Daily Herald: Calm forum on issue steeped in violence

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Local Muslims remained calm and collected Saturday night as they discussed an issue that has led to dozens of deaths worldwide.

More than 600 people gathered at the Islamic Foundation mosque in Villa Park for a forum hosted by Chicago-area Muslim groups about the controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Participants first learned about Muhammad and his importance in Islam, and later questioned panelists and added their own food for thought.

The dialogue was led by the Chicago Chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relationsand the Islamic Circle of North America in DuPage County.

Raja Yaqub of Bolingbrook spoke up and encouraged others to express themselves by writing letters to local senators, congressmen and newspapers instead of resorting to violence.

Some expressed more passion about the issue than others.

Loay Mufti of Tinley Park encouraged others to refrain from buying products from countries that printed the cartoons.

“We’ll never get an apology until we boycott,” he said.

The dozen Danish cartoons that illustrated — and some say mocked — Muhammad were first published in September by a Danish newspaper and were reprinted in Spain, Italy, Germany and France in recent weeks. Since then, the drawings have sparked at times violent protests in countries such as Libya, Pakistan, Iran and Indonesia.

Just Saturday, rioting in Nigeria over the cartoons left at least 16 people dead.

Director of communications for CAIR-Chicago Ahmed Rehab said he was proud the community handled the forum in a civil and democratic fashion.

“It endorsed my feelings that the Muslim American community is fully prepared to embrace open dialogue as a persistent means of dealing with controversy,” he said.

CAIR representatives also hosted a forum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign last week in response to the student newspaper’s reprint of the cartoons.

Media attorney Don Craven, general counsel for the Illinois Press Association, said editorial boards throughout the United States are, and should be faced with a decision of whether to publish the cartoons.

The irony, said Craven, who did not attend Saturday’s forum, is that as the cartoons spark more violence, they become increasingly newsworthy. And as people read about the controversy, they naturally want to see the cartoons.

“I think that at this point, the cartoons have become part of the story,” he said. “And for people to completely understand both why the cartoons were done in the first place and why those (who) have reacted violently reacted as they did, those are factors that weigh in … to allow people to understand the whole story.”

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