I am a Muslim. As a Muslim I am offended, disturbed and dismayed by the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 and subsequently in numerous European publications. I am also offended by the whole brouhaha that erupted after the cartoons’ publication.
I am offended by the rude and vile depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. I am disturbed that so many enlightened people in the West fail to see that these bigoted caricatures maligning the entire Muslim community are symptomatic of a rapidly growing, irrational hatred for Muslims. I also am dismayed by the idiotic and shortsighted response to these cartoons by Muslims all over the world.
Despite my personal feelings about the cartoons, I am helping Acton Gorton, the young man who reprinted some of these same cartoons in the Daily Illini, a newspaper that serves the University of Illinois community in Champaign, Illinois. I am Acton’s attorney.
Those who noticed that I am a Muslim attorney quickly pointed out the irony, and I readily admit that it is ironic. However, strange though it may be, it is the right thing to do.
By defending Acton I am defending First Amendment rights. In responding to the cartoon controversy many Muslims in the West, and particularly in the United States, seem to have forgotten that our community is suffering an ongoing curtailment of our First Amendment rights. Too many people in the post-9/11 world are ready to abdicate these and other fundamental rights in the hopes of greater physical security.
There is evidence of the erosion of First Amendment rights of Muslims everywhere. Muslims are increasingly being forced to suppress deeply held beliefs, candid political observations, and personal convictions for fear of governmental and vigilante reprisals.
Today, imams who speak to Muslims about matters of self-defense and jihad as Qur’anic injunctions are in jeopardy of criminal prosecution for incitement. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, anyone who dares to link U.S. policies with Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorism is vilified and demonized. At this rate non-violent civil disobedience by Muslims very soon will be characterized as providing material support and aid to terrorists.
I object to such curtailments of the First Amendment. As a matter of principle then, I must also object to any attempts to censor the republication of the cartoons. To demand unfettered free speech only when it suits me would be hypocritical.
Some have framed this issue as being about responsibility rather than free speech. Everyone is charged with exercising his or her rights in a responsible manner. However, responsibility is not the same as tact.
In Acton’s case, I found that he acted responsibly and tactfully. He did not publish the cartoons to thumb his nose at Muslims. He took responsibility for publishing the cartoons, he made it clear that he too felt the cartoons were bigoted, and he stated clearly his desire to prompt understanding in the community over the worldwide controversy by actually showing the cartoons in the Daily Illini.