To the Editor:
The debate on the cartoon controversy is already showing signs of the effects that fear and oppression have on freedom of speech and thought. People in western countries are increasingly talking about how the phenomenon of Muslim reaction can be explained and understood, instead of asking the Muslims to explain and demonstrate how it is that the publication of the cartoons is harmful. It is the first step towards adopting a position of moral cowardice when certain individuals start to justify or offer apologetic explanations for the Muslim reaction. This is being done not only by Muslims but an increasing number of westerners primarily due to fear of further Muslim backlash in the face of the ‘war against Osama.’ Despite their good motives, such explanations only obscure the underlying tensions and do not contribute to the question of whether it is right or wrong to publish such cartoons.Having said that, I for one disagree with the publication of such cartoons primarily because I do not think insulting revered religious figures is a worthy way of expressing a point of view. Such comments simply sting like a bee, but do not lead one to the truth. A plausible argument can be made that such provocation can actually be more effective in opening up dialogue on an issue. However, I believe that there are other ways of provoking debate without necessarily insulting deeply held beliefs and values. In keeping with proper form and maintaining some semblance of respect for individuals that are revered by millions, such cartoons ought not to be published. More importantly, I believe that the Prophet Muhammad deserves every bit of the respect that Muslims have for him, and others less familiar or misinformed about his life ought not to callously malign his person, for whatever purpose. Calling all Muslims terrorists is also offensive and can spark a debate, but most Muslims would not feel as strongly if such a comment was made. Going as far as insulting the Prophet Muhammad is simply crass and undignified, and ought to be beyond the scope of the debate on terrorism.Several Muslims and non-Muslims have complained about western double standards when it comes to anti-Semitism as opposed to anti-Islamism. That might well be true. However, it is important to recognize that suppression of anti-Semitism has been inculcated as a ‘value’ in western societies, and it is a value that Muslims ought first to recognize as a value, and second, use to support their own case to demand respect for their own beliefs. By decrying these double standards, we are undercutting, or at best not helping, our own cause, and seem more interested in denying Jews respect than creating a basis for respecting our beliefs and values. That, I am sure, is not our intention or objective.I strongly protest the publication of these cartoons, and I would probably not shake hands with the people who created and published these cartoons, but I do not oppose their right to do it. If anything, it is more harmful to suppress viewpoints because they are disliked, and current Muslim closed mindedness is evidence of that fact. The proper way to respond is to disagree with them and make a case for your viewpoint. I believe a consequence of this suppression of divergent views is that today there is silence in the Muslim world about the elephant in the room amidst the hue and cry over the cartoons. We as Muslims need to square up to the fact that certain Islamic moral values are in tension with current western morals, and to the extent that we have adopted western values, certain Islamic values are incompatible with our own values. This includes the right of polygamous marriage for men, testimony of women having half the weight of men’s testimony, the Islamic prohibition against interest, the right to keep slaves and engage in extramarital sex with slave women, stoning to death for adultery, and cutting of hands for theft, to highlight just a few. Whether we justify these practices through argumentation and analysis, or discard them as wrong, the prerequisite is to allow people to express their views freely.It is therefore essential that Muslims stop justifying the reaction that other Muslims are having to the cartoons, and begin a process of introspection to decide what they really believe in and to stand up for it. These cartoons should be of the least significance (I believe they are best dealt with by ignoring them) given the much larger problems that Muslims face in justifying their religious values to themselves.
Sincerely,Haroon Jan Baryalay
To the Editor:
I have rarely seen as extreme a departure from the standard journalistic practice of presenting a range of public opinion on contentious issues than your article, dated March 9, that purported to canvass law school faculty reaction to President Summers’ decision to resign. The article selectively quotes faculty members who have already taken public positions supportive of the president, or whom one would expect to lament his decision. Like any intellectually diverse institution, the law school’s faculty could be expected to have a range of opinions on this and other contentious public issues. However, one would never know this from reading the article. The Record is surely entitled to publish one-sided opinion on an issue, but should be honest about it and limit such practices to its editorial page.
Kenneth W. MackAssistant Professor, Harvard Law School
The article accurately reported that “public voices were supportive of Summers.” That wording was chosen on purpose – it was meant to characterize the people who said something in the national press, not the entire HLS population. We diligently researched the different opinions about the Summers resignation that had already been aired in the press. If Professor Mack or anyone else was quoted somewhere and we missed it, we do apologize – we specifically kept an eye out for quotes from law faculty that supported the resignation, but didn’t find any. Any lack of these opinions is a fault in our research, not a purposeful or biased decision.The story was not meant to be a complete summary of the Summers resignation, nor was it meant to be an independent investigation into the opinions of all university or HLS faculty and students. It was a roundup of public sentiments aired by HLS-affiliated people. The fact that so many opinions diverged from statements made by FAS faculty made for interesting news, but was not meant as an editorial on the situation. The Record prints quotes every week that the editors do not personally agree with.-Eds.