Well now the Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics group at the University of Wisconsin – Madison has announced that they will be doing the same. But to be neighborly, they gave the Muslim Student Association (MSA) a heads up in advance by sending them a letter. It begins:
We are aware that depicting images of Muhammad is a controversial issue that is highly offensive to many Muslims around the world. We acknowledge that you may view this as an unproductive, misguided, or hurtful event. We are very sensitive to these facts, and want to ensure that this event is done in a way that does not lead to Muslims feeling uncomfortable on campus. That is why I want to explain our position and our intentions as clearly as possible before the event takes place.
These drawings are not intended to mock, intimidate, or harass anyone -– rather, we aim to make the following statements:
1) We have the right to criticize religion and to perform actions considered blasphemous, even if many individuals find this offensive.
2) A free society cannot tolerate violence or threats of violence which seek to limit our freedom of expression.
Further, we fully understand that Revolution Islam is a radical, fringe organization that does not represent mainstream Islam in any way. It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of Muslims, in the U.S. and across the world, do not view their tactics as acceptable.
The response letter from the Vice President of the MSA was slightly less cordial. It begins:
I am the Vice President of the MSA and I will cut straight to the chase. Your apology is not accepted since your act is actually offensive. To slap someone in the face, despite warning the person in advance and assuring them of you good intentions does not make slapping someone in the face ok.
Actually, I don’t know if the contents of the letter to the MSA constitutes as an “apology” so much as an explanation of intention, one that explains that this is not a slap in the face but rather is merely taking a stand in the name of free speech by letting terrorists know that they can’t scare us into silence with violence.
But they continue:
You said it yourself, it was an extremist group that announced the threat (assuming such threats were intentionally issued) and we as Muslims disapprove their act. Moreover, your method of protest and announced cause of protest do NOT match. Why do you not direct your protest to the groups in question instead of engaging in acts that you yourself acknowledge will offend the vast majority of Muslims, on this campus and off.
No, you see that’s the whole point. Weren’t you paying attention? They already explained why they chose the form of protest that they did. If you have better protest idea, let’s hear it. But as it stands, given that we’re quite literally only talking about stick figures with the word “Mohammed” nearby, you only further illustrate why the protest is appropriate.
I would like to inform you that, as far as we understand, the event you are planning is illegal by the constitution of the University of Wisconsin (88-12 RACIST AND OTHER DISCRIMINATORY CONDUCT POLICY). Deviating from this law will offend not only the UW Muslim Students Association but the entire Muslim community on this campus and other organization of similar culture and faith. The Dean of Students shall be contacted immediately.
Um, no. There’s a big difference between being illegal and merely being against school policy. You see, universities don’t make up legal statutes. And intent is a major component of discriminatory conduct and as they’ve clearly explained already, the intent is not racism or discrimination of any kind. In fact, Islam isn’t even a race. You, as vice president of the Muslim Student Association should know better than anyone that Islam is not a race.
I politely suggest that you cancel this event and prefer instead that we meet and discuss the issue respectfully before resorting to what we feel to be rather drastic measures. No offense, but giving less than 24 hours notice seems to betray ill intentions.
Drawing stick figures on the ground with chalk is resorting to drastic measures? They’ve already opened a dialogue with you. And given your response, it seems highly unlikely that any rational, meaningful discourse can continue as it seems that you will at no point agree on an acceptable protest against Islamic radicals that simultaneously celebrates the right to reject their barbaric sense of blasphemy. And the letter does not “betray ill intentions.” In fact, it spells out exactly what they’re intentions are and why they feel morally justified in their actions. It’s like when a neighbor lets you know about their upcoming wild party on Saturday night. They’re not asking for your permission. Rather they’re stating we’re having a wild party on Saturday and are just letting you know in advance as a courtesy.
I respect the fact you let us know about your plans beforehand but I also want to reiterate that we do not approve or agree with your highly offensive acts. I assure you that we believe in freedom of expression just as much as you purport to do.
Ahmed Fikri – MSA Vice President “
Your sudden “respect” for the courtesy seems antithetical to what you said one paragraph earlier. And it’s okay if you don’t approve. They never asked for your approval. Again, they just wanted to let you know what they were going to do and why they were doing it. And no, as your letter illustrates, you don’t believe in freedom of expression just as much as the Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics group. In fact, you don’t get it at all.