beliefs should be respected only if they are defensible; most religious beliefs are not.

    It is true that the cartoon in question insulted Muhammad; but so long as we are not living in a theocracy, we are free to insult Muhammad if we choose to.

    I think the reaction that the cartoon provoked made the the artists point better than his own cartoon did. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy?

  • The Contrarian

    Perhaps Chaplain Kugler & Co. can explain just how Muslims have made Yale a better place.

  • MattShafferDC10

    The extent of Mr. Ahmed’s dishonesty in misrepresenting my views and ignoring the points I actually made is really quite magnificent, verging on sublimity I might even say.
    Mr. Ahmed writes that I claim the notorious cartoon is not “hateful enough”–as if I conceded that it was hateful but wish it were more so– and that Westergaard is in my mind “some sort of hero.” Nobody who read my editorial could possibly believe this (please note the total dearth of direct quotation in Mr. Ahmed’s letter). I was quite clear that I disliked the cartoon and wished such unpleasantness would go away. My central argument, however, was that it could not be considered hate speech by any stretch of the imagination, and that comparing Westergaard to Nazi sympathizers is absurd and offensive. Mr. Ahmed makes no substantive reply to this argument.
    If the cartoon is not hate speech, Mr. Westergaard owes no one an apology. When I think of Mr. Ahmed’s logic, I am reminded of the medieval ordeal of trial by drowning, practiced on suspected wishes. Mr. Ahmed finds the proof of Mr. Westergaard’s evil precisely in his denial!
    Mr. Ahmed seems unable to differentiate between things he finds unpleasant and actual hate speech. Cartoons lampooning religious symbols are indeed unpleasant. And, though I might say that “Piss Christ” is bad art–art in which political sermonizing and gratuitous transgression take precedence to aesthetic dignity–it would be absurd to call it hate speech.
    Mr. Ahmed employs a strategy which, though somewhat peculiar, seems to characterize many of those who have protested Westergaard’s invitation–making extremely bold, very troubling claims without deigning to supply any sort of evidence or reason for such claims whatsoever. He claims that the cartoons work to “insult and vilify an already vulnerable community,” not bothering to reply to the extensive arguments that it does no such thing. This same strategy is employed by Master Schottenfeld and Tanina Rostain when they assert that Westergaard is “someone whose main claim to fame is…[provoking] hatred,” that his work “incites intolerance,” and that he “implies that terrorism is a central tenet of Islam.”
    These are disturbing claims, indeed. So disturbing, in fact, that one would think that anyone publishing such bold accusations would want to provide a pinch of evidence, or at least attempt to explain away the vast body of evidence to the contrary, such as the voluminous body of Westergaard’s own claims.
    But, alas! Those decrying Master Smith’s decision feel no such need. No, all they need to do is assume the fetal position and cry “hatred” whenever anybody disagrees with them, while plugging their ears and ignoring reality.
    This is often effective, but it is fundamentally dishonest, and I suspect the Yale community is by now growing weary of this strategy. I recommend that Mr. Ahmed and others find a new one.

  • Y09

    Islamic extremists blow people up. That is a fact. Is it inaccurate to stereotype an entire religion for it? Perhaps. But it’s a political cartoon. That’s the point.

  • Threads like these

    It’s threads (and racists) like these that make me wish the YDN would moderate comments, like the NYT, or at least, let the board self-moderate, as most news sites do, where there is a “Report Abuse” button, or, alternatively, where there is a positive button and negative button, and any comment that has a net negative score is hidden from view — not excised mind you, but the reader would be forced to choose to read the comment.

  • Matt

    This letter reflects a view popular among the less free circles of the world, namely, that our freedoms are privileges, to be earned through their “responsible” exercise. A quick survey of our history will show just how poisonous this notion is to the free exchange of ideas.

    Of course there is a line between legitimate discourse and satire, and hate speech. But the cartoons do not cross that line; they are not even close. When determining if something is hateful, we have to ask if it is reasonable for people to be disparaged by it. If we label the cartoons as hateful, where does it end? Movies condemning radical Islam? Books? Newspaper articles? A better solution would be for the offended groups to grow some thicker skin.

  • St. Louis gal

    I get that the cartoons were hurtful, and I would be hurt, too. But the fact of the matter is that extremists interpret the Koran to justify killing of non-Muslims (some Wahhabi ideology), and to sow seeds of terrorist activity even in non-Muslim countries where they live and work (and I refer here to the UK tube bombings).

    Ironically, perhaps it is the very fact that there is not true freedom of speech in some Middle Eastern countries that prevents discussion on the subject and perpetuates the notion that such killing is okay.

  • Hieronymus

    @#6: May I paraphrase for you?

    “RAAAAACIST!”

    Um, exactly where are the racists on this thread, pray tell?

    It used to be that Silence = Death; the mantra for the Oughties seems to be “Speaking = Hate.”

    “You will have no opinion but that which you were issued, soldier!”

  • good job

    Great op-ed!

    Yale clearly has a lot more work to do regarding the importance of tolerance and diversity if someone can really ask what Muslims have done to make Yale a better place.

  • Samuel Bagg

    “While a Nazi would not consider the swastika, which in itself is a harmless image, hateful, Jews would feel differently because of the horrible history associated with it. Similarly, it is appropriate for Muslims to deem the cartoon hate speech, since it signifies American and European arrogance and oppression.”

    Wearing a swastika proclaims that the murder of 12,000,000 people was a good thing.

    Publishing the cartoon, at worst, proclaims a complete lack of respect for Islam.

    Support of Nazi murder = support of disrespect?

    Syed, I’m sorry there are so many ridiculously bigoted people out there (and on this thread). My guess and hope is that most of them are completely random people who don’t have anything to do with Yale. But just because they agree with Matt doesn’t mean he is wrong or one of them.

    Because these two things (Swastika and cartoon) are fundamentally not the same.

    Just as a side note – though I would be made somewhat uncomfortable by a Neo-Nazi speaker coming to campus, I certainly wouldn’t protest the publishing of a Swastika. Even if the two symbols WERE equivalent, the level of protest about it’s publication would STILL baffle me beyond belief.

  • Samuel Bagg

    “While a Nazi would not consider the swastika, which in itself is a harmless image, hateful, Jews would feel differently because of the horrible history associated with it. Similarly, it is appropriate for Muslims to deem the cartoon hate speech, since it signifies American and European arrogance and oppression.”

    Wearing a swastika proclaims that the murder of 12,000,000 people was a good thing.

    Publishing the cartoon, at worst, proclaims a complete lack of respect for Islam.

    Support of Nazi murder = support of disrespect?

    Syed, I’m sorry there are so many ridiculously bigoted people out there (and on this thread). My guess and hope is that most of them are completely random people who don’t have anything to do with Yale. But just because they agree with Matt doesn’t mean he is wrong or one of them.

    Because these two things (Swastika and cartoon) are fundamentally not the same.

    Just as a side note – though I would be made somewhat uncomfortable by a Neo-Nazi speaker coming to campus, I certainly wouldn’t protest the publishing of a Swastika. Even if the two symbols WERE equivalent, the level of protest about its publication would STILL baffle me beyond belief.

  • tired of all this

    Of course most of us don’t like mean, rude, nasty, and, yes, hateful people, so we simply do not number them among our intimate friends. But outlawing meanness, rudeness, nastiness and hate? No way. What a slippery slope…. Vote with your feet and just walk away.

    And btw, check out Yale’s Woodward Report… it has been a useful and time-tested guide to such discussions for over 30 years.

  • ROFLCOPTER

    Did Yale not publish a swastika or something? Because I’m pretty sure I’ve seen THOSE in books about Naziism.