College administrators warned yesterday of a possible retaliatory response to the publication of the controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in The Harvard Salient. The Salient republished four of the cartoons in its Feb. 8 paper, angering a number of student groups on campus. Despite the concerns within the College, however, outside Johnston Gate today, a homeless-run newspaper has also reprinted two of the cartoons.
Spare Change News decided to publish two of the cartoons on the same day that Associate Dean Judith H. Kidd sent an e-mail to Travis R. Kavulla ‘06-’07, editor of the Salient, warning him that certain communities on- and off- campus could potentially threaten members of the conservative biweekly paper.
“Please be alert to the possibility that some segments of the campus and surrounding communities may be sufficiently upset by the publication of the cartoons that they may become dangerous,” she wrote yesterday in an e-mail obtained by The Crimson.
“Please let HUPD know immediately of any contact with the Salient--e-mail; phone; in person--that appears to be threatening,” she wrote. “The College is concerned for your welfare in light of this action you have taken.”
The e-mail, which Kavulla sent over the Salient open-list, made its way to members of the Harvard Islamic Society through its open-list last night. Undergraduates in the Muslim community characterized Kidd’s e-mail as “unacceptable” and “offensive.”
“If this is the letter in fact that she sent, I find it very concerning that Dean Kidd is buying into the idea that segments of the Muslim community at Harvard could be violent,” President of the Harvard Islamic Society Khalid M. Yasin ’07 said. “We’ve always promoted dialogue and discussion. For her to jump to the conclusion is extremely insulting and very offensive.”
“I was really surprised and offended when I read the e-mail because I just felt it was totally uncalled for, because she basically intimated that the Muslim community at Harvard would become violent,” Huma Farid ’06, who is a member of the Harvard Islamic Society, said last night. “To even hint that we’d become violent when we’ve never shown an inclination of that sort—it is just really offensive to be thought of in that manner.”
Kidd said her e-mail to the editors of the Salient yesterday was sent “out of concern for the students.” It was not a judgment on their decision to publish the cartoons, she added.
“Students’ publications have the right of free press,” said Kidd in a phone interview yesterday.
The republication of the cartoons in a number of European papers over the past few weeks has resulted in world-wide protests, some of which have turned violent.
Protestors have torched Danish embassies in Beirut and Damascus, and a boycott of Danish products is picking up momentum in the Muslim world.
Kavulla said he understood the rationale behind Kidd’s e-mail, citing issues of liability and safety.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if her words were interpreted by some Muslim students in a negative way,” he said. “Her worry is overwrought.”
“I think Dean Kidd is being overly cautious,” said Rami R. Sarafa ‘07, the former president of the Harvard Society of Arab Students.
SPEAKING OUT FOR CHANGE
While mostly conservative-leaning papers have published the cartoons, including The Salient and The New York Sun, editors of Spare Change News decided to publish them within the context of civil liberties.
“Freedom of speech is an important right for all people in the world to have,” said Sam J. Scott, editor of the newspaper and executive director of the Homeless Empowerment Project (HEP). “Whenever it is threatened, journalists especially should be outraged.”
For Scott, who said he identifies Spare Change News as a non-partisan newspaper, publishing the cartoons was an issue of social justice.
“We are the only Boston newspaper that focuses on social justice issues,” he said, emphasizing Spare Change’s work with poverty, homelessness, and civil liberties.
“We agreed that this was something that we needed to do out of principle,” Scott said. “How could we not criticize other newspapers for not doing that?”
Yasin said he was also offended by the decision to publish the cartoons in Spare Change, a move that he said was irresponsible and offensive to certain ethnic groups.
“This is not a question of freedom of speech,” Yasin said. “There’s a difference between legal rights and what is moral to do.”
Sarafa said he disagreed with Spare Change’s decision to publish the cartoons.
Anyone can easily view the cartoons on the Internet or in the various newspapers that have already published them, Sarafa added.
“Either you want to garner negative attention or garner negative discourse,” Sarafa said. “Or you want attention.”
But President of the Harvard Democrats Eric P. Lesser ’07 characterized each newspaper’s decision to publish the cartoons as completely different.
“The consistent history the Salient has is of pushing the envelope on purpose,” Lesser said. “I don’t think Spare Change has any history of that.”
Lesser pointed to the way in which each newspaper chose to publish the cartoons, stressing the context and history each one brought to the cartoons.
“These are two very different papers that come at issues with very different perspectives,” he said.
Spare Change News is a biweekly newspaper produced by HEP, a Cambridge-based organization that provides opportunities for homeless people to earn their own income.
Scott said that The Salient’s decision to publish the cartoons may arise out of partisan leanings.
The Salient may feel comfortable publishing the cartoons because “a lot of conservatives have anti-Islam sentiments,” Scott said.
“Liberals tend to be more culturally sensitive to minorities,” he added. “They don’t want to risk being offensive or anti-PC.”
Alongside the cartoons, Spare Change published an editorial that stated its purpose in running the images that has since sparked world-wide violence.
“Spare Change News advocates for social justice, and having freedom of speech—even that which makes fun of religion—is one of the rights all people should enjoy,” the editorial reads.
“Newspapers in general—and alternative ones like [Spare Change] and the Phoenix in particular—must reprint the cartoons in defense of free speech as well,” the editorial published today continues. “To do otherwise is to cower before fear and intimidation, and that is the complete antithesis of everything newspapers and journalists are supposed to stand for.”
—Staff writer Shifra B. Mincer can be reached at email@example.com.