Islamophobia on a US campus (2)

A student’s column in the Oregon State University campus newspaper has prompted protests by Muslim students, who say it is offensive to their faith.

The piece headlined “The Islamic double-standard” was written by OSU microbiology student Nathanael Blake and published in the Daily Barometer on Feb. 8. The column accused Muslims of expecting special treatment after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Riots over the cartoons amounted to “savagery,” Blake said. “Bluntly put, we expect Muslims to behave barbarously,” his column said.

On Thursday, about a dozen students – including members of Muslim and Arab student groups – held a vigil on the campus to protest both Blake’s piece and the Danish cartoons. They handed out flyers that stated “While staying loyal to the main values of freedom of expression that founded this country, we also feel the need to reflect on the values of tolerance and acceptance on this campus.”

Among the students offended by the column was Nada Mohamed, a 20-year-old junior and the vice president of OSU’s Muslim Student Association. “It was amazing to me that they (the campus newspaper) were allowed to publish this kind of stuff,” she told the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “Tears were flowing out of my eyes as I was reading,” she said. “I felt like somebody was ripping my heart out.”

At the Daily Barometer, editors said e-mail and phone calls poured in. Senior editors have met with the Muslim Student Association. “The pain that it caused … did not subside with time,” said DD Bixby, the Barometer‘s editor-in-chief. “It kind of just festered.” She said editors have been checking copy with Muslim students, and on Tuesday deleted one paragraph from a piece scheduled to be published the next day.

Bixby said her staffers are “all pretty much Oregon-type kids” who knew little about Islam and didn’t foresee how people would respond to the column. Blake said that he expected a reaction, but, “I didn’t expect it to be this prolonged or this strong.”

On Feb. 14, Nada Mohamed’s brother, Aly Mohamed, who heads the university’s Muslim Student Association, fired back with an op-ed piece titled, “Whose double standard? A response on Islam, Muslims“. “It is quite sad to see the Daily Barometer follow our less-than-civil European media outlets,” Mohamed wrote. “There is a lack of distinction between orthodox Islamic values and the actions of a minority of Muslims.”

On the same day, Bixby published a piece defending her columnist and the paper’s decision to publish the column. “For me,” she wrote, “it would be journalistically irresponsible to only print columns with which no one disagreed.”

Associated Press, 2 March 2006