TIP SHEET: Middle East Controvery over Danish Editorial Cartoons

February 10, 2006
University of Virginia sources to discuss the controversy over Danish editorial cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad:

Timothy Gianotti, assistant professor, classical Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism
Gianotti’s undergraduate and graduate studies included several periods of residence in the West Bank and Jordan, studying literary Arabic and Islamic history, and graduate courses at the University of Jordan’s College of Islamic Studies. Now, in addition to introductory courses in Islamic religious history, theology and mysticism, he teaches upper-level seminars that deal with Islamic mystical thought, Islamic political thought, medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophy and the language and imagery of war within the Abrahamic religious traditions.

“This is not just about freedom of speech and a … cartoon. This taps into much larger forces, such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, Israel and the Palestinians and the whole colonial period, which some Muslims see as not having ended.” He said the “pots of uprising have been simmering” and the cartoon controversy brings them to a boil. “The perception of the West is one of an imperial power. This is one more slap in the face for Muslims.” He said this controversy is connected to the current-day riots in France, the racial unrest in the United Kingdom and the tensions between Turks and Germans within Germany. “This is not isolated.”

Gianotti is the author of “Al-Ghazali’s Unspeakable Doctrine of the Soul,” a study of controversies surrounding the soul and the afterlife in medieval Islam. He is currently working on two new book projects: “Encountering Islam: A Prelude to the Study of an Abrahamic Religion,” and a second scholarly book titled, “Walking the Way of the Afterlife: al-Ghaz?l? on the Jurisprudence of the Heart (fiqh al-qalb).”

Contact: Timothy Gianotti, tjg5g@virginia.edu, 434-924-6721

Robert M. O’Neil
, law professor and director, Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression
O’Neil specializes in areas of church and state, First Amendment on the Internet, First Amendment in the arts, constitutional law, free speech, artistic freedom, Bill of Rights, separation of powers and civil liberties.

“It is a matter of judgment and discretion,” O’Neil said of newspaper editors’ decisions to run the cartoons. “We do not have to do everything we have a right to do.

“One does not push to the limit the rights you have because this may erode that right in the long run,” he said. In this case, he said editors who are later presented with a cartoon that is offensive, but which should run, may second-guess themselves after this controversy and err on the side of caution.

He said while he has often been reminded of how sensitive Muslims are about the image of Mohammed, free speech in the United States encompasses tolerance for racist, homophobic, sexist and anti-Semitic speech. He said this would also include anti-Muslim speech as well. The United States is unique in this, however, he said, pointing to other countries, such as Canada, that curtail specified types of speech.

Contact: Robert M. O’Neil (434) 924-7540 [office]; (434) 977-1668 [home]; (202) 365-8492 [cell], rmo@virginia.edu

David Waldner,
associate professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics and director of Middle East studies.
Waldner is the author of “State Building and Late Development.”

“I think there’s really a large constituency of people here who just want this to end. I should also say that I think most Muslims around the world just want this to end,” Waldner said. “Governments should continue calling for calm, and we should support all the moderate voices in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world that are calling for dialogue.
“Although this is taking place in the context of political turbulence, there are militant groups that are taking advantage of this to further their own causes.”

Contact: David Waldner, (434) 924-6931, daw4h@virginia.edu

W. Nathaniel Howell
, the John Minor Maury, Jr. Professor of Public Affairs and former Ambassador to Kuwait
Howell is director of the Institute for Global Policy Research and the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf Studies Program. He joined U.Va.’s faculty upon retirement from the Foreign Service of the United States in December 1992. He served as Ambassador to the State of Kuwait from August 1987 until December 1990, four months after the Iraqi invasion of that country.
His recent publications include: “Siege: Crisis Leadership: The Survival of U.S. Embassy Kuwait,” with Roberta Culbertson; “Killing in The Name of God: Motif and Motivation”; and “The New Face of International Terrorism.”

Contact: W. Nathaniel Howell,wnh@Virginia.edu, (434) 924-3773 [office], (434) 974-9315 [home]

John Sullivan
, associate professor of rhetoric and American studies
Sullivan can speak on cartoons and American culture. He is author, with Steve Frantzich, of “The C-SPAN Revolution.” His recent articles include: “Topsy and Eva Play Vaudeville,  an interpretive essay in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and American Culture;  “The Case of A Late Student: Pictorial Satire in Jacksonian America,” “Jackson Caricatured: Two Historical Errors.”

Contact: John Sullivan,  (434) 924-7007 [office], (434) 973-4136 [home], js3f@virginia.edu

To locate expert sources regarding other topics, please contact Kathleen Valenzi, kvalenzi@virginia.edu, (434) 924-6857, or Carolyn Dillard, cdillard@virginia.edu, (434) 982-3030