Danish cartoons stir discussion in Greensboro

by Amy Kingsley

Three men gathered around microphones, greeted each other cordially and joked about the technicalities of listening to the upcoming broadcast over headphones with a slight but distracting time delay. In the end, only mustachioed host Dusty Dunn and regular John Hammer, donned foam headphones when the trio went live at 9:37 a.m. on Feb. 24.

‘“It’s 23 minutes before 10 and you are listening to the ‘Rhino Hour,”” Dunn said. ‘“Our guests are Doctor Ibraheem Kateeb, a professor at GTCC and John Hammer. I guess I don’t need any really big introduction for him.’”

Then Dunn broached the illustrations ‘— possibly the most infamous political cartoons ever printed ‘— that brought the group to the table.

‘“Why did you print them?’” Dunn asked.

‘“We printed them because we felt like the readers of Guilford County had a right to see them,’” Hammer responded. ‘“Around the world more than 200 people have been killed because of these cartoons.’”

Since The Rhinoceros Times printed two of the six cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad that originally appeared in a Danish newspaper in their Feb. 16 issue, the global conflict has spread to Greensboro. But unlike the bloody protests and torched embassies that mark the clashes occurring across the globe, Greensboro’s Muslim community has used the twin vehicles of rhetoric and boycott to voice their opposition. Kateeb used his position on the morning panel to explain how the cartoons insulted Muslims and steer the debate away from freedom of the press to responsibility of the press.

‘“If somebody in Guilford County would like to see the cartoons, they can go to the internet,’” Kateeb said. ‘“It is not just Muslims but also Christians and Jews that think this is dividing the community.’”

Kateeb, who has lived in Greensboro since 1990 and helped start the Islamic Center of the Triad and the Islamic Center of Greensboro, hit his main point.

‘“I know you are going to say freedom of the press, but responsibility comes with it.’”

Reaction to The Rhinoceros Times’ publication of the cartoons has been mixed. Some advertisers pulled out of the paper after the Feb. 16 issue, but others offered support.

Friendly Bike took out this ad: ‘“We here at Friendly Bike proudly support The Rhinoceros Times’ First Amendment Rights in all aspects of the free press in the United States of America. We also appreciate all the other rights and privileges guaranteed us by our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.’”

Bike shop manager Les McCaskill said he anticipated no negative feedback from supporting the paper. The ad’s intent was only to support the weekly for being the only paper in the state to print the cartoons, not to support the images’ message, McCaskill said.

‘“Our political system is pretty fair and balanced and that’s the mechanism that people will use to voice their opinion,’” he said. ‘“Sometimes violence appears to be the only answer, but in this country we have the vote, the courts and the press.’”

A day after the ad ran supporting the Rhinoceros Times, the bike shop had not received any complaints.

Indeed, most Muslims have eschewed violence in favor of exercising their economic veto. Distributors who opposed publication of the cartoons had racks removed from their shops and at least one restaurant pulled advertising.

Imam Badi Ali told YES! Weekly that Muslims already boycotting the paper planned weekly protests until Hammer apologized for the articles. No apology has been issued, but Hammer put both his justification for printing the cartoons and a column by Reyad Sawaftha condemning The Rhinoceros Times on the front page of the Feb. 23 issue.

The paper also caught heat on the editorial page of the News & Record on Feb. 18. Rabbis Eliezer Havivi and Fred Guttman wrote a joint letter condemning the publication. Marsha Glazman, the chairwoman of the city’s Human Relations Commission, urged Greensboro citizens in her letter to denounce the cartoons and reach out to the Muslim community. Glazman said the commission plans no further actions at this time.

‘“The fact that John Hammer did not publish any more cartoons means, I think, that the Muslim community is just waiting for an apology,’” Glazman said.

Ali said that the community appreciated the support of Mayor Keith Holliday, the police and the Jewish community.

‘“The community has been very supportive,’” Ali said. ‘“But I wish the Rhino Times would apologize in a public way. We just want them to respect our prophet, respect our religion and respect our community.’”

Although Kateeb acknowledged that Hammer had a right to run the cartoons, he attacked the images as untrue. After Sept. 11, 2001, Muslims have been subject to increased law enforcement scrutiny, he said. In addition, Kateeb said that the peaceful religion of Islam has taken the blame for individuals’ violent acts, a misconception bolstered by images of the Prophet Mohammad wearing a missile-shaped turban.

‘“If Prophet Muhammad saw this cartoon most likely he would be laughing,’” Kateeb said.

He reiterated several times throughout the radio show that Muhammad preached peace. Hammer countered that the cartoons commented on Muslims who used religion to justify violent acts.

Although the men defended their positions, the discussion remained civil throughout, and Hammer ceded his last 30 seconds so Kateeb could make his point. At the end, Dunn, Kateeb and Hammer shook each other’s hands.

The radio show was just the start of the local dialogue. Freelance cartoonist Karen Favreau will discuss the challenges facing cartoonists at the Greensboro Public Library on March 7. At best, the cartoon might inspire dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslims in the community that will result in a better understanding of the religion, Kateeb said.

‘“There is a big, big chance that we can get the community together over this,’” Kateeb said. ‘“We always have a problem because there are many kinds of cultural differences we don’t understand.’”

Imam Yaser Ahmed of the Islamic Center of Greensboro said members of his mosque have reacted to the cartoons by calling, sending letters to the editor and planning an open house for March 18. He disassociated his mosque with planned protests or calls for John Hammer to apologize. Instead, he hopes members of the local Muslim community can use this as a teaching moment.

‘“The open house we hope will be very positive,’” Ahmed said. ‘“We are trying to show the life of Prophet Muhammad from the Muslim perspective, not as the cartoons see it.’”

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