U.S. professor under fire after comments on Muslims

Tuesday April 25, 9:00 AM


DETROIT (Reuters) - A Michigan State University
professor who referred to Muslims as "brutal and
uncivilized" and urged Islamic students to return to
their "ancestral homelands" came under fire from a
civil rights group on Monday.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called
engineering professor Indrek Wichman's remarks
"Islamaphobic" and issued a statement quoting the
e-mail that prompted the controversy.

"The university needs to take appropriate disciplinary
action in this case to demonstrate through its actions
that anti-Muslim bigotry will not be tolerated on
campus," said Dawud Walid, head of the rights group's
Michigan chapter.

Wichman wrote in an e-mail to the Muslim Students
Association in February that the group should stop
protesting cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad,
which prompted international riots after they were
published in a Danish newspaper.

Referring to "dissatisfied, aggressive, brutal and
uncivilized slave-trading Muslims," Wichman said those
uncomfortable with American free speech were "free to

"I hope for God's sake that most of you choose that
option," Wichman wrote in the e-mail made public on
Monday. "Please return to your ancestral homelands and
build them up yourselves instead of troubling

Wichman, who specializes in studying how fire starts
and spreads, said he regretted that a private e-mail
had been made public. "I wrote it in haste," he told
Reuters. "It's a shame it was made public."

Walid said his group had urged university officials to
discipline Wichman, but "They said they didn't feel
they could take any tangible disciplinary action."

A spokesman for MSU said Wichman had been warned that
any further comments of a similar kind could prompt a
formal complaint under the university's
anti-discrimination policy.

The Detroit area has one of the largest and
fastest-growing Muslim communities in the United
States, which is home to some 7 million Muslims.

Wichman said his remarks were meant as a defense of
free speech. "It's not a call for mass deportation or
vigilantism," he said. "I just care deeply about the
First Amendment and the right to say what you think."

His suggestion that Muslims uncomfortable with
America's open culture should leave was not
unreasonable, Wichman said, adding that he hoped the
controversy would die down soon.

"I have several Muslim students and I like them all. I
don't have a political ax to grind," Wichman said.

(Reporting by Jui Chakravorty and Kevin Krolicki) 

MSU prof's e-mail outrages Muslims
Speech protected, school tells students
April 25, 2006


An Islamic student group at Michigan State University
demanded Monday that university officials publicly
reprimand a professor whose Feb. 28 e-mail called on
Muslims who don't "like the values of the West" to
leave the United States.

But MSU officials said there's little that can be done
to punish Indrek Wichman, 55, a tenured professor of
mechanical engineering, because his comments
essentially constitute free speech. Wichman sent the
message to the Muslim Students' Association of
Michigan State University while it handed out free
cocoa during a public awareness event about
controversial cartoons that depicted Islam's founder
as a terrorist.

The cartoons, one of which depicted Muhammad wearing a
turban shaped like a bomb, sparked violent protests
and riots around the world in February.

"I am offended not by cartoons, but by more mundane
things like beheadings of civilians, cowardly attacks
on public buildings, suicide murders," Wichman wrote.

He went on to say: "I counsul you dissatisfied,
agressive, brutal, and uncivilized slave-trading
Moslems to be very aware of this as you proceed with
your infantile 'protests.' "

The Muslim Students' Association, along with 12 other
student and advocacy groups, called Monday for the
university to issue a letter of reprimand. They have
met several times with university officials since Feb.
28 and went public with the e-mail Monday because the
school had not acted.

Terry Denbow, spokesman for MSU, said Wichman's views
in no way represent the university's views. But, he
said, they do not violate the university's
antidiscrimination policy.

"He was cautioned that any additional commentary ...
could constitute the creation of a hostile
environment, and that could ... form the basis of a
complaint" under the policy, Denbow said.

He said he considers the comments "very inappropriate.
And I personally wish he would apologize to the

To Farhan Abdul Azeez, an MSU senior studying human
biology and the president of the student association,
the e-mail was startling.

"Naturally, I was very upset. I was disgusted. All of
those emotions went through my body," said Azeez, 20,
of Canton.

In addition to a reprimand, the student group wants
the university to implement diversity training
programs for faculty and a mandatory freshman seminar
on hate and discrimination.

"The best way to limit or to kind of defuse hate is
through education, no doubt," said Maryam Khalil, 18,
a sophomore from East Lansing studying journalism.
Khalil is vice president of the association.

Denbow said discussions with students about
sensitivity training are ongoing.

"We're not only willing to, but eager to listen to the
students. Their commentary to date has been
thoughtful," Denbow said.

Reached at home Monday evening, Wichman said he had

"I used strong language in a private communication
that I would certainly not have used if this
communication would have gone public," he said.

But he stressed the importance of free speech.

"I believe very strongly in free speech and free
expression. It is one of the building blocks of this
great republic in which we live. And any attempts to
abridge or diminish it are serious matters."

The Michigan chapter of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations also is urging the
university to take "appropriate disciplinary" action,
saying the e-mail creates a hostile learning
environment for students.

"It was upsetting, yet sad" that a tenured professor
could make such comments, said Dawud Walid, executive
director of the council. "It's scary when you think
about the power that this gentleman has" as a

Walid said that MSU has the academic and moral
obligation to publicly denounce the e-mail, conduct a
formal investigation and have sensitivity training on
how to deal with Muslims on campus.

The university should "strongly and publicly
disassociate themselves from the statement," Walid

Azeez said education is most important.

"There's a bigger problem here of racism and
discrimination at Michigan State University. Faculty
training and sensitivity training are very important
to help prevent future incidents like this from
occurring," he said.

Contact LORI HIGGINS at 248-351-3694 or


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