UNC's student paper is the target of a sit-in

The Daily Tar Heel is asked to apologize for running a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad

Staff WriterFebruary 21, 2006 

UNC-Chapel Hill student Hani Barakat leads students in prayer in The Daily Tar Heel office. 'I'm staying as long as the group stays,' Barakat said. 'If we get food, I don't see what can stop us.'

STAFF PHOTO BY PAILIN WEDEL

The Daily Tar Heel usually covers campus sit-ins. On Monday, the student newspaper was the target of one.

More than a dozen students marched into The Daily Tar Heel offices at UNC-Chapel Hill and plopped down on the floor to protest the newspaper's publication of an editorial cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. They said they wouldn't leave until the newspaper apologized.

"A student newspaper serves the students," Salma Mirza, a Muslim student from Buffalo, N.Y., said as she read a statement to DTH staffers. "It should not attack students under the pretense of 'promoting open dialogue.' This decision marginalized and belittled many students, and we are banding together in the fear that the precedent of this incident will lead to further attacks on the student body."

The newspaper's editor, Ryan Tuck, said the protesters were welcome to stay in the offices as long as they did not disrupt the work of student journalists. He said he was sorry that anyone was personally offended by the cartoon, "but we will not issue an apology for its publication."

The protesters propped up posters that read "Respect" and "Stop Yellow Journalism." They studied and chatted in small groups in the cramped offices while reporters tapped away on computer keyboards as the daily deadline approached.

The sit-in followed nearly two weeks of campus debate about the cartoon, drawn by a student cartoonist and published by the newspaper Feb. 9. The Muslim Students Association immediately called for an apology and sponsored a forum last week about the issue.

The editorial cartoon, drawn by senior Philip McFee, showed a turban-wearing Muhammad expressing dismay over worldwide violence that erupted after publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet.

On Monday, students handed Tuck a petition signed by about 100 people who vowed not to pick up The Daily Tar Heel until the paper apologized.

Matt Knisley, a medical student from Siler City, said he joined the protest because he thought publishing the cartoon was an irresponsible and offensive act by the student journalists.

"To this day, I really don't understand why they did it," said Knisley, who is not Muslim.

Staff writer Jane Stancill can be reached at 956-2464 or janes@newsobserver.com.

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