Panel discusses Muhammad cartoons, Islamic issues

Pat Jarrett

Isam Zaiem, chair of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he loves this country because of its freedoms during a Muslim Student Association forum about the Muhammad cartoon controversy. Zaiem said the cure for extremism

Credit: Steve Schirra

Two Muslims who came to America and one American who came to Islam gathered in the Student Center last night to discuss the controversy surrounding the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

The Muslim Student Association hosted a panel discussion called “What would Muhammad do?” with three members of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The cartoons were published in Danish newspapers last year, but raised the most controversy when they were shown in Iran earlier this year.

The resounding theme of the night was that awareness and education would help curb terrorism and violence toward Muslims while building a stronger world community.

There is no passage in the Quran about not depicting the prophet Muhammad, said M. Isam Zaiem, chair of the Cleveland chapter of CAIR. Pictures have even been made for Muslim leaders, he said.

“Look at the depiction (published in Danish news outlets) of Muhammad, peace be with him. They were not intended to educate, they were intended to hurt,” Zaiem said.

Zaiem said the comics dehumanized Muslims, and after a group is dehumanized it is easier to hate them.

Nawal Alhawsawi, a Saudi journalist and CAIR member who also spoke at the event, reinforced the dehumanization theory. She said the same degradation permeated cartoons of the Jews in Nazi Germany and of African-Americans during the civil rights movement in this country.

“Today that would be called racist,” Alhawsawi said.

All members of the panel said it is a double standard to call the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad an issue of freedom of speech while condemning racist and anti-Semitic cartoons.

After the initial introduction of the cartoons, the panel opened up questions from the audience. Thirteen people attended.

The first topic discussed was how terrorism became associated with Islam.

CAIR member Julia Shearson said the word “terrorism” shouldn’t be associated with Muslims, and she also cautioned against accepting what the mass media and the government calls terrorism.

“Americans are being lulled by the word ‘terrorism,'” Shearson said.

Zaiem pointed out that terrorism is in the eye of the beholder.

In order for things to change, Zaiem said people need to be educated and take action.

“It is so critical for our survival. If we want things to move, or if you don’t want your grandkids fighting the terrorist war, you have to do it,” Zaiem said.

Contact religion reporter Pat Jarrett at [email protected]