Muslim Cartoon Controversy Hits Nashville Tennessee

by Rebecca Bynum (2-22-06)


The Muslim cartoon riots abroad have been nothing if not clarifying for the average American. The sheer anodyne innocuousness of the images juxtaposed against a backdrop of 45 deaths, countless injuries and massive property damage coupled with the intense political pressure being felt by the western world to yield to Muslim blasphemy considerations is revealing to the American people just how wide the gap really is between Islam and the West. Many are quietly concluding that the chasm cannot be bridged, despite all our hopes.


In one typical American city, Nashville, Tennessee, all the local newspapers, including the formerly illustrious Tennessean, made the decision not to print the cartoons, though they ran numerous editorials on the issue. In response, the local chapter of the blue scarf society went to numerous media outlets, taping a copy of the “Treaty of Umar, 2006” to their doors. This was meant as a spoof on the fear, political correctness and indecision that seem to be paralyzing the American media and American policy makers on the issue of Islam.


Monday night a forum was held at Vanderbilt University to discuss the controversy. Present on the panel were John Seigenthaler of the First Amendment Center and former editor and publisher of the Tennessean and former president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors; Professor Tom McCoy from Vanderbilt Law School; Dr. Awadh Binhazim, adjunct professor of Islam at Vanderbilt Divinity School; and Bruce Barry, board president of the Tennessee chapter of the ACLU and a Vanderbilt professor of management and sociology. It was moderated by Gay Welch, Chaplain of the Vanderbilt Divinity School.


There were approximately 75 people in attendance and in addition to the local blue scarf chapter there were others wearing blue scarves. Another thing I noticed, all the people from the community who came out to show concern about this issue were older people. I wonder if they may be the only class of citizens with enough leisure time to read books and gather information for themselves. They all seemed to be well informed. There were also a few Muslim students (I could tell by the headscarves and abayas on the girls) and a smattering of non-Muslim students. One pretty Asian girl pleaded sweetly at the end, “We just need to talk more and kill less and find common ground of understanding.” Ah, to be young again. 


Dr. Awadh Binhazim is an associate professor of pathology at Meharry Medical College who specializes in animal models of human diseases. He has special training in retro-viruses and toxicological pathology, although, by the looks of his curriculum vitae, he hasn’t published a scientific paper for the last 5 years. Born in Kenya, he comes to Nashville with a veterinary degree from King Faisal University and an M.S. from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. He acquired his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in comparative pathology in 1992.


Dr. Binhazim is also on the board of the Islamic Center of Nashville. The Imam of the Islamic Center of Nashville is Abdulhakim ali Mohamed, upon whose appointment, Binhazin gushed, “We are blessed to have someone of his caliber.” Ali Mohamed has a bachelor’s degree in Sharia (Islamic law) from the Islamic University of Medina and, before coming to Nashville in 1998, he was Imam at the notorious al-Qaeda connected al-Farouq Masjid mosque in Brooklyn. Yes, Nashville is blessed indeed.


Bruce Barry of the ACLU was the first to speak and surprised us all by expressing his absolute dismay that his favorite online magazine, Slate (what else?), had declined to run the cartoons. He laughed at the fact that the editors chose instead to link to a right wing publication for readers to view the cartoons and seemed genuinely puzzled that they took this approach. He read a letter from Muslim leaders in Denmark who were seeking to have the cartoons suppressed and the publishers prosecuted under Danish hate speech law shortly after the cartoons were first published. Then Barry explained that the Danish prosecutor concluded last October that no crime had been committed. He quoted Hirsi Ali in which she expressed the opinion that in Denmark, before the violence began abroad, the cartoon controversy had actually been aiding integration of Danish Muslims, moving integration forward by “300 years.” 


Barry then explained that in the United States there is only the one exception to absolutely total right of free speech and that is speech exhorting listeners directly to imminent violence. 


Next, Dr. Binhazim spoke in clear and amazingly blunt language. He prefaced his argument by asserting that most of the violence has been caused by “the poorest of the poor” who are, obviously, just looking for excuses to vent their anger and frustration concerning their unfortunate economic plight and that 99.9% of Muslims have been peaceful over this but still feel humiliated and deeply wounded to the very “core of Islam.”   He also stated flatly, “Islam is not something to ridicule” and furthermore “all Muslims” view the publication of the cartoons as a “provocation.” He also stated that the 99.9% who feel deeply offended even if they have not responded violently, nevertheless, do not share the value of free speech as it is recognized here. He openly supported the suppression of speech and in one revealing moment uttered, “In European countries such as Germany, you can’t even say anything about the Jews or the Holocaust!” How unfair!


The most remarkable thing about this was that no one on the panel challenged a single thing Binhazim said. They seemed not to notice the content of his speech at all and sat complacently throughout.


Then, Vanderbilt Professor of Law Tom McCoy spoke and stated clearly, bluntly and flatly that under American law there is “no such thing as hate speech.” To which I could not help allowing a mild burst of applause. But, he continued, in France and Germany the governments are very much involved in speech regulation, so he understood how “in that context” Muslims would seek the same protections that other (unnamed) minority groups enjoy there. He also expressed the opinion several times that the “mixing of politics and religion is always a disaster.” Later during questioning he stated with astounding naiveté, “I think fundamentalists are all the same. Muslim or Christian, the mindset is exactly the same.”  


McCoy attributed the obvious press self-censorship to the fact that our publications are supremely confident in their ability to print anything they want to print; they merely don’t feel any pressing need to publish the cartoons, whereas in Europe publishers have no legal guarantees the way we do here and printed the cartoons to show solidarity for free speech. At this, I am certain I heard a slight murmuring among the audience: the crowd wasn’t buying it.


Gene Policinski, executive director of John Seigenthaler’s First Amendment Center in Nashville, echoed the same sentiment when I interviewed him for background last week. He said, “It is not a question here of could [the cartoons be published] but of should [they be published], and this is a “fundamental difference within the United States as opposed to without.” Policinski also explained the official FAC position stops with ensuring that the editors are free to decide this question without government interference and he or it had no official position as to the rightness or wrongness of that decision, only that it must be freely made. He or it also had no official position on the suppression of free speech through intimidation by a violent minority.


Later, when one young man questioned Tom McCoy about pornography, mistakenly thinking that pornography is regulated speech in America, and suggested that in certain situations “shouldn’t the government step in?” McCoy shot back “No! The government has absolutely nothing to do with it. That’s the whole point!”


Next, one of Nashville’s most prominent citizens, John Seigenthaler, took the floor. He prefaced his remarks by speaking of his concern about “dangerous divisions” and how we should “reach across the chasm that divides us.” He then went on to explain that political cartoons are designed to be hateful and wounding and are in fact “by definition, hate speech.” He expressed his utter dismay at the non-publication of the cartoons across America and said he thought that the story could not be adequately told without showing the source of the controversy.   He attributed this remarkable and “lock-step” self-censorship to political correctness. “I don’t understand it,” he said, “p.c. is something new.” If he were still editor of the Tennessean, he said, he most certainly would have published the cartoons and would have balanced it by publishing an editorial attack upon them as well: routine.


“What this episode tells me,” said Seigenthaler, “is that somebody high up in government better learn what this is all about. I certainly don’t understand it.”


Then came the questions. The first gentleman spoke to the issue of Danish Muslims stoking the fires of unrest by including three additional (and much more inflammatory) cartoons in the portfolio they showed Muslim leaders abroad in an effort to gain support to pressure the Danish government to censor the press. No one on the panel wanted to respond, or knew enough to respond. Again, Binhazim was silent.


The second man to speak said, “We know that burning the flag is protected speech in this country; what about burning the Koran?” No doubt about it, said McCoy, burning the Koran has absolute protection, a sentiment echoed by Barry and Seigenthaler as well. Binhazim was silent and by this time was leaning back in his chair, arms folded over his chest, yawning occasionally to show his boredom.


The next questioner, a woman this time, asked how it would be possible to “tease out the threads” as far as what aspects of Islam were political, to be treated as political fair game, and what aspects of Islam were purely religious and should be handled differently. The woman said, “As Dr. Binhazim told me, Islam is not just a religion, but a political system as well, so shouldn’t we be able to criticize it as a political system?” Again, no one on the panel was prepared to answer.


The next questioner, another woman, prefaced her question brilliantly with, "Like the man said to his wife, 'If you just hadn't burned the toast I wouldn't have to beat you.' So if the press would stop running these cartoons, we wouldn't have these pesky riots.” She continued, “I have to conclude that the reason the American press isn't printing them is fear and intimidation. My question is: is the European press more courageous than the American press?"


Tom McCoy replied, "Not at all, we're actually more confident; we just don't have anything to prove."


At this point a loud murmur went through the room. I heard variations of, "C'mon, the public wants to see these cartoons. They're newsworthy. Why aren't we running them? What cowards!”


Then a young man by the name of Eddie Applebaum spoke up. He said he understood why the riots were occurring and was not surprised by it in the least because he had read the hadiths by Bukari and Muslim. Furthermore, he had read many, many statements by Islamic clerics the world over and they all say the same thing: that the Islamic prescription for criticism is death. He then went on to explain how Muhammad had two poets killed, “one male and one female, for making fun of him in their poetry.” Then Mr. Applebaum asked, “Isn’t that true, Mr. Binhazim?” 


Binhazim tried to duck the question by trotting out the “poorest of the poor” again, but Applebaum wasn’t about to let him off the hook. “Answer my question, Dr. B., doesn’t your book teach killing the apostate?"


By this point, the audience was captivated; all were breathlessly awaiting the answer, when Mr. Seigenthaler attempted to thwart the uncomfortable silence. "Now, I don't think we need to---ahem, barraba-raba, hack, hack---"


Applebaum: "C'mon, John, let him answer the question! I'm just asking him what his own book says. Dr. B, would you please answer the question."


Binhazim’s attitude of mock boredom changed abruptly as he pushed he himself back in his chair and shouted each word: “Do you read Arabic?!”


Applebaum replied just as forcefully, “No, I don’t.”


Binhazim pressed forward on the attack, “Then everything you have read is utterly worthless! The Koran is written in Arabic.” Then, strangely and I couldn’t help thinking opportunely, applause broke out among the Muslim students as the rest of the infidel panel sat looking at each other obviously puzzled and at a loss for words.


Seigenthaler then addressed Applebaum directly, “Do you think Islam is a violent religion?’


“Yes, I do.”


“Well, I don’t believe that for a minute. I don’t believe Islam is a violent religion at all,” Seigenthaler said as he laughed and nervously patted Binhazim on the shoulder as if to say, I wouldn’t want you to think that I would think ill of you just because you’re Muslim. A civilized response to be sure, and I am also quite certain Mr. Seigenthaler had no clue who Binhazim was or what Binhazim believes about him as an infidel.


“Catholic’s honor, John, I’m telling you the truth,” pleaded Applebaum, and by this time gray heads were nodding in agreement all around the room.


Sensing the moment, the Muslims present were beginning to stand up, preparing to leave, when Gay Welch, in a slightly desperate attempt to regain control of the forum sputtered, “I don’t see what this has to do with the topic at hand…” but by this time people were standing up all over the room. A cameraman from Channel 5 News, the local CBS affiliate, was on hand filming throughout, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t stay to see the broadcast. 


Earlier they had recorded Dr. Binhazim at length and I happened to catch what one woman said as well. She said, "The question is: if our freedom of speech can be curtailed, what other freedoms will we lose?"


As Mr. Policinski of the First Amendment Center said, “The Founding Fathers were remarkably trusting in their confidence in the ability of the American people to sort things out.”




(I would like to thank the Blue Scarf Society of Nashville for providing me background information for this article)




Join leaders of the American Middle Eastern community to endorse

Donald J. Trump
for President of the United States

and spend an evening with his foreign policy advisors featuring
Dr. Walid Phares
and other surprise campaign guests.

Monday October 17th

Omni Shoreham Hotel
2500 Calvert Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20008

cocktails at 6pm - dinner at 7pm
Business casual attire

$150 per person / $1500 per table

Sponsored by the American Mideast Coalition for Trump

Buy Tickets