Michigan State Professor Apologizes for Anti-Islam E-mail - Higher Education


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Michigan State Professor Apologizes for Anti-Islam E-mail

by Toni Coleman

EAST LANSING, Mich.

A Michigan State University professor has apologized for the “tactless and hyperbolic language” he used in an e-mail to a Muslim student group in which he labeled Muslims “brutal and uncivilized” and told them to “return to their ancestral homelands.”

Muslim organizations had asked Michigan State University to reprimand Dr. Indrek S. Wichman, a tenured professor in the mechanical engineering department, for sending a Muslim student group the e-mail.

 “It was not intended to impugn the integrity and decency of all Muslims in the United States,” Wichman wrote last month in The State News, MSU’s student newspaper. Wichman said his e-mail attempted to address the issue of free speech, which he felt the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) was trying to suppress through its protests against published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Wichman’s e-mail garnered national media attention and prompted calls to the university from people on both sides of the issue, some seeking his reprimand and some who agreed with what he wrote or supported his right to write it, said Terry Denbow, vice president for university relations.

“Clearly there are misunderstandings about academic freedom and what First Amendment rights are,” Denbow says. Nonetheless, Denbow says the university looked into Wichman’s record to determine if any discrimination complaints had been lodged against him. They found none.   

“He was cautioned that if this became persistent, it would become basis of a complaint under our anti-discrimination policy. But this, in and of itself, did not constitute that,” Denbow says.

MSA and the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had asked that Wichman be reprimanded and that the university offer diversity and sensitivity training to all incoming freshmen and faculty, particularly Wichman. Receiving no response, the groups last month released the Feb. 28, 2006 e-mail to the news media. University officials say they are considering ways to better educate faculty and students about Muslim issues. 

“There are Muslim students on campus who are apprehensive. [They have] fears that other professors at the university have this type of animosity toward Muslim students,” says Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-Michigan. “The university needs to take appropriate action in this case to demonstrate through its actions that anti-Muslim bigotry will not be tolerated on campus.”

In his e-mail to the MSA, Wichman wrote that suicide bombings and other alleged offenses should elicit more outrage than the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. “I counsul (sic) you dissatisfied, aggressive, brutal, and uncivilized slave-trading Moslems to be very aware of this as you proceed with your infantile ‘protests’ … If you do not like the values of the West — see the 1st Ammendment (sic) — you are free to leave. … Please return to your ancestral homelands and build them up yourselves instead of troubling Americans.”

In his letter to the student newspaper, Wichman said he did not mean to offend all Muslims. “Although I am outraged by the abuses committed in the name of Islam, I have only the deepest respect for the many fine Middle Easterners” he has come to know over the years.

“My letter was in no way directed toward them or the many other law-abiding and decent Muslims both here and there.”

— By Toni Coleman



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