I'm not allowed to show you the image - but you can find it at http://media.collegepublisher.com/media/paper404/stills/3739u0x0.jpg

The Strand Steps in It

The editors of The Strand, Victoria College's student newspaper debated amongst themselves for a week as to how to illustrate an editorial about the balance between the media's duty to inform and its attempts to avoid offence. On one hand, they recognized that as journalists, they had a duty to the public to inform, and to provide all relevant details of an issue - of which the pictures surely were. On the other hand, they knew that the pictures had the ability to offend, and were hesitant about bringing the controversy too close to home. In the end, they decided not to publish the Danish pictures which, as Nick Ragaz, Managing Editor of The Strand, points out, weren't even drawn by UofT students.

A week earlier The Varsity had passed a cartoon off to The Strand that they had passed on themselves. The picture (which I can't show you, but which is available along with the editorial here, drawn by a student, seemed to the Strand to encompass the message of understanding that they were trying to project. It was a picture of two men, on a theme park ride entering a 'tunnel of tolerance', kissing. One man, who's face was partially obscured was a hippy sort, with long hair, a beard, and robes. The other, who was only drawn from behind - obscuring his face entirely - wore a turban and had a Star and Crescent tattoo. The editorial board realised that some people might be offended by it, but it passed their criteria of not being violent, liebellous, hateful, or counter-factual, and decided it would be okay. Although they have the support of the Victoria College administration and student governenment, others on campus have not been as understanding.

After the publication, the Muslim Students' Association at UofT began a letter writing campaign, which Nick Ragaz expected and was prepared for - although not in the volume, 60 letters and counting, that resulted. The Strand plans to publish many of the letters - both pro and con - along with a response from the Muslim Student's Association in their next issue.

Perhaps surprisingly, the most inflamatory response has come from a press release by the UofT's Student Activity Council. Decrying the cartoon as an "act of hate", the Council called for the removal of the issue from both The Strand's website and from its distribution points across Campus - a demand that The Strand's editorial board - and the Victoria College administration - refuse to accede to. That an organization such as SAC, which claims to represent all students and support freedom of speech, would make an inflamatory call for such post-facto censorship is amazing in itself. That it would make such a call without even consulting with the editorial board of the offending newspaper - which is the case here; SAC president Paul Bretscher only letting The Strand know of their views on the day of the press release - is a step beyond what anybody, including Ragaz, expected.

When I asked Ragaz if, knowing the immediate outcome, he would still push for publication, he told me in no uncertain terms that yes, he would. He believes that the cartoon controversy will still prove beneficial, telling me "I argued strongly in favour of publication and I think the outcome, ultimately, will be the dialogue and mutual understanding and engagement that is the best possible outcome of this situation. The Muslim Students' Association... ...which plans to organize an educational initiative about Islam in response, is certainly acting to further that goal and we're grateful for that."

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