A teacher in Seattle is under fire for showing her class cartoons of Muhammad that were published in Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris office was attacked last month. In that slaughter, 12 people were murdered by two jihadists who yelled, “Allahu Akbar” and “The prophet has been avenged.”
Deepa Bhandaru teaches a free class for the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), which provides “refugee and immigrant women and their families with culturally and linguistically appropriate services.” The day after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Bhandaru led a class discussion on free speech and religious pluralism, in which she showed 10 to 18 year-old students some of the tamer cartoons (and not, for example, the raunchy images of Muhammad) published by the magazine.
A fierce backlash has ensued. Several parents — immigrants from Somalia — wrote a letter demanding Bhandaru’s firing. These were followed by a protest whose 15 to 20 participants spouted refrains that have sadly become all too common in a country that’s suppose to take pride in the First Amendment. “We’re not gonna be silent when it’s something that’s not right,” one protester told Seattle Globalist. “We’re trying to show that we’re not happy with what she did.”
“[W]e have to vent our frustration in a peaceful, nice way and say, ‘You cannot do this to our prophet,’” said another, who added, “I don’t think it’s free speech to talk about somebody’s religion, somebody’s beloved prophet like that.”
Bhandaru’s fate at ReWA is pending an internal investigation, but it doesn’t bode well that one of its board members has since declared, “Our goal is never to offend anyone,” or that ReWA issued a craven letter of apology lamenting “any distress we have caused to our students.” Bhandaru herself apologized, albeit under duress.
Charlie Hebdo was attacked for a reason few people — especially in the media — understand. Yes, the attackers, like the protesters in Seattle, were upset over the showing of some cartoons depicting Muhammad. But there’s another layer to this, and it’s that Charlie Hebdo was a beacon of courage in a fog of cowardice. When the majority of media outlets in the West decline to publish or broadcast cartoons out of fear of offending, those outlets set a terrible precedent. As a result, Muslims and their enablers around the world and in the U.S. learn to expect that the media and social institutions in general will continue to cave to the bizarre demand that they never be offended. And thus, those that don’t cave stick out like sore thumbs.
Whether Bhandaru will be fired is entirely up to ReWA. It can choose to stand by its teacher or it can exacerbate its mistake by firing her in addition to having already apologized. And while immigrants shouldn’t be expected to give up their customs upon immigrating to the U.S., if some of those customs conflict with rights and norms that are essential to free society — including the freedom to hold a discussion in an educational setting about an important event — we know which one should stand down.
Anyone who refuses to acknowledge this, whether they’re an immigrant or not, is more than welcome to take the next flight to Mogadishu.
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