Chicago Tribune: Debate heats up about Muhammad cartoons on campus

Tensions among student journalists and advisers at the Daily Illini heated up Thursday with an opinion piece and a letter to newspaper alumni blaming two of its suspended editors for the publication of cartoons that depicted the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

A Q&A-style opinion piece published Thursday named the two suspended editors frequently, saying they “began planning for these cartoons, without the knowledge of the editorial board and executive team, at least two nights before their publication.”

It goes on to say they “did not act responsibly,” that they weren’t “sensitive and tactful” with co-workers, and that “it was made clear” by the pair “that there would be no changes” after the cartoons were selected for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student paper.

Also Thursday, Daily Illini alumni said they received an e-mailed letter from publisher Mary Cory making similar charges. Cory could not be reached for comment Thursday.

An attorney for suspended Editor in Chief Acton Gorton fired off a letter calling the paper’s comments and Cory’s letter defamatory and later threatened legal action.

Muslim activists who have protested the cartoons on the U. of I. campus said they planned to hold a weekend town hall meeting to discuss how the student paper published cartoons depicting the prophet, a practice forbidden under Islam. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park, said Ahmed Rehabspokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

An investigation into the cartoons’ publication will conclude next week, the paper has said.

The Daily Illini also has privately agreed to run an opinion article by Muslim groups about Muhammad’s teachings and his character, Rehab said.

The steps together amount to a kangaroo court for Gorton, his attorney said.

“If they continue to use their resources as a newspaper, and their contacts, and the Internet to say things about Acton that are defamatory, then I think we’re going to do something about that,” said Junaid Afeef, the Muslim civil rights attorney hired by Gorton. “There’s no integrity to the process.”

No legal action has been filed yet, and Afeef said his client seeks to be reinstated to his post.

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