Months after flap, Muhammad cartoon re-emerges

April 11, 2006

The bomb has finally dropped at Princeton. After months of controversy surrounding the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, editors of a student magazine have reprinted the cartoon on the cover of their latest issue.

Describing the cartoon as "one of the least viewed but most influential images in history" in an editors’ note, American Foreign Policy (AFP) coeditors Nicholas Cox ’08 and Kent Kuran ’08 "were surprised at how few people had actually seen the cartoon," Cox said in an interview yesterday.

"Since it’s the news story itself, we felt obligated to show it on that level," Cox said. (Click here to see an image of the front page which shows the cartoon.)

The decision to publish the cartoon "was not to shy away from controversy, but it wasn’t specifically to seek controversy," Cox added. "The fact of the matter is that because of the reaction to it, it has become a symbol of free speech … We’re not sure what reaction we are going to get."

But Saed Shonnar ’08, head of the Princeton Committee on Palestine and former president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), said he thinks any decision to start a debate by publishing the cartoons comes too late.

"People are really not interested now," Shonnar said. "I was surprised to see this issue. I think it’s expired."

Kafayat Babajide ’08, MSA community service chair, said she respects the importance of the freedom of expression, but remains upset about the decisions of newspaper and magazine editors to print the cartoon.

"Of course I’m going to be disgusted because it’s sacrilegious," Babajide said. "I basically think that the freedom of expression [as their reasoning] is a cop-out. You can’t use that when you’re dealing with a person’s religion."

Across the globe, the cartoons, originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, have sparked riots, boycotts of Danish products and formal protests to the Danish government. Controversy has also erupted on college campuses where the cartoon has been republished.

At Princeton, while all of those interviewed agreed that the AFP editors had the right to publish the cartoons, individuals remained split on whether the magazine should have done so.

"It is offensive. It is making fun of the ‘bone of the religion,’ " Salaam president Sarah Karam ’07 said. "I’m all for free speech. I don’t think that it should have been censored, but at the same time, it wasn’t in good taste."

Juliann Vikse ’08, editor of the conservative Princeton Tory, said in an email that she supported AFP’s right to exercise free speech but felt that the reprinting of the cartoons was excessive.

"Whether or not AFP genuinely intended to spark debate or simply attract attention, the reprinting of these cartoons was unnecessary," Vikse said. "The Tory did not publish the cartoons because we felt it would be tasteless and inappropriate."

But Princeton Progressive Nation editor-in-chief Robby Braun ’07 said he did not object to the AFP’s reprinting. "It did so in terms of raising legitimate issues of what constitutes free speech and what limits should be imposed on those rights," Braun, who is also chair of The Daily Princetonian’s editorial board, said.

The AFP issue also includes a point-counterpoint debate on the merits of printing the cartoon. While Christina Parajon ’06 argues that "in this situation … the value of free speech is not worth the price that the world is paying," Cox argues that publishing the cartoons will encourage debate.

Cox acknowledges past disapproval of republishing the cartoon, but says this disapproval did not affect his decision to publish it. "If something harsher than we expect happens, I’m completely willing to take responsibility for my actions. I don’t think consequences to me personally will overrule the principle of the matter," he said.

As a precautionary measure, Cox has spoken with Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit educational foundation devoted to free speech. FIRE has agreed to support AFP’s editors should they be punished for their decision to publish the cartoon, Cox said.

Representatives of FIRE could not be reached for comment last night.

The group has previously been involved in several cases involving the Muhammad cartoons. Last May, FIRE assisted a new Princeton religious student group, Princeton Faith and Action, reverse University policy on religious student organizations. The group eventually received official student group status.

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Cases: Mohammed Cartoon Controversy: FIRE Response to Intimidation and Newspaper Disputes