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The cartoon tornado touches down in Akron


Via Creators Syndicate 

Yes, Akron, Ohio. This article by Delano R. Massey appeared in The Akron Beacon Journal on Saturday:

Several Northeastern Ohio Muslims and community leaders met Friday to express their concerns about the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have ignited outrage and violence.

At issue are the caricatures published in the European press—work that many U.S. newspapers decided against publishing. The group also took issue with a cartoon inked by Beacon Journal editorial cartoonist Chip Bok.

Bok said he did not draw his cartoon with intentions of offending Muslims and has defended his right to free press.

But Muslims on Friday said Bok's cartoon was disrespectful and demeaning.

The level of hurt, they said, was deeper since it was in the local paper.

"It pained me to know that the Beacon Journal printed its own editorial cartoons that sought to challenge the beauty of our community by bringing hate into its pages,'' said Rabbi David Lipper, of Akron's Temple Israel.

The Beacon Journal has not published the Danish cartoons. However, on Feb. 5, the Akron paper published a Bok cartoon depicting a pixilated picture of Muhammad on CNN. A couple in the cartoon said, "Well, no wonder Muslims are upset. Muhammad looks like he's on acid.''

The editorial cartoon has prompted several letters in response. Also on Friday afternoon, there was a demonstration outside of the newspaper's East Exchange Street building.

At Friday's news conference at the Islamic Society of Akron & Kent in Cuyahoga Falls, the speakers were passionate.

A.R. Abdoulkarim, Amir of the Akron Masjid, applauded newspapers that decided against running the cartoons, but condemned those who did. The Beacon Journal, he said, was in a class of its own.

"They take the prize for being the most ill-intended, irresponsible property group,'' he said. "Allah curses and condemns them and every Muslim in this community should curse and condemn them.''

Julia A. Shearson, director of Ohio's Council of American-Islamic Relations, said they want the Beacon Journal to apologize for running the "unethical'' cartoon and want the paper to publish their letters to the editor.

After yesterday's press conference, Bok met with several leaders. The cartoonist said he drew the cartoon to take a shot at CNN for "distorting a distortion'' and not at the prophet or Muslims.

"I don't draw cartoons just to offend,'' he said.

Still, Muslim leaders said Bok's cartoon was disrespectful because the prophet should not have been depicted in such a way. In fact, they said, there are no pictures or statues of Muhammad because he should not be confused with God.

After the meeting, Bok said he learned a lot about the religion.

"My cartoon wasn't about them. To them it was; to me it wasn't,'' he said. "They're cartoons. They're irreverent. I feel like that's something I have to defend.''

The Boston Phoenix got to the heart of the matter on Friday when its edtiors explained that the paper would not publish the Jyllands-Posten cartoons “out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do."

The editors continued:

This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question. Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy."

Would only that every paper in the country that's declined to publish the cartoons had been so candid about its motives.

When a leader of the local Muslim community says of Bok and his Beacon Journal colleagues, "Allah curses and condemns them and every Muslim in this community should curse and condemn them," we understand, of course, the veiled threat that lies behind his words.

Never mind that Bok's cartoon was directed toward CNN, not toward Muslims. The point seems only to be that he and The Beacon Journal have exercised their right as members of a free press to offer a viewpoint that some in the Muslim community evidently don't share. For that insolence, they're to be "cursed"—and, by extension, threatened with violent retribution.

In a slightly more subdued letter to the Beacon Journal, Mr. Abdoulkarim (who is also a personal injury lawyer) writes:

We all know that freedom of speech should not save us from our just punishment if we were to shout "Fire!'' in a crowded movie theater. Similarly, when some members of the European mass media print materials that must be seen as intentionally insulting—with no redeeming cultural, social, political, informational or other content—they cannot be permitted to hide behind freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

As a member of the bar, Mr. Abdoulkarim surely understands that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' opinion—where the theater fire analogy was first used—in Schenck v. U.S. does not extend to materials that are "intentionally insulting."

"The question in every case," Justce Holmes wrote, "is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent."

If mere "insult"—intentional or not—were interpreted as a clear and present danger to our society, every newspaper, magazine broadcasting station and website in America would have to be shut down.

But what Mr. Abdoulkarim means by "our just punishment" does not, I suspect, allude to the U.S. legal system but rather to a very narrow interpretation of the Law of Allah:

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter. (Qur'an 5:33, Yusuf Ali trans.)

Mr. Abdoulkarim and his congregation at the Akron Masjid are certainly free to abide by the strictures of Sharia if they so choose (provided, of course, their actions don't bring them into conflict with our own laws).

But they have no right at all to try to intimidate other Americans into following their example.

UPDATE: Eugene Volkh (who, like Mr. Abdoulkarim happens to be a lawyer, though in this instance, a law professor at UCLA) comments:

So I guess it's not just that we aren't supposed to draw pictures of Mohammed as terrorist, or of Mohammed at all; we aren't even supposed to draw pictures that are obviously not of Mohammed, and that are meant to mock the inability to draw pictures of Mohammed.

Well, I have to admit: The folks who are offended by this have a First Amendment right to be offended. They should feel entirely free to be offended.

The rest of us should feel entirely free, as a matter of civility as well as of law, to say: Your decision to be offended by this gives you no rights (again, as a matter of civility as well as of law) to tell us to stop printing it.

Posted by Rodger on February 12, 2006 at 02:34 PM | Permalink


These people have a serious need to get over themselves. Do they seriously think Allah cares about a political cartoon of Mohammad?

Posted by: Carole | Feb 13, 2006 2:23:06 PM

This is interesting:

"It pained me to know that the Beacon Journal printed its own editorial cartoons that sought to challenge the beauty of our community by bringing hate into its pages,'' said Rabbi David Lipper, of Akron's Temple Israel.

So what is the good rabbi's angle here? Does he owe somebody a favor, is he being pressured somehow, or does he actually believe what he says?

Perhaps he's just a serial bloviator who doesn't even know what he is saying.

This whole cartoon crisis is definitely triggering a lot of curious attitudes to pop out of the woodwork.

Posted by: Matthew Goggins | Feb 14, 2006 1:00:37 PM

Fortunately, we are not ruled by a gang of MULLAHS or SHARIA law. This IS a free country. This Country gave them the right to speak and express themselves. Muslims must not forget that this country has a LAW, a CONSTITUTION and a LEGAL SYSTEM that we all abide to, and that its the same constitution they swore by to become AMERICAN CITIZENS.

We are ruled and abide by the United States Constitution and its perfectly okay to publish the carttons.

Posted by: rebel | Feb 14, 2006 6:34:25 PM

the western world is relearning what El Cid had to do.
The muslims are proving how intolorant they are as a religion
and in any case it is terrible what humans have done and are doing to each other in the name of god.

Posted by: natan | Feb 15, 2006 2:00:55 PM

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