The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, March 8, 2006 - 5
What are we missing.
Why you should want to be offended.
DONN M. FRESARD / FRM TH im EDITOR
T here's a rea-
son why the 12
boxes on this
page are blank, and
I'll get to that. But
first, a few words about
what's been filling the
boxes on the opposite
page. Over the past few
months, the Daily and
its editors have seen
intense criticism for printing several editorial
cartoons that student leaders in some minor-
ity communities have found racist, demean-
ing or otherwise offensive.
The most controversial of these cartoons
portrayed a high school classroom full of
dark-skinned students and one white stu-
dent. At the front of the classroom, a black
teacher tells the class that they can all expect
special preferences when applying to college
- except for Bob, the lone white student.
Trn~ini inthr rlauvna s ah...+ aiP -
didn't earn their way into the University.
But being offended is part of living and par-
ticipating in a liberal and pluralistic society.
When we're all free to express ourselves, we
will all come across expression that offends
our sensibilities. Besides, when a common but
faulty argument appears on an editorial page,
it provides the opportunity for a rebuttal - a
chance to change minds.
Not everyone felt that way. Student leaders,
arguing that the cartoon was "objectively racist,"
demanded retractions and printed apologies.
Later, a committee of the University's faculty
senate even argued that it was potentially illegal
- that the caricature of "an institutional policy
favoring diversity" could, by encouraging a
"racially hostile learning environment," violate
federal equal-protection laws.
In other words, if you have qualms about
affirmative action, keep quiet - we know
we're right, your views are offensive, and it's
wrong for you to express them.
It's also strikingly similar to the reason-
ing that has recently led Muslim extremists
to riot, burn and kill in response to an act of
One of the pillars of liberal society is
that people are free to openly believe
in or criticize any religion without
fear of reprisal. To understand the Danish
cartoon controversy, we must realize that for
the Danes and some other Europeans, this
basic principle is in real peril. When the Jyl-
lands-Posten dared a slew of cartoonists to
draw the Prophet Muhammad last Septem-
ber, the possibility of violent retaliation by
Muslim extremists was very real; a Dutch
filmmaker had been killed and a Danish lec-
turer had been assaulted for offending radi-
cal Muslims. Recent reports indicate that all
12 cartoonists are now in hiding, fearful for
Thankfully, expressing an idea in this coun-
trv ill rrely ~,nut iue in nhxvgircu1dangr.r1But
though, so in America we have activists and
sensitive citizens to enforce the rules. People
with unpopular or unconventional opinions
on religion and especially race are better off
avoiding the topics in public.
In the same category are people who are
prone to saying things without thinking them
through. There are no thoughtless mistakes,
just racist people.
The culture I'm talking about makes it nearly
impossible for people to honestly debate sensi-
tive issues in public. That's counterproductive.
Since the Enlightenment, liberal Western
societies have resolved disputes and questions
through open discussion. If an idea that Islam is
a violent religion, that genetics might account
for differences in gender equality, that affirma-
tive action does more harm than good is wrong,
then rational argument or science will prove
it wrong. If we as a society want to discredit
patently false ideas like Irving's, destroying
his arguments in the open is a far better option
than silencing him with orison. Sunligrht. a
reotypes; few come away knowing how to
engage those who don't agree or don't under-
stand. Maybe that's because the University
was until recently in the habit of threatening
those people with suspension under its speech
code. The effect of all this seems to be a cam-
pus that is shamefully self-segregated and too
nervous to talk about it.
This is why progressives, especially on this
campus, should realize that their goals are
best served by putting the politics of offense
behind them and embracing liberalism. If
an idea upsets you, rather than attacking it
as offensive, try to prove it wrong. It won't
always be comfortable; it shouldn't be.
In the interest of free debate, the Daily will
continue to print cartoons that may occasion-
ally offend you. That's an inevitable part of
being a newspaper, and a campus newspaper
especially should be a place where ideas are
exchanged freely. It would be much easier for
us to simply pull all cartoons that are poten-
tiallv offensive. hut we would be doniz the