The day after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Deepa Bhandaru showed some of the cartoons that prompted the attack to students at the Refugee Women’s Alliance in Seattle. Bhandaru showed the cartoons in the context of a discussion on religious pluralism and freedom of speech. The cartoons she showed to her students, most if not all of whom are Muslims, reportedly were not the more inflammatory, sexual images.
Now, a group of Somali immigrants is demanding that Bhandaru be fired. In addition, the Refugee Women’s Alliance has been subjected to vandalism. It closed for a week due to fear for the safety of its staff.
Bhandaru has apologized for offending people. According to the Daily Caller, she sent a 2,300-word letter of apology to her colleagues at the Refugee Women’s Alliance and a 500-word apology to the Abu-Bakr Islamic Center, a local mosque that some of her students attend.
But Bhandaru hasn’t caved completely. When the Somali protesters continued to demand her sacking, she attributed their vehemence to politics. Noting that “there’s a political vacuum in [the Somali] community,” Bhandaru suggested that the protest leader is hoping to fill the vacuum. “Maybe this is his Ferguson moment; he wants the spotlight,” she added.
Bhandaru also claimed that her students weren’t upset by the content of her lesson plan. They tended to agree that “sometimes one person’s freedom might offend another person, but that’s the price we pay to be free,” she said.
This, I think, is the point of the protest. Was Bhandaru’ primary offense showing the cartoons or teaching religious pluralism? Most likely, it’s the latter. After all, she apologized for the former. Moreover, the protesters aren’t just demanding that cartoons of Muhammad no longer be shown; they insist that Bhandaru “leave this community alone,” and that the Women’s Refugee Alliance “hire someone who understands the culture and values of our immigrant Muslim community.”
In other words, the culture and values of America must give way to those of immigrant Muslims. This demand is, I believe, unprecedented in the long history of American immigration.
The Women’s Refugee Alliance is considering whether to retain Bhandaru as a teacher. Her dismissal would amount to capitulation to those dead set against the values at the core of the American civic creed.
UPDATE: In case you can’t read the sign the protester is carrying in the picture that accompanies this post on the main page, it says “Freedom of speech; not freedom to offend.” This view, of course, cannot be reconciled with the American civic creed.
It’s fine for protesters to display such signs, but if the philosophy costs teachers their jobs, we’re in serious trouble.