Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Century College Cartoon Capades attract a loon 

It appeared for awhile that the story of Karen Murdock and Century College would die down without much more. But I received a forwarded email from her last night indicating that former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Farheen Hakeem has sent a letter to CC President Larry Litecky calling for a boycott of the school until he and Prof Murdock "understand the consequences to your actions." Prof. Murdock asked my opinion of the letter, and herewith is my reaction:

Ms. Hakeem is a nut.
Dear President Litecky, I would like to express my opinion about the recent incident in which Professor Murdock posted controversial cartoons against Muslims on the bulletin board outside of the Social Science department. I had learned of the incident from David Shove's progressive calendar, where Professor Murdock had a speaking event to address this. I asked Professor Murdock if I could speak with her. She called me this morning. I told her how I felt her actions of posting the cartoons were racist.
You request a call from the woman, she calls you, and you proceed to tell her that her actions are racist. And this after the woman is invited to speak at a progressive event. That might get me a little hot under the collar. How did Prof. Murdock respond?
She explained that her intentions were to start a discussion and she felt there was a need to "get the whole story" and that is why she posted the cartoons.
Which is the purpose of college, isn't it? To have discussions?
I told her that even though we may not intend to commit racist actions, often times we do.
And I would tell you, Ms. Hakeem, that if that is the viewpoint you take, if you see the world as filled with "racist actions", then you have a worldview entirely at odds with the goal of free inquiry that academics support. You have no idea what the purpose of a university is, and you have therefore no ability to engage this discussion.
And we perpetuate this racism until someone points it out to us.
The word you are looking for here is "censorship". Or perhaps two words: "chilling debate".
I said to her it is not always pretty, but someone needs to do it. Trying to point out other people's racism is a seizure of power; it is the act of imprisoning others in your emotional fragility.
I told her that I thought her actions were distasteful, insensitive and dehumanizing to Muslim people. I challenged her to imagine what it would have been like if there was a Muslim student walking by the board and saw those cartoons.
She doesn't have to imagine, Ms. Hakeem. She left paper on the display for people to write their impressions, and they did. She received email from them. The school held a forum for Muslim students about their experiences, who did not express fear. And when she went so far as to place the cartoons behind a curtain, and tell everyone the cartoons might be offensive to some, that was not enough. It went beyond protecting Muslims; it went to censoring non-Muslims from seeing the cartoons.
The College of St. Catherine's had call me to do a speaking event about the cartoons a while back. I work with youth, and found 5 eloquent Muslim teenage girls to attend the event and speak on the issue. We had an open, honest, and respectful discussion, and there was no need for the cartoons to be posted. I don't understand how posting those cartoons were to add to the discussion.

Define "need". Define "add to the discussion". The process of free inquiry knows no bounds; your inability to understand how the cartoons "add to the discussion" is yours; it is the limits of human understanding, and recognizing that others may be able to add where you cannot. Your inability is completely human and reasonable; your refusal to show them to others is the arrogance of thinking everyone thinks like you.
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.

You dare say this after she attends the Muslim forum? You dare say this after she speaks at a progressive event of your fellow travellers? You dare say this after she returned your call? You are a nut and you are arrogant.
I told her that Muslim youth are constantly being bombarded with images of the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine on television. 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. She condescendingly apologized for my feelings and never her actions.

There are no shortages of cartoons on campus, many intended to cause people stress. Your type calls them "speaking truth to power" while the posters hide behind tenure. Your type practices the "culture of constraint." And as to apologizing for someone's feelings, see Cynthia McKinney.
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. I believe in the power of non-violent, grassroots action. I think the power of the dollar not going to Century College, but going to another community college where Muslims are actually respected will hopefully make you and Professor Murdock understand the consequences to your actions.

A boycott of a hundred teenage girls. At least they live in a place where they can get an education.

What you are calling for, Ms. Hakeem, can only be called non-violent if anything short of physical coercioin is called non-violent. You are doing violence to free speech on campus. You are doing violence to the ability of individuals to think for themselves. You want to imprison others to your emotional reactions, have them not just respected but in fact exalted.

In whose name? I daresay, not the subject of the cartoons.

The only way in which this type of behavior can be countered is by emailing President Litecky or call his office at 651-779-3342 and expressing support for Professor Murdock. So far I believe the president has acted well in letting faculty resolve this among themselves (although I don't agree with their solution, it was arrived at by proper means.) It would be a shame if loons like Ms. Hakeem are allowed to pressure him to act against Prof. Murdock.

As always, see FIRE for more information.