Not All Professors Shirk Their Duty
James Lindsay, a professor at Colorado State University, showed a couple of the controversial cartoons to his Islamic history class, in an earnest attempt to address current events and also to bridge the gap of understanding between Muslim students in the class who did not approve of the cartoons and other classmates who felt confused by the furor surrounding their publication:
The polar takes on the cartoons has illustrated a large difference between Islam and the West: Tolerance is an aspect of Western life, but not necessarily a part of Islam, Lindsay said.The cartoons were generally well received in such an academic setting:
The professor used the movie "The Life of Brian" as an example. The film, made by the cult comedy crew Monty Python's Flying Circus, lampooned the story of Jesus by following the life of an average guy who was born in the manger next door to Christ.
"Christians aren't really thrilled with 'The Life of Brian' but they don't go and shoot Terry Jones and Monty Python's Flying Circus," Lindsay said.
Students interviewed on campus Thursday afternoon generally supported the professor's decision, so long as the presentation was tactful.Finally, a professor who embraces the academic mission wholeheartedly, who acknowledges that higher education often tackles edgy subjects that might "offend" someone, and believes that the point of thinking critically is to see all sides of a debate and to formulate an opinion based upon the available evidence, rather than simply regurgitate a party line or the professor's own ideology. Students, like the public at large, should make their own determination of the cartoon's standing, rather than leaving that role to the moral arbiters at CNN. Disagreement is not an undesirable outcome, and the professor in this instance makes the clearest case for freedom of speech, one that includes a freedom to offend, but not a right to not be offended.
"I think it's almost necessary ... in an academic setting, if you're studying it," said international studies senior Jonathan Bishop. "It's especially valuable to see what the controversy is over, not just that there is a controversy."
Another student agreed.
"Everywhere I've heard in the media takes the side of the Muslims," said Bobby Hodge, a liberal arts senior. "Since it's (shown in) a class, it's dealing with current events."
Others said they would have been offended in the class if they were Muslim, but noted that the acceptability of the cartoons hinges on their presentation - whether it was objective and academic, or ethnocentric and ignorant.
But Safar was firm in his belief that the blasphemy should simply not have been shown.
"(Lindsay) made a huge mistake by putting up the cartoons," Safar said. "Not only that, he's making the gap between the three religions bigger and bigger. ... Making chaos between people - I don't think that's the correct way of achieving peace."
The professor, on the other hand, articulated Western societies' own uncompromising take on freedom of expression.
"My job is not to bring people together," Lindsay said. "My job is to teach history. History is not pleasant in many cases, and I made it very clear in class that this is America and you all have the right to offend but you do not have the right to not be offended."
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