February 3, 2006

North American media shy away from Muslim cartoons

By Michael Conlon

CHICAGO (Reuters) - North American newspapers have given
extensive coverage to the anger that cartoons of the Prophet
Mohammad unleashed across the world but have taken a hands-off
approach to reprinting the caricatures themselves.

"I don't see it as a necessity to run them," said John
Diaz, editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

"There's a lot of ways that we can gratuitously offend our
readers. We want to avoid that."

Muslims generally believe their faith forbids any image of
the Prophet and consider the cartoons printed in Europe as
blasphemous. One of the cartoons depicted the Prophet with a
turban resembling a bomb.

Washington Post's Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said
the paper is covering the controversy over the cartoons but not
reprinting them because "the very nature of depicting Mohammad
editorially is not an ambiguous question. Either you do it or
you don't."

"It's never a concern over reactions," he added. "It's a
concern over what the Washington Post decides to publish. We're
maintaining our standards."

Newspapers in the United States and Canada have described
the cartoons and carried pictures of readers in Europe scanning
them in publications there. The images were first published in
September in a Danish newspaper.

Toronto Star editor-in-chief Giles Gherson said it's
unlikely the paper would run an editorial cartoon that was
"gratuitously offensive," to a segment of the population.

Once that cartoon becomes global news, however, the
question arises as to whether it needs to be reprinted so
readers can understand what's going on, he said in an article
carried in the newspaper.

"We're going to describe in text the cartoons," he said on
Thursday. "We're going to see if we can explain to our readers
what the issues are, what happened, what is portrayed in the
cartoons, without actually showing the cartoons if they are
inherently deeply offensive to a segment of our society. That
would be our preferred approach."

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based
Council on American Islamic Relations, said American newspapers
have not rushed the cartoons into print perhaps because they
feel secure in their constitutional free press protections.

"They don't feel the need to go out and be gratuitously
insulting just to prove that they can do it, which is what the
European media seem to be doing in almost a childish
overreaction," he said.

The controversy has also produced a muted response
generally among U.S. Muslims, who make up less than 2 percent
of the population by most estimates. Leaders say their
communities are clearly upset though there have not been
demonstrations or noisy public outcries.

"Some people are feeling hurt but they also see it as part
of the overall Islamaphobia in the media," said Abdul Malik
Mujahid, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of
Greater Chicago. He questioned whether an anti-Semitic cartoon
or one showing the pope in a compromising sexual position would
have been tolerated in Europe the way the cartoons of the
prophet were by those who published them.

"Islamaphobia has a real impact on people's life," he said.
"It is hurting us as a society. We are becoming less open to
listen to the voices of dissent and voices which are

Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public
Affairs Council, also said there is a double standard among
political leaders, opinion makers and the media. There would
have been a "tremendous, correct response" if the cartoons had
been anti-Semitic, he said.

U.S. Muslims, he said, are unlikely to take to the streets
in outrage. "We admonish against that because we don't find it
helpful to our situation in America," he said.

While the cartoons involved in the controversy are not
being published in North American newspapers, they are readily
available on the Internet.