Panel discusses free speech

By Cheyene Miller

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The line between satire and defamation was subject to discussion in the Student Center on Wednesday during a panel discussion featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader and several UK professors.

The panel discussed the massacre of staff members at the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, and tried to offer points as to how and why Paris has come to the point of a cultural ultimatum.

“France has a long tradition of critical and satirical press,” said history professor Jeremy Popkin, who noted that Charlie Hebdo’s controversial style of satire is unmatched by anyone in the U.S., and that the New York Times has refused to publish their cartoons in the past.

Associate professor Ihsan Bagby offered the opinion that the events were not solely the result of a cartoon, but are representative of feelings of disrespect of Islamic culture.

“Disagreement is okay,” Bagby said. “Defamation is a problem. Muslims have no problem with disagreement but they don’t understand why defamation has to be part of free speech.”

Pett offered a unique perspective on the panel, in that he works in the satirical news business, just like the staff of Charlie Hebdo. Pett was critical of American publications like the New York Times, who he called the “biggest chicken sh*ts in the business,” for not seeking controversial stances.

Graduate student Brittany Ketter, who is studying French and Francophone, said that she had come to the discussion “seeking more information on Islamophobia in France.”

Ketter said that she sympathized with some of Bagby’s points that Islam is disrespected, particularly in Western culture.

“I don’t see it as satire, it’s a poor attempt at provoking people,” said Ketter, who also noted “obviously it doesn’t warrant violence.”

Bagby said that the Muslim community has no major problems with the majority of cartoons that depict Muhammad in a positive or neutral manner, but that publications should be careful not to cross certain lines out of respect.

“The line that that crosses is this line of decency that none of us would cross,” said Pett, countering Bagby’s point. “I would never do that to you out of respect for your religion. But that doesn’t mean that if you wanted to you shouldn’t be able to do it. You can do it.”