A group of Somali immigrants protested outside the Refugee Women’s Alliance in Seattle on Friday to demand the firing of a teacher who had shown students cartoons of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
The teacher under fire, Deepa Bhandaru, displayed the images for the group of teenage students last month, the day after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, The Seattle Globalist reports.
Two radical Muslim immigrants massacred 11 people during the terrorist attack.
Bhandaru, a recent recipient of a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Washington (also in Seattle), had been teaching a free class at the Refugee Women’s Alliance when she showed the cartoons to the kids.
The lesson topic for that day’s workshop was religious pluralism and freedom of speech.
The protest against Bhandaru occurred late Friday afternoon. Perhaps 15 to 20 people attended. A man named Hassan Diis was passing around pre-printed signs in English, according to a journalist on the scene.
Diis, who describes himself as a Somali community activist and a devout Muslim, said he was angered after he heard that the teacher showed cartoon images of Muhammad to Somali teens.
“We don’t want someone to brainwash our children,” he told The Daily Caller. “The prophet is very important for us.”
Diis added that he believes that Bhandaru, who he says is not a Muslim, should no longer instruct Somali students at the Refugee Women’s Alliance.
“We want her to leave this community alone,” the Somali activist told TheDC. “We want the organization to hire someone who understands the culture and values of our immigrant Muslim community.”
Somalia is an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country. Islam is the nation’s official religion.
Bhandaru has apologized profusely for offending anyone. She said 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.
The students themselves weren’t upset by the content of her lesson plan, Bhandaru has noted. They tended to agree with the fully American notion that “sometimes one person’s freedom might offend another person, but that’s the price we pay to be free,” she told The Stranger, a Seattle alternative weekly.
Protest organizers refuse to be placated, however.
“They’ve been manipulating the fact that the people don’t speak the language,” Bhandaru told The Stranger. “The parents who are upset aren’t the parents of my kids. They’re trying to gain power politically.”
“There’s a political vacuum in their community,” Bhandaru also said. “There aren’t a lot of organizations serving them except for the mosque.”
She suggested that Diis won’t let go of the controversy for his own political reasons.
“For Hassan, maybe this is his Ferguson moment. He wants the spotlight,” she said.
When the protest occurred on Friday, the Refugee Women’s Alliance had shut down for the week due to vandalism and subsequent fears for the safety of the staff.
Protesters said they believe Bhandaru crossed some criminal line when she showed cartoon images of Muhammad.
“I don’t think it’s free speech to talk about somebody’s religion, somebody’s beloved prophet like that,” one protester, Fatma Yessef, told The Seattle Globalist.
An internal investigation by officials at the Refugee Women’s Alliance will determine Bhandaru’s fate as a teacher of free courses.