MICHIGAN — The appearance of a provocative article aboutreligion in the student newspaper at Wayne State University latelast month has provoked calls of insensitivity.
The Feb. 26 publication of a column titled "Islam Sucks"in the South End ignited an uproar at the Detroit university andthe surrounding community. The paper has since apologized butuniversity officials are now considering the option of hiringa faculty adviser for the independently run publication.
The column, written by student Joe Fisher, offered theactions of Muslim terrorists and extremist Islamic governmentsas evidence of the religion’s malevolence, and contained severalgeneralizations about Islam as well as statements the paper hassince admitted were inaccurate. One passage said, "I don’tthink Americans act as sub-human as the Palestinians did followingSept. 11, dancing in the streets and rejoicing. That brief momentin history will forever leave me apathetic to their fate, if nothopeful for their demise."
In an apology two days later, Fisher wrote, "I unconditionallyapologize. My column titled ‘Islam Sucks’ was unnecessarily harshand insensitive to the feelings of many individuals." Fisherwent on to write that he had intentionally exaggerated and distortedinformation to prove his point that religion is taken too seriously.He also claimed to have received death threats.
The Feb. 28 edition also contained an apology from SouthEnd editor Jason Clancy and around 50 letters to the editor.Managing editor Rian Michel estimated that the paper had receivednearly 500 such letters, mostly critical. More letters were publishedin Friday’s and Monday’s issues.
"We originally were going to run them all but it got tothe point where that wasn’t really feasible anymore," Michel said. "There were too many [and] the point was gotten acrossthat people were angry about it."
The incident also generated coverage from all of the localnews networks as well as some national media. Wayne State hasone of the largest Arab-American student populations in the country."I would say probably that 99 percent of the student body who areArab-Americans are Muslim," said Charles Brown, vice presidentof student development and campus life.
"I think it was a bad decision on behalf of the students,"Brown said. "First of all, it was inflammatory, and I don’tthink free press endorses [that]. When you talk about censoring,I don’t believe in that but I think you have to use common sensewhen you write stories. How many daily newspapers would writea story like that? That’s what I ask students."
Brown said he is planning diversity-training activities forthe newspaper staff and that he will hire a consultant to reviewthe way the paper operates.
"And that’s not to censor because I am a believer inindependent student newspapers," Brown said. "But Ithink that newspapers that are owned by the university have aresponsibility to represent the university in an enlightened manner.And that’s not to say that you don’t write stories that are controversial.Not at all — that’s a part of it. But you don’t write storiesthat are so inflammatory, and that carry a tone of discrimination[at] the core of the article."
Brown said he would also like to bring in an adviser, if budgetfunds allow. "This is the only institution that I’ve workedat where we don’t have a full-time director of the student mediaoperations," he said. He added that the role of the adviserwould be to offer help, not control content.
The South End, which plans to institute new guidelinesconcerning publication of articles, is not averse to getting somehelp.
"We’d like the journalism department to be more instrumentalin our paper," Michel said, "but we don’t want themto have a say in content because we want to remain independent."
The paper is funded primarily through advertising revenue,although it does receive a small amount of financial support fromthe university, Michel said.
The South End‘s Feb. 26 issue also received heavycriticism for another reason. The paper used the jump-cut "Nigger"to direct readers to the second page of an article called "Nota Nigger," a piece by a black student about racial oppression.The paper apologized and reran the article, without a jump, thefollowing week.
Read Joe Fisher’s column, “Islam Sucks,” in the South End.