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Local alternative paper: Let the readers decide
Seattle Times staff reporter
The cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have spurred worldwide protests, boycotts, burning of embassies and even deaths are being republished in The Stranger, a Seattle alternative newspaper.
The Stranger's editor, Dan Savage, said the decision to do so was so readers could make up their own minds about the legitimacy of the depictions, saying, "One man's blasphemy doesn't override other people's free-speech rights, their freedom to publish, freedom of thought."
But some local Muslims who consider the cartoons hurtful and offensive were frustrated.
Jamal Rahman, a Muslim and minister with Interfaith Community Church in Ballard, said republishing the cartoons is an "unnecessary provocation."
The cartoons were first published in September in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which challenged cartoonists to draw Muhammad as they saw him. The challenge was issued, the editor has said, because he thought artists were self-censoring because of fear of Islamic radicals.
Some of the cartoons seem relatively benign by U.S. standards. But most Muslims consider any depiction of the prophet to be prohibited because of concerns over idolatry and showing disrespect.
The Quran does not specifically prohibit depictions of Muhammad but does warn against idolatry. And the hadith — a collection of Muhammad's sayings and doings — discourages depictions of any living creature, saying it presumes that man has the same creative power as God.
And some of the other cartoons — especially one of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban and another in which the prophet is depicted wielding a dagger in front of two women in burqas — are clearly defamatory, some local Muslims say.
"I'm appalled by the cartoons," said Jawad Khaki, a software-company executive. "Not just as a Muslim but as a human being because I normally wouldn't do something to offend a large portion of the population in any way."
"To me, as a Muslim, Muhammad is someone I hold very dear," said Heather Siddiqui, a Mountlake Terrace High School student. "For them to take a person I hold as dear to me as that, and completely show him as a horrible, violent person, is just beyond words."
"If it's the image of Islam they're trying to protect, they're doing exactly the opposite," said Jeff Siddiqui, Heather's father and a real-estate agent. "Some morons in the Middle East decide they want to burn some buildings — talk about walking into the arms of the enemies."
Still, they found it dismaying that The Stranger would be publishing four of the cartoons in this week's edition and on its Web site.
The cartoons accompany an article by Bruce Bawer, author of the books "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within" and "Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity."
"The article we're running is about how stupid it is to throw violent temper tantrums against freedom of speech," Stranger news editor Josh Feit said. "We thought it would've been stupid for us to do an article condemning those temper tantrums and not run the pictures themselves."
The Seattle Times has not published the caricatures. Managing Editor David Boardman said the newspaper's policy is to avoid publishing material that is hurtful or offensive to certain groups, except when that material is essential to readers' understanding. In this case, Boardman said, Times editors concluded that written descriptions of the cartoons were sufficient.
The same editors, however, decided to provide a link to a reproduction of the original Jyllands-Posten page on the seattletimes.com Web site, as part of a special online section on the controversy.
"This way, we've made it possible for our readers to seek out the cartoons if they want to, in their original context, but they won't be forced to encounter them," Boardman said.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Managing Editor David McCumber said it also would not be publishing the cartoons, although there is a link to them on its Web site.
"We feel that just because we have the right to publish them does not mean we have the obligation to publish something that is patently offensive to a large group of people, especially in today's world when those images are so widely available on the Internet for people to see."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company