John Grogan | Protesters set a democratic tone
By John Grogan
Hundreds of Muslims from around the region descended on the Inquirer-Daily News Building Saturday to protest The Inquirer's decision to reprint a caricature of the prophet Muhammad with a bomb protruding from his turban.
I would just like to say to the protesters: I'm with you 100 percent.
It's not that I agree with your point of view. I respect your right to say it.
I think The Inquirer made the right call to run the controversial cartoon, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper and has sparked Muslim furor, outrage and, in some instances, violence. It was a good decision, journalistically sound and morally responsible. Intelligent, thinking people, if they are to make informed decisions, have a right to information. All information.
Most Americans cannot fathom how a fairly innocuous caricature, by Western standards, could spur rioting and violence around the globe. How can we begin to understand without being able to examine the offending image as part of the coverage?
That said, I cheered Saturday's protesters for the way they conducted themselves. That is, peacefully.
There is a right and a wrong way to express outrage and disgust. And those protesting along North Broad Street over the weekend stood as a model for the rest of the world.
Freedom to engage
No one got hurt. No one lashed out physically. No one made threats. No bombs went off. No fires were set. No cars overturned.
The protesters spoke their minds - loudly and forcibly - and made their disgust known.
Elsewhere in the world, Danish embassies have been burned, and riots have turned bloody. And that is hugely ironic, considering the whole point of the cartoon is that Islam has been hijacked by a minority of violent extremists who act inconsistently with the religion's tenets.
What better way to sustain post-9/11 stereotypes of Muslims as prone to religious violence than to protest an image by... turning violent?
Fortunately, that did not happen in Philadelphia. Not even close. While there was some hostility in the crowd, everyone behaved.
There were some who shouted ugly things and distributed unsavory images, but they were in the minority. And even the worst of it fell well within the bounds of a cherished democratic tradition: the right to free speech and open assembly. The right to disagree and be heard.
Some protesters called for a boycott of the newspaper, and for readers to cancel their subscriptions. It's all fair game, and a rich part of that crazy, messy, not always pretty institution known as democracy.
Let's hope the rest of the world was watching Saturday and taking notes.
Outrage can be expressed without outrageous behavior. Dissent can be registered without descending into incivility and inhumanity.
Bridging the gulf
Bombs don't bridge cultural divides; dialogue does. Violence doesn't breed peace; understanding does.
On a gray stretch of pavement Saturday, the talk got under way.
Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett walked among the protesters Saturday, and told me that after talking with them she came away with a largely positive impression.
"This was a great opportunity for some dialogue," she said. "We're planning on following through. We're having other, richer discussions" with area Muslims.
"We ran the cartoon for a purpose, and it was the same purpose newspapers fulfill, or ought to fulfill, in every circumstance, which is giving people the information they need," Bennett said.
Indeed, had The Inquirer not run the image, area Muslims would have stayed home. The paper's publisher and top editors would have stayed home, too. The gulf would still have been there, only quietly out of sight.
In Philadelphia on Saturday, a bridge, however small and tentative, was opened across that gulf. In this complicated time, we can't have too many bridges.
At the other end lies understanding.
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MIM: For their part the Inquirer editors not only displayed abject dhimmitude by coming out and talking with the protesters (an act which only fueled their imagined grievance and brought the number of protesters from 30 to several 100) they met with the terrorist tied Council on American Islamic Relations and agreed to publish a piece by CAIR and a local Imam who wrote that the way to make amends to Muslims for the publication of one cartoon was for the staff to "accept Islam".
AP Photo PX101
By KATHY MATHESON
Associated Press Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Protesters with signs that read "Irresponsible Journalism" gathered outside the offices of The Philadelphia Inquirer Saturday to condemn the newspaper's decision to reprint a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad that had angered Muslims worldwide.
Many of the 200 protesters acknowledged that the paper had the right to publish the image but said it still mocked their religion.
"It was done knowing that it was against the wishes of the Muslim people," said 50-year-old Mahmood Siddique. "It was done in bad taste in the name of freedom of speech."
Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett showed up at the demonstration, which she described as "peaceful and respectful." She walked through the crowd and introduced herself, thanking protesters for coming and in some cases defending the paper's decision.
A week earlier, the paper had published the drawing of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb for a turban - one of about a dozen images originally published in Denmark that sparked violent demonstrations throughout Muslim countries.
Many Muslims believe any depiction of Muhammad is sacrilegious, much less a derisive one.
The Inquirer was one of only a few U.S. media outlets to have shown any of the cartoons. Along with the image, the paper ran an explanation of its reason for publishing it and a story about the international controversy.
Bennett and managing editor Anne Gordon released a statement in response to protests last week, saying that "this was a moment for newspaper journalists to do what they are uniquely qualified to do in this country - to lay out all sides of the issue for a well-informed public to debate and discuss."
Bennett said Saturday, editors have met with a Muslim group that included members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Philadelphia. The Inquirer also plans to print opinion pieces from the Muslim community, she said.
Lilly Dzemaili, 53, said the paper's efforts to meet with members of the Muslim community were a step toward making amends.
"Talking with each other - (that's) always good," she said.
|Posted on Sun, Feb. 12, 2006
Hundreds of Muslims picket Inquirer over cartoon
Many said they thought the newspaper defamed their religion. Its top managers defended the move.
By Adam Fifield and Gaiutra Bahadur
Inquirer Staff Writers
Hundreds of Muslims chanted and carried banners and signs outside the Inquirer-Daily News Building yesterday, protesting The Inquirer's decision to reprint a caricature of the prophet Muhammad.
Many said they thought that the paper had defamed their religion by publishing an image that has angered Muslims across the world and resulted in mass protests and the burning of Western embassies. Many Muslims consider any depiction of Muhammad to be sacrilegious.
"We feel very strongly The Inquirer could have covered the news without printing this inflammatory cartoon," said Zia Haq, 43, of Collegeville.
The cartoon, one of several originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September, depicts Islam's chief prophet with a lit bomb stuck in his turban. It ran in The Inquirer on Feb. 4 with a story about the dilemma faced by the media over reprinting the cartoon. The image was accompanied by a note, which said, in part, "The Inquirer intends no disrespect to the religious beliefs of any of its readers."
Most U.S. newspapers have opted not to publish the images.
Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett, publisher Joe Natoli, and deputy managing editor Carl Lavin meandered through the crowd yesterday, introducing themselves and thanking people for coming. "I think this is really an opportunity to build some bridges," Bennett said.
Bennett has said that the cartoon was reprinted to provide readers with "a perspective of what the controversy's about."
Demonstrators were orderly, lining both sides of Broad Street and standing on the median. A few passing cars honked in support as people hoisted signs reading "Respect all prophets" and "Say no to Inquirer." A large banner proclaimed: "Humiliating Prophets is not Freedom of Speech."
Some people passed out literature, and speakers addressed the crowd on megaphones, several calling for a boycott of The Inquirer. Some protesters said they had canceled their subscriptions. A few admitted that they had not seen the issue of the paper that included the cartoon.
"We ask for an apology from The Inquirer because they knew the insult they were heaping on the Muslims," Imam Asim Abdur-Rashid of Philadelphia told the crowd.
Philadelphia police estimated that as many as 500 people participated yesterday. A smaller demonstration on Monday included more than two dozen people.
After that event, The Inquirer released a statement that said, in part, "To us, this was a moment for newspaper journalists to do what they are uniquely qualified to do in this country - to lay out all sides of the issue for a well-informed public to debate and discuss."
Over the last week, Bennett met with a group affiliated with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The Inquirer also plans to publish op-ed pieces by members of the Muslim community, she said.
One flyer passed out yesterday bore photos of Bennett, Natoli and managing editor Anne Gordon next to a photo of Hitler. But most of the signs and literature called for the respect of Islam.
Reactions among Philadelphia-area Muslims to the cartoon controversy have varied. Many people said yesterday that they disapproved of overseas demonstrations that have turned violent. "I don't agree with what they're doing, burning embassies," said Sonia Khalil, 19, of North Philadelphia.
Word about yesterday's planned protest had spread at mosques in the area during Friday afternoon prayers.
At Al-Aqsa, a Girard Avenue mosque with 700 members, most of them Arab American, the call to protest came with an appeal for civility and calm. Elamin Elarbi, the mosque's president, reminded worshipers that the prophet Muhammad forgave the inhabitants of an Arabian city who had cast stones at him.
Also on Friday, several members of the Islamic Center of South Jersey in Palmyra denounced the violent demonstrations overseas but also questioned the limits of free speech here at home.
The image of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban was perceived by many as an attack on a religion whose adherents already feel under siege in a post 9/11 world, said John Esposito, director of Georgetown University's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
"It's not a matter of ridiculing Zarqawi or extremists," Esposito said, referring to terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. "You're dealing with the most sacred of symbols... . Muhammad within a Muslim piety is the object of enormous reverence and love."
Esposito questioned whether The Inquirer or other papers would publish images of child pornography "as opposed to simply describing it."
Bennett responded that the decision on whether to print an image depended on the situation. "But I can see cases," she said, "in which a wide range of unpleasant subject matter would be portrayed if it was appropriate and necessary to understand what was going on."
The Inquirer's coverage, she added, "has been far more than just the cartoon... . It's been very thorough and very wide-ranging."
The Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a fighter against negative images of Muslims in the media, is not supporting a boycott of The Inquirer.
"Of course we are offended," said Adeeba Al-Zaman, communications director in Philadelphia for the group. "We are upset as Muslims."
But, she said, "there is a diversity of opinion in the Muslim community" about how to respond to The Inquirer's publication of the cartoon. Instead of a protest, CAIR will hold a town hall meeting today at 3 p.m. at Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania. CAIR and other American Muslim groups emphasize that they condemn any violent responses to publication of the cartoons in Europe.