Paper defends decision to run cartoons
By The News-Gazette
Friday February 10, 2006
The Daily Illini, the independent student-run newspaper that covers the University of Illinois Urbana campus, defends its decision to run the controversial caricatures that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad on its editorial pages Thursday.
“We felt this would be a perfect opportunity for us to have a free-speech debate about a clash of worlds we’ve had ever since 9/11,” said Chuck Prochaska, opinions page editor for the Daily Illini.
He and Editor Acton Gorton decided to run the cartoons after discussing the controversy in various humanities classes in recent days.
“It just seemed people didn’t have a grasp about why this controversy was going on,” Prochaska said. “Everyone knew there were cartoons and that they were allegedly offensive, but they were very difficult to find (on the Internet) if you don’t speak Danish.”
Reaction to publication of the cartoons was strong, but did not incite any violence or threats, he said.
“Acton and I feel safe,” Prochaska said. “We’re not worried about our safety.”
The opinions page editor said the student newspaper had received as many as 30 phone calls Thursday afternoon and a similar number of e-mails. The Daily Illini will publish some of those letters in coming days.
A few Muslim students called to protest the publication of the cartoons, but were not threatening, he said.
Reaction generally was mixed, Prochaska said.
“It’s almost a split,” he said. “A lot of people are saying ‘Congratulations for having the guts to do this and defend the First Amendment.’ Others are saying ‘Just because you have the right to do this doesn’t mean you should.’”
Imam Mujahid Al-Fayadh of the Islamic Center and Mosque in Urbana said the re-publication of the cartoons was "not a big deal.
“They’re just repeating the whole story, trying to be famous by reprinting this junk,” he said.
He said local Muslims are mildly disappointed by the action.
“We try to educate that Islam is a peaceful religion,” he said.
The Associated Press chose not to distribute the drawings.
“We don’t distribute content that is known to be offensive, with rare exceptions,” said Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. “This is not one of those exceptions. We made the decision in December and have looked at the issue again this week and reaffirmed that decision not to distribute.”
News-Gazette Editor and Publisher John Foreman said he and the other editors never really considered a decision on whether or not to publish the images.
“It’s not necesarily because we believe they should or shouldn’t be published, but simply because no one suggested there’d be sufficient interest in seeing them,” Foreman said. “I’d be very supportive of the Daily Illini’s decision if they made it for purposes of illuminating the discussion.”