University of Wisconsin–Madison

A response from the Muslim Student Association

Within hours of sending my letter to the MSA, I received this sternly worded response:

“Dear Chris Calvey,

I am the Vice President of the MSA and I will cut straight to the chase. Your apology is not accepted since your act is actually offensive. To slap someone in the face, despite warning the person in advance and assuring them of you good intentions does not make slapping someone in the face ok.

You said it yourself, it was an extremist group that announced the threat (assuming such threats were intentionally issued) and we as Muslims disapprove their act. Moreover, your method of protest and announced cause of protest do NOT match. Why do you not direct your protest to the groups in question instead of engaging in acts that you yourself acknowledge will offend the vast majority of Muslims, on this campus and off.

I would like to inform you that, as far as we understand, the event you are planning is illegal by the constitution of the University of Wisconsin (88-12 RACIST AND OTHER DISCRIMINATORY CONDUCT POLICY). Deviating from this law will offend not only the UW Muslim Students Association but the entire Muslim community on this campus and other organization of similar culture and faith. The Dean of Students shall be contacted immediately.

I politely suggest that you cancel this event and prefer instead that we meet and discuss the issue respectfully before resorting to what we feel to be rather drastic measures. No offense, but giving less than 24 hours notice seems to betray ill intentions.

I respect the fact you let us know about your plans beforehand but I also want to reiterate that we do not approve or agree with your highly offensive acts. I assure you that we believe in freedom of expression just as much as you purport to do.

Ahmed Fikri – MSA Vice President “

Needless to say, I was disappointed by their response. I will admit, it is difficult for me to put myself in the shoes of a Muslim student on campus, and to truly understand how they will feel when seeing these images. It is distressing, to say the least, and part of me wants to cancel the event to avoid hurting my peer’s feelings. However, it is much more distressing to me that the MSA has resorted to exactly the same tactics they are condemning: using fear and intimidation to suppress criticism of their religion. Regrettably, it’s working – at least one AHA member has withdrawn his support from this event out of concern for his academic carrier. The MSA can not seriously pretend to support freedom of expression while threatening legal action action against us in the same breath.

The event will go on.

15 thoughts on “A response from the Muslim Student Association”

  1. Editorial Note:

    The MSA is correct in their critique of the short notice we gave them. However, this was not a result of any ill-intent on our part. Rather, it was simply a consequence of the limited amount of time left to do events in this semester.

  2. What "fear and intimidation" is the MSA using, exactly? A polite e-mail stating the possible and probable ramifications, legal, emotional and otherwise, of an event you told them you were planning… how is that provoking either?

    The people you intend to counter with this 'free speech' protest are not going to see this or be affected by it. The people that WILL be affected by it are peaceful, regular Muslim college kids, who have a complete right to be offended by this stunt, which is largely for attention. It's an issue of respect, not free speech. Sure, it's not *illegal* to make images of the Prophet Muhammad in the U.S., but a accepting, plural, secular society should respect that for Muslims it is an issue of sacred significance.

    Find the correct venue to air your complaints- e-mail or protest the group that sent the threats; the Muslim students on this campus are not who your problem is with, but they are the people that will be affected by this.

  3. Chris- This completely fails to address the issue of free speech. Had you sent a message to a Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or etc. group and said you planned to chalk offensive and blasphemous slogans around campus about their religion, you would have gotten the same response. You can't provoke ire by saying you will do something and then use said ire to justify what you had already planned to do. Muslims did not censor Parker and Stone. Comedy Central did, acting in what they believed to be the best interest of their employees. The Muslims on campus you intent to insult had nothing to do with this. This isn't a fair-minded critique of religion, it's an intentional attempt to insult and offend our friends and peers. This isn't a critique of free speech. This does not show solidarity with South Park. They risked their lives and the lives of their employees. You stand to lose nothing. This will accomplish nothing but to agitate nice, friendly people. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Please reconsider.

  4. Chris, you have it 100% right – the idea that everyone else should abide by the notion that a STICK FIGURE that is labeled Muhammed is "offensive" is anathema to liberal democracy. To shut up all the whiny accomodationist types, you should go ahead and draw stick figures of other religious figures as too, to show that you aren't targeting Muslims in general, but the particular ones who think you shouldn't be able to draw that.

    As for "finding the correct venue" – I'm not sure I can think of a more correct one. Is free speech only for people on TV? The point is to back up our beliefs with actions, not to prattle on about how great free speech is that we can choose not to offend people who contact the Dean of Students over stick figure drawings instead of engaging in constructive discourse.

    No sacred cows.

  5. Douglas… you clearly don't understand why this event would upset Muslims more than other religious groups. Stick figure or Sistine Chapel-worthy, it's not the image itself that is the point. It's making the image that is offensive.

    And acting like the MSA just went to "tattle" to the Dean is ridiculous. "…instead of engaging in constructive discourse"? The MSA was never invited to a "constructive discourse". They received a last-minute e-mail 'informing' them about the event to take place. There wasn't anything constructive about it. If AHA would have wanted to have a dialogue about these issues, one of real significance with input from both sides, they could have chosen to do so right on the steps of the Union. Everyone was there, and there was a discussion that was started. It could have been a sincere, open, productive conversation.

    That wasn't the option that AHA chose.

  6. I'm an atheist and strong supporter of freedom of speech, but I find your initiative ill-considered. You're going to offend your Muslim compatriots…for what reason? To show that you can, and they should suck it up? I will support the right for anyone anywhere to blaspheme, but I would not do this in my university unless there was a good -reason- to.

    Will Revolution Muslim, halfway around the country, cow before your demonstration of your basic human rights? Or will it just piss your Muslim compatriots off on campus?

  7. Here's the thing you have a fringe element, RadicalMuslims, who have a problem with freedom of speech- so the way you are going to battle that is to offend the very people who you need to help marginalise the radicals.

    The Muslim community are our strongest ally in combatting some of the extremist groups and though we don't need to cowtow to them, we need to work in a constructive manner with them.

    This silly protest is a juvenile attempt to thumb your noses at people but the reality is you will hurt people who actually want to support you.

  8. It doesn't sound like the MSA is on the same side in this matter. The question is whether non-Muslims should be forced to abide by Muslim prohibitions, and the MSA seems intent on making that happen. If there is a difference between the MSA and the RadicalMuslims, it is just a difference in how far they are willing to go to foist their religious beliefs on others.

    Both organizations seem to have a lack of respect for free speech, and that is much more worrisome than anything "offensive" that any other group could do.

  9. David I would say making treats to kill people is a MAJOR difference as well. You know the illegal part of the whole thing?

    Being pissed that a bunch of uni kids do not have anything better to do than annoy a minority group is in fact not illegal, nor is it against the law that they(MSA) do not share your definition of "freedom of speech".

    Unfortunately the MSA reacted and didn't just ignore you guys, which made both parties look like juveniles.

  10. I feel people are missing a big point here. If the MSA successfully curtails free speech (drawing Muhammad falls under this) now, then what is to prevent this from slippery sloping down to anti-blasphemy laws?

    Take a look at it in a different context. I am offended by folk who say that evolution is wrong and god did it. Aside from why I am offended, all would say I would be wrong to attempt to silence these people through legal action; I would be told to meet them in face to face idea combat.

    Obviously this will not work here, because those offended have no jurisdiction over those doing the offending; Atheists (or non-Muslims) simply aren't offended by such images, nor is there any legitimate (evidenced based) reason for them to be. Perhaps that is why legal action, and by those more extreme violence, is often the sought remedy to these situations.

    And lastly, yes, often enough we should because we can. Lest we later find that we cannot, because of "social pressures" such as threats of murder.

  11. "I'm an atheist and strong supporter of freedom of speech, but I find your initiative ill-considered. You're going to offend your Muslim compatriots…for what reason? To show that you can, and they should suck it up? I will support the right for anyone anywhere to blaspheme, but I would not do this in my university unless there was a good -reason- to."

    Yes, that is exactly the reason to do this: to show them that no idea is immune to criticism. So they do need to suck it up, because yes, we can say whatever the hell we want about their beliefs, just as they can say whatever they want about ours. People need protecting, but their ideas do not. The purpose of this exercise is to illustrate the hypocrisy in religious types who say they support freedom of speech but turn a complete 180 once it starts offending them. You can't have it both ways.

  12. I'd draw a picture of Muhammad if someone was telling me that I couldn't.

    For example, if some Muslim extremist group threatened violence on my campus, I'd do the same thing you're doing, except more awesome. Seriously stick figures? Or this Revolution Muslim thing, I'd send a picture to *them*. Their office, or their email, if they have one.

    But what I wouldn't do, is draw it when I know it will anger Muslim students who have done nothing wrong. Regardless of who's representing them (MSA or whatever group), they're not the ones who are threatening my freedom of speech. They may get mad as hell, and wish that I wouldn't do it, but there is no equivalence between that sort of opposition and the violent opposition of extremist groups.

    I was taught by my parents not to antagonise people just because I could. I *know* I can. I offend religious sensibilities when I need to.

  13. Offending religious people on your campus will not negatively affect you. I doubt many religious people were clamoring to join AHA anyhow.

    It is indeed a juvenile and irreverent display of free speech, and that is precisely why I am in favor of it.

    Everyone has the right to be offended!

  14. Since when does disagreeing count as being offended? Let's propose a scenario.

    Person A is part of group G that prescribes a rule X.

    Person B is not a part of group G. Person B does not adhere to rule X.

    If person A is offended, it is solely person A's fault.

    I suppose that if blaspheming is considered racism, I will have to start my own religious group where everbody MUST draw images of muhammed on a daily basis.

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