Another American university tackles free speech, and everyone involved embarrasses themselves — except the conservatives. A parable for our times.
World Net Daily broke the news yesterday that a far-left student newspaper at the University of Oregon — called “The Insurgent” appropriately enough — decided to publish 12 deliberately offensive cartoons of Jesus in their March issue. Why? Because the Oregon Commentator, a conservative student newspaper at U of O, recently published the 12 Jyllands-Posten cartoons of Mohammed. The Insurgent wanted Christians to know what it felt like to have their religion insulted.
Because, really, what would Christians know about something like that?
These days, standard operating procedure in any campus free speech fracas calls for (a) offended students to whine about the injury done to their dainty sensibilities, followed by (b) third-party defenses of the offensive material for all the wrong reasons, resulting in (c) equivocation and/or outright censorship by the university administration, and hopefully ending with (d) the threat of a lawsuit by FIRE for all the right reasons. You’ll be happy to know with respect to the Jesus cartoons that the first three stages are already complete.
(a) Offended students whining. U of O student Zachary White responded to the Insurgent’s publication of the cartoons by filing a formal request with the student government to de-fund the publication. Wrote White in his complaint, “I find it intolerable and contrary to the University’s mission of tolerance and non-discrimination to use public funds to allow for discrimination of a religious group on campus.” His request was denied. Here’s White’s op-ed in the campus’s student newspaper, the Oregon Daily Emerald, in which he declares himself “dumbfounded at the fact that a publicly funded publication can get away with this.”
William Donohue of the Catholic League got in on the act yesterday when he sent a letter of complaint to U of O President Dave Frohnmayer, Oregon’s three Catholic bishops, the governor, every member of the state legislature, and … pretty much everyone, basically. Said Donohue, “At the very least, [Frohnmayer] could have issued a statement of moral condemnation. Other college and university presidents who have been faced with similar problems have cancelled classes for a day so that a college-wide symposium on tolerance could ensue.”
Jeff Goldstein dealt with “tolerance” and what that term has come to mean a few weeks ago. (Note in particular his second update.) But before we dispatch with Donohue, let’s acknowledge that he’s 100% right in this bit from his letter about the free-speech bravehearts at U of O:
Why did the Insurgent choose Christians, especially Catholics, to make their point? Why didn’t they choose Jews? Why didn’t they insult African Americans? Why didn’t they drag gays through the mud? For that matter, why didn’t they bash Muslims?
A point often made, but a point worth making often. Anyway, Donohue knows full well what he’d have to do to get newspapers to stop bashing Christians, and why he should never, ever do it.
(b) Dopey third-party defenses. The Daily Emerald offered their take on the incident in an editorial on April 5th, coming down hard on the Insurgent in the process. The Jesus cartoons are nothing like the Mohammed cartoons, the Emerald argued — because the Mohammed cartoons are way more offensive. “Poking fun at the religious beliefs of the majority,” it concluded, “is inherently different from attacking an already oppressed minority.” And that’s not all:
[P]rinting home-grown cartoons depicting Jesus on a cross/pogo stick or Jesus on a cross/hangliding apparatus are not inflammatory in the same manner as the anti-Islam cartoons, and therefore fail to produce the intended empathy from Christians to Muslims.
The comics printed in Europe (and later reprinted by the Oregon Commentator) were offensive and riot-producing because they touched on relevant religious and social issues [i.e., Muslims responded violently because the cartoons implied they’re violent. — ed.], such as the notion that all men in turbans are terrorists and the very real problem of European discrimination and violence toward the Muslim community.
The cartoons created by The Insurgent were not only irrelevantly offensive (why should a Christian care that an amateur liberal cartoonist has drawn Jesus listening to an iPod?), they were printed in a nation where many citizens identify with some sect of Christianity and rarely experience the kind of widespread oppression felt by Muslims around the world. Trying to make an equal comparison between the Muslim anger toward European cartoons and potential Christian anger toward homoerotic Jesus cartoons printed in The Insurgent is a careless dismissal of why Islamic communities felt under attack because of the offensive comics.
Emphases mine. Here again are the Mohammed cartoons; find the one that says “all men in turbans are terrorists.” As for the rest of it (including/especially the notion that it’s Muslims who are being threatened by Europeans), it’s precisely the sort of victimization rhetoric often heard from jihadi apologists in general and Palestinian apologists in particular: while not explicitly condoning violence, it does demand that we give the oppressed an awful lot of leeway in how they choose to respond to perceived “humiliations.”
Check out the comments at the bottom of the Emerald’s editorial, too.
(c) Censorship by the administration. According to World Net Daily, Frohnmayer released a statement expressing his “concern” about the Insurgent and insisting that he’d use “all permissible means” to respond to publications like it. In this case, however, because the Insurgent isn’t published by the university and is funded entirely by student fees, the administration can’t exercise any … “editorial control.”
But what’s this?
More than 700 copies of a controversial recent edition of a student publication that criticizes and satirizes Christianity are sitting in a University facility instead of being mailed as usual. University officials said they held the issues of The Student Insurgent after realizing an administrative error had allowed past issues to be sent at a discounted rate, but members of publication’s staff claim the issues were censored….
University officials on Monday notified the student government, which oversees programs such as The Insurgent, that ASUO programs are not allowed to use the University’s nonprofit bulk-mail permit, previously used to send The Insurgent.
How long had the Insurgent been using the bulk-mail permit? According to the article, at least four years.
There’s nothing more about this on the Emerald website, so I’m not sure what the current status of the Insurgent is. The Oregon Commentator (the conservative student newspaper, remember) managed to scare up a copy, though — and has posted the entire issue, uncensored, on its own website. As far as I know, it’s the only place to view the images online. Here’s the cover, which is precisely as witty and insightful as you’d expect it to be:
Congrats to the Commentator for being the only consistent voice for free speech during this episode. And yes, that includes the Insurgent, which had a very different reaction to the virtues of free expression a few years ago when the Commentator was on the hot seat. The Commentator also found time on its blog to respond to the student who wanted to de-fund the Insurgent over its publication of the cartoons — and it got that right, too.
By the way — if you decide to delve inside the issue of the Insurgent itself, be sure to check out the editorial on page 2, in which the blogosphere’s own zombie makes a cameo, as well as the commentary on page 16 by “Jessica” and “Dan,” which has to be seen to be believed.
Update: Nothing about this yet on FIRE’s website, but they do report some good news: the “Portraits of Terror” art exhibit at Penn State that was initially banned by the university has now been reinstated.
Update: As I’d hoped he would, Goldstein weighs in. “[P]redictably, the grimy fingerprints of identity politics are once again smeared all over this story.”
Update: The Commentator has been (temporarily) silenced — by this post. Apparently, we sent them so many hits today that they burned through their monthly allotment of bandwidth. They’re working on resolving the situation. Apologies to the good folks at the OC for the snafu. They sent me a new link to the PDF of the Insurgent, which I’ve substituted above. I’ve also requested that they send me screenshots of the posts I originally linked to (and which are very much worth reading); if they do so, we’ll host them here.
Update: The Commentator is back up and running so I’ve re-enabled links. They’ve also added a link to the PDF version of their recent issue about the Mohammed cartoons. You’ll find it in the update here, below the image of the Insurgent cover.