SDSU students show disregard for First Amendment

    On Oct. 31, two dozen Muslim and Asian students protested against San Diego State University’s Daily Aztec for publishing political cartoons depicting leaders in their ethnic communities. The students deemed the cartoons racist and demeaning, and after seizing thousands of copies of that day’s issue, they rallied on the “”Free Speech”” steps to demand an apology. Reportedly, copies of the newspaper were destroyed while protesters chanted, “”What do we want? An apology! When do we want it? Now!””

    Even if the cartoons were incendiary, the students’ reactive impulse to silence the Daily Aztec by seizing as many copies as they could grab is censorship. Quite frankly, their action represents the oppressive tendencies found within their cultures of descent. To clarify, if these students lived in countries such as Iran, Iraq, North Korea or China, their voices would go unheard unless their message was sanctioned by the state.

    This, however, is America. Free speech is valued so highly here that the students of SDSU named a section of their campus for it. In America, if an independent newspaper publishes controversial images, people can rally against it, thus exercising their right to free speech. According our First Amendment right, they can even demand an apology. What they cannot do, however, is stifle the voice of another by attempting to obstruct the distribution of the paper. This act is hypocrisy in its clearest form.

    The first cartoon, published on Sept. 25, depicted two camels labeled “”Hussein”” and “”Arafat”” and had a caricature of President George W. Bush in the middle. The second cartoon, published on Oct. 22, showed an image of a large man wearing a shirt labeled “”China”” and a caption addressing the North Korea Nuclear Program. The large man’s dialogue was written in broken English and then translated in the caption.

    Why did no one take issue with the stereotypical representation of Bush? Bush was sketched in this cartoon as a skinny little cowboy who wears his initial on his monstrous belt buckle. What if this depiction of our president offends me? The answer is simple: If I am offended by what the paper prints, I write a response to the paper and make my voice heard as part of an open exchange of ideas.

    In fact, many students did just that. After the first cartoon, several letters to the editor were published and addressed in the Daily Aztec. In response, the cartoon’s author wrote to the students who were angered by his first cartoon. In his article, he explains he was trying to create a forum in which students could exchange ideas.

    “”The nature of political cartoons is to take issues and push them to the extreme, hoping to draw readers into a debate,”” he wrote. “”If I had intended [to represent all Middle Easterners as camels,] I would have labeled both camels as Iraq and Palestine, or not have labeled them at all.””

    The dialogue continued when a representative of the Muslim Student Association and the Society of Afghan Students wrote a guest article in the Nov. 6 issue of the Daily Aztec, in which he states, “”Using an animal in the cartoon has absolutely no bearing; using that specific animal hits a lot of nerves.””

    The cartoonist addressed this issue in his article two weeks prior, stating, “”Why didn’t I use another animal? A lion, tiger or bear as some have suggested? Well, let’s just say that it doesn’t fit the context of the message. Let’s be honest, I really haven’t seen a polar bear living in the desert.””

    Here is proof: Free speech works. A healthy exchange of ideas can occur within the context of a student newspaper. Screaming and yelling only robs your voice of credibility. To be heard, one needs simply to pick up a pen.

    I feel it was best put by Thor Halvorsen, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who said: “”The answer to speech you do not like is more speech.”” Our intelligence is only tested and expanded when we debate, and if the cartoons created an arena for promoting intellectual conversation, then they were of use to our community.

    We can be angry and outraged, but understanding the importance of an open forum is a prerequisite for participating in a sociopolitical exchange. Because these cartoons gained citywide coverage in the San Diego Union-Tribune and on the San Diego Channel 10 News, thousands of people have benefited from the discussion. Apologizing for free expression solves nothing. Discussion, however, is the foundation of an enlightened people.

    So let’s have a discussion. Let’s promote growth and understanding, not apologies and censorship. It takes intelligence and leadership to express oneself. Though it is much easier, I suppose, to stand around and shout, “”What do we want? An apology! When do we want it? Now!””

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal