Cartoons Discussed But Not Shown At NYU Event

March 30, 2006

A student group at New York University last night bowed to what they said was pressure from administrators and decided not to display the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed at a panel discussion on the often-violent worldwide reaction to the cartoons.

Four blank pedestals were left behind the speakers to symbolize what one member of NYU’s Objectivist Club, Ryan Puzycki, called “a hijab on free speech.” The Objectivist Club is devoted to the philosophy of the author Ayn Rand.

The university denied the group’s allegation, saying it had asked the Objectivists to be sensitive to the NYU Muslim community, but had not put any pressure on its free speech.

Earlier in the week NYU officials, citing security reasons, said the panel discussion could not be open to the public if the cartoons were shown on stage.

Security at the Kimmel Center for University Life was tight. Attendees had to pass through metal detectors, and NYU public safety officers guarded every entrance to the building. New York Police Department officers were on duty outside.

The panelists included the former chairman of the board of the Ayn Rand Institute, Peter Schwartz; the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Greg Lukianoff; the author of “The Legacy of Jihad,” Andrew Bostom, and a former editor of the New York Press, Jonathan Leaf, resigned last month over his paper’s decision not to print the cartoons.

Panelists strongly rebuked the university during their opening statements. “The idea that in a university – not a newspaper – that we can’t put something up and discuss it is ridiculous,” Mr. Leaf said.

“These are possibly the most newsworthy cartoons in history,” Mr. Lukianoff said. “If you make it through four years of college and haven’t had your deepest beliefs questioned, ask for your money back.” He accused the university of allowing a “heckler’s veto.”

Before the panel, a group of NYU Muslims staged a teach-in to explain why they believed the cartoons were “racist” and were meant to incite a “hostile atmosphere,” the NYU Muslim chaplain, Khalid Latif, said. Following the teach-in, about 50 Muslims conducted their afternoon prayers in front of the building as a demonstration of unity.

A spokesman for the university, John Beckman, said it wasn’t necessary to show the cartoons to discuss them.

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Schools: New York University Cases: New York University: Suppression of Discussion of Mohammed Cartoons