A few days ago, members of our media monitor team were quite disturbed to note the publication of the above cartoon portraying the Prophet Muhammad, yet again, as a violent hooligan. The editorial cartoon indicates that it is the Chicago Sun-Times position that Islam is a violent religion.
I called the Sun-Times editorial page editor and demanded that we be afforded space in the paper to respond to this dismaying position. He obliged and for that, we are thankful. My letter was published in the 9/26/06 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times. Below is the text of the letter. (Italics indicate sentences of the original letter that were omitted by the editor before publication)
By Ahmed Rehab
Published in Chicago Sun-Times, September 26, 2006
Ok, so I have witnessed the impudent display of reductionism otherwise known as a Jack Higgins cartoon, last Wednesday. I have seen his characterization of the Prophet Muhammad as a sword-wielding, raging lunatic with a mountain of skulls at his trail. I have noted his insinuation that Islam itself inspires the violence we see on our TV screens – as opposed to, say, ignorance, poverty, repression, or radicalization.
So now what am I going to do about it?
According to Higgins, I would be burning his effigy right now, or perhaps I would be setting ablaze copies of the paper with a posse of my fellow violent brethren as we chanted maniacally before the cameras. Admittedly, I may feel some anger against the careless desecration of something I hold sacred, but it is highly unlikely that I would react emotionally thanks primarily to the prophet Muhammad, no less. His famous saying that “the strongest amongst you is he who can conquer, not all others, but his own anger” is a life lesson I go by.
So how will I respond to Higgins’ abuse of ink? By reaffirming his right to free speech, and then responding with mine.
Firstly, I write to protest the vilification of an entire people or religion based on what their worse stereotypes have to offer; I ought to remind Higgins that, for many people, this is precisely what defines racism.
Secondly, I vow to redouble my own commitment to dialogue and education, these – and not anger – are the most effective weapons against ignorance.
“Show me what Muhammad brought,” the Pope quoted a medieval emperor as asking. Every day, my colleagues and I strive to answer that question by waking up to serve community and country with dedication and integrity. Everyday, as we square up to the daunting task of securing equal rights in an increasingly prejudiced environment, we muster up patience in the face of tribulation, resolve in the face of insolence. Civility is what Muhammad brought us. He taught us that the greatest act of worship is to “think” and that the greatest gift of all is compassion: not just knowing the pain of the sufferer, but also feeling it.
Finally, I ask the Sun-Times to do something about its pitiful track record where, invariably, its editorial treatment of Islam-related topics is marred by a tendency towards reductionism, generalization, or oversimplification. Your unsuspecting readers deserve better.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Sun-Times
EPISODE II: THE UNREPENTANT JACK HIGGINS STRIKES AGAIN
Jack Higgins’ Opinion – Published 10/01/06 – Chicago Sun-Times © 2006
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It seems that the Chicago Sun-Times is relentless in its provocation and incitement.
The above Chicago Sun-Times editorial cartoon, also by Jack Higgins, was published in Sunday’s paper, 10/01/06.
Jack Higgins is angered by the acts of terror and radical violence he sees on his TV screen; I can understand that. But so too are the overwhelming majority of Muslims; can he understand that?
The truth that seems to be lost on many commentators (who probably don’t know any Muslims) is that we are doubly distressed by such acts. Firstly, we abhor acts of terror for their propensity to incur harm against innocents; secondly, we abhor them because their perpetrators claim to be acting in the name of Islam (obviously playing into the hands of bigots like Jack Higgins).
Jack Higgins’ cartoons are classic examples of a logical fallacy that is all-too common in post 9/11 America. Rather than direct his anger at terrorists and violent radicals, as would be reasonable and expected, he projects his wrath unto Islam and Muslims. That misguided assault is precisely what we must act to protest in the most civil and effective way we can.
Anyway you look at it, generalization about an entire race, ethnicity, or faith group based on what their worst stereotypes have to offer can only be conducive to one thing: an atmosphere of racism and bigotry.
Today, after centuries of civil strife culminating in the civil rights movement, overt racism and bigotry have become wholly unacceptable in America. Except, we are slowly coming to grips with the inescapable fact that Islamophobia is the last accepted form of bigotry in America.
And when it comes to the Chicago Sun-Times editorial treatment, Islamophobia reigns supreme. We see it consistently in the editorials, the commentaries, and the cartoons.
My letter of protest to the paper, though welcomed by the editor, seems to have fallen on deaf ears – perhaps obstinate ears.
Any self-respecting paper is keen to take the concerns of its readers in mind, especially if they are aligned with reason and common sense.
Not so the Chicago Sun-Times. Five days after the publication of my letter criticizing Higgins’ first racist cartoon, the paper publishes yet another, as if to drive the point home that the Chicago Sun-Times couldn’t care less what its Muslim readers think or feel.
Whereas our president and our government have clearly indicated that our war is against the proponents of terror, the Chicago Sun-Times editorial team is unbashful in its assertion that our beef is with Islam itself.
This is a dangerous view that undermines the well-being of millions of peaceful, law-abiding, tax-paying Americans who happen to profess the faith of Islam. As such it is wholly unacceptable, no less than if one were to insinuate that Christianity/Christians are out to get us or Judaism/Jews are out to get us.
These virulent and polemic views belong in the Middle Ages and are best left there. It’s time the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial team join the 21st Century.
I urge our friends from the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and other communities to write the Chicago Sun-Times in protest. I ask that you please keep your letters objective and to the point. Anger and insult are antithetical to the Islamic spirit which we are writing to absolve from Higgins’ misguided incrimination.
Although it is clearly dismaying that the paper would choose to publish a second anti-Islam cartoon as a response to criticism of the first, we must not lose hope in the possibility that someone at the Sun-Times will hear and understand.
Ahmed Rehab’s Opinion – “Wrong Address” 10/02/06 – Ahmed Rehab © 2006
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So What do I do?
Write a letter (about 300 words, no more than 430 words) for publication in the Chicago Sun-Times. Politely, yet poignantly protest against the mixing between Terrorism and Islam, ask the editorial board to stop misguiding readers about the nature of Islam as practiced by hundreds of millions of peaceful adherents: firstname.lastname@example.org
Write a private letter of protest to Steve Huntley, the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial team editor: email@example.com
Lastly, feel free to write me with your ideas, questions, or reflections as I would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a Blessed Season
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