On Monday, April 10, the president of Century College, Larry Litecky, among others, received an outraged e-mail from Farheen Hakeem—comedian, community activist, and candidate for Commissioner of Hennepin County in Minnesota. The e-mail addressed the actions of Professor Karen Murdock, who garnered a good amount of attention throughout February and March for posting the Danish Mohammed cartoons in the hallway outside her office at the suburban St. Paul community college. Ms. Hakeem’s e-mail stated:
It is very clear to me that Century College is not a safe place for Muslims. Not only has there been no consequences given to Professor Murdock for her hurtful actions, but she does not even want to be educated about why it was hurtful…. To attend a school where a professor feels so self righteous to put these cartoons up might stress a kid out. She shows no compassion or remorse. …
I serve about 100 teenage girls in the Twin Cities, where I will be telling them to boycott Century College. In addition, I have CC’ed several Muslim organizations and they may choose to follow.
It is truly unfortunate that Ms. Hakeem thinks that Professor Murdock’s display of the cartoons made the entirety of Century College an unsafe place for Muslims. Students who attend Century might feel differently, especially after the school hosted a successful—and peaceful—debate on the issue of offensive language and free speech on April 3.
Professor Murdock responded to Ms. Hakeem in an April 13 e-mail, reprinted here in its entirety:
I am sorry to hear that Ms. Farheen Hakeem feels moved to instigate a boycott by Muslims of the college where I teach, Century College in White Bear Lake, because of what she calls my "racism." Before I posted the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad I tried, like any good teacher would, to put them into an educational context by posting background material on the dispute and blank pages for people to respond to the controversy. (You can read more about the case at http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/6878.html)
Cartoon riots are unusual and newsworthy. The cartoons that sparked worldwide riots and homicide deserve and even demand to be shown, especially in a college environment. Discussion works best when the people engaging in it can see what they are discussing. Most non-college newspapers in this country have refused to show the cartoons and, despite a student population of 12,000, we have no student newspaper at Century. That seems to me all the more reason to show the cartoons on a faculty bulletin board. (All 12 cartoons, and explanations necessary so that non-Danes can understand them, can be found at http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/danish_muslim_cartoons.)
I am not a racist. I am a teacher and a seeker after knowledge. It is my proper job to encourage discussion. Ms. Hakeem’s attempt to persuade my college administrators to punish me for my actions is unfair.
The fundamental question is, what practices ought to prevail in a humane secular democracy? Just as seekers need to know what they are seeking, so they need to be free from oppression in their search. Open and very vigorous discussion– even of provocative issues–is the way that we, as free people, deal with controversy. Repressing free speech is short-sighted, shameful, unwise, and untrue to the noble vision and perpetual challenge our Founding Fathers gave us in the Bill of Rights.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Thankfully, in the face of unending dispute about the usefulness of the cartoons and with people assuming the most nefarious intentions by anyone who has dared to show the cartoons, the voice of reason has not been silenced.