A coalition of more than 15 organizations and community members at large held a peaceful demonstration on the main quad Tuesday in response to the six Danish cartoons printed in the Daily Illini last Thursday.
“The demonstration was to illustrate two points,” said Reem Rahman, junior in LAS and communications director of the University’s Council on American-Islamic Relations. “First to show that we were all united under a peaceful cause against all forms of hatred, and second to educate each other that all religious figures are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of diversity of faith.”
Shaz Kaiseruddin, Muslim Student Association president and graduate student, said the demonstration was part of a larger initiative geared towards promoting open dialogue.
Various members from the community showed their support.
Stacy Coleman, a Christian who is a member of the Muslim Women’s Outreach, said the Muslims’ heart and purpose were in the right place.
“I wanted to support a peaceful effort to communicate why so much that has happened is hurtful to Muslims,” she said. “Perhaps by my presence there, as someone who is not a Muslim by appearance, may cause other non-Muslims to stop and reconsider preconceptions they may have that are not grounded in truth.”
John Hudson, visiting lecturer in the Intensive English Institute, said the demonstrators were getting their message across in a peaceful and reasonable way.
“I’m all for that,” Hudson said.
Throughout the demonstration, there were about ten speakers from the campus and the community, giving prepared statements or their personal reactions, Rahman said. She estimated about 120 people were present.
Carol Inskeep, librarian at the Urbana Free Public Library, said she had been concerned about the perception of Muslim people in the U.S. ever since Sept. 11.
“Our government has been violating the civil liberties of Muslims living in our country and increasing this climate of stereotyping,” Inskeep said. “We need to stop sowing hatred and misunderstanding and think about what’s actually going to promote education and the public good.”
Mobin Shorish, emeritus in comparative education and economics of education, agreed good learning cannot take place in a hostile environment.
“The cartoons go against the mission of the University,” Shorish said.
In addition to the crowd of supporters there were neutral University administrators who refused to comment and outspoken protesters against the demonstration.
Leo Buchignani, senior in Communications, acting privately, read from the Quran translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, “The Sword of the Prophet” by Serge Trifkovic and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” by Robert Spencer, projecting loudly from the patio to be heard over the speakers.
“A bunch of people gathered to protest against free expression of the truth about Islam,” Buchignani said, who said he had been extensively researching Islam. “So I arrived to express the truth about Islam, lest otherwise people think the Muslims were right, and nobody dared contradict them.”
Buchignani was joined by friend Marcin Kulis, junior in LAS, who held up a blown-up cartoon of Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban.
“When what everyone ‘knows’ is so far from the truth, the best one can do is state the truth boldly and hope it begins a process of change,” Buchignani said.
Kulis said the best way to protest was showing the cartoons, and he chose the particular one because it was the specific cartoon that Muslims worldwide took offense to.
“Muslims are trying to intimidate us into not expressing our natural rights,” Kulis said. “That is why the New York Times and the Washington Post decided not to publish the articles, because the reaction worldwide has been so extreme, even deadly, that they have silenced our presses. As long as I live, I will never be silenced.”
The crowd reacted to the portrayal of Muhammad’s enlarged cartoon.
“That makes me really angry right now,” said Moein Khawaja, an alumna who graduated in December 2005. “But then again he has a right to do it, just as we do. To me, that man standing right there with the poster is racist.”
Kulis said he was surprised with the amount of ignorant statements he heard about racism.
“Race is the physical appearance of a human, not what they believe,” Kulis said.
A lecture by Ahmed Rehab, communications director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was the second part of the agenda to promote open dialogue.
Rehab shared his analogy of the Muslims’ reaction to the Danish cartoons.
During his lecture, Rehab said if the Statue of Liberty had been defaced, Americans would have protested. If the Eiffel Tower was vandalized, the French would be more than upset, because it is an emblem of a nation. It’s not just a statue. It’s not just a tower. Likewise, Rehabsaid, it’s not just a cartoon.
“He was excellent on conveying the larger complexity of the issue of Islamophobia,” Kaiseruddin said.
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