U.K. School Assailed From 2 Directions Over Muhammad Cartoon

3 weeks ago
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A cartoon of the prophet, considered blasphemous by many Muslims, is once again provoking debate and competing accusations of prejudice and extremism.

A cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad — this time, its use in a British classroom — is once again stoking anger and national debates about the limits of tolerance, free speech and education.

The teacher who showed the cartoon to students this week has received death threats and is under police protection, officials said — echoes of the deadly attacks on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and on a French teacher last year for having shown similar cartoons.

Loud but nonviolent protesters blocked access to the school and demanded the dismissal of the teacher at Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, in northern England, calling the incident an example of bigotry. Many Muslims consider any physical depiction of Muhammad to be blasphemous.

On Thursday the school, near Leeds, suspended the teacher — who supporters said had used the image in a lesson about religion and free expression. The school said in a statement that “we would like to offer a sincere and full apology.” It said it had removed the offending material, which it did not describe, but some protesters said it was one or more of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo.

The teacher has not been officially identified, though some people angered by the use of the cartoon have circulated the person’s name.

The school’s response prompted a backlash from people, including British political and media figures, who accused it of having caved to intimidation by a minority that wants to impose its religious standards on the secular institutions of the whole society. Others said the teacher had used poor judgment but they deplored threats of violence.

One of the more nuanced responses came from Sayeeda Warsi, a former government minister and Conservative Party chairwoman who sits in the House of Lords, and is a Muslim of Pakistani descent.

Islamophobia is a real problem in Britain, she wrote in a Twitter thread, and “the school should ask whether the issue of blasphemy could have been taught in a better way that didn’t necessitate the use of cartoons depicting Muslims wearing bomb turbans.”

At the same time, she said the teacher “should not be named, nor hounded,” and added, “I urge the small but noisy group of protesters to calm down & go home. There are better ways to enjoy the good weather.”

And in more scabrous terms, she advised anti-Muslim “commentators, media outlets, twitter trolls, politicos,” not to be so eager for “a ‘them Muslims’ row.”

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NYT > World > Europe

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