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Lecturer suspended over racist Muhammad email

22 Feb 2013, 12:09

Published: 22 Feb 2013 12:09 GMT+01:00

"Hello Anneli, can you help Muhammad? He's probably come straight from Mecca," wrote Swedish lecturer and local Centre Party politician Hans-Erik Hellborg after receiving a request for guidance from newly admitted student Merhan Mahmoudi.

However, the email never went to the colleague, as Hellborg apparently hit the reply button by mistake, instead sending the note to Mahmoudi.

"I was shocked and disappointed. This is unacceptable," the 23-year-old, who was inquiring about how to register for a course at Dalarna University (Högskolan Dalarna), told the TT news agency.

Mahmoudi uploaded a screenshot of the email exchange to Facebook, which prompted the creation of an online group calling for the fumbling teacher's resignation.

Hellsborg, meanwhile, has quickly backtracked and referred to the incident as a joke.

"It was a bad, crude joke," he told the Nyheter24.se news website.

"I wrote back to him: 'I'm truly sorry - it was an error of judgement. It was supposed to be taken as a joke, but unfortunately it wasn't funny at all. I apologize. Welcome to the course.'"

Hellborg's attempt at being funny, however, has caused university officials to react.

"We're following our procedures and we're conducting an investigation that we hope won't take too long," Högskolan Dalarna principal Marita Hilliges told Sveriges Television.

Story continues below…

"Until we have concluded our investigation, he has been relieved of teaching duties."

TT/The Local/og

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Your comments about this article

13:29 February 22, 2013 by silversurfer
Unreal. They will kill you for a cartoon with a bomb and now this. What a religion!
14:18 February 22, 2013 by Iraniboy
Well you don't joke with someone you have never met!
14:22 February 22, 2013 by The Nine
This is ridiculous on the part of the education authorities. Its is not really a racist comment. It is making a small innocuous joke on a name. Had the original email come from someone with the name Zlatan, would it be considered racist if the lecturer had written 'Anneli, can you help Zlatan? He's probably just arrived from training with PSG'
14:38 February 22, 2013 by michsimon
i don 't see any racisn in that but mostly a joke...
15:05 February 22, 2013 by Rishonim
Of course you will not see the racism in his joke because most of you are prone to do the same. I am most certain is the same reaction hiring managers have when seeing a foreign sounding names on people's CV's but instead of sending a reply, they quickly hit the delete button.
15:10 February 22, 2013 by TG22
@Iraniboy: Specially it he's a Muslim...
15:38 February 22, 2013 by travel consultant
Sweden is a racist and hypocritical country. Ask any Asian, African, Latin American or Easter European in the streets of Stockholm. The nation has a superiority complex that is shocking.
15:46 February 22, 2013 by amkpe
@silversurfer@TG22 !!! The problem is exactly in here, clearly presented in your comments. How did you come to the conclusion that a foreign name starting with an M is a Mohammed and consequently a Muslim, suicide bomber and whatever else you call it. The guy's name is Mehran and family name is Mahmoodi, It is not Mohammed, it is not Allah AKbar it is does not contain any islamic $h*t in it, yet when it is foreign it will be subjected to your racial profiling!

I am pretty sure the guy is as Swedish as any of you except the hair color, and the name, may be he is circumcised down there, but that's all.

On what grounds are you depriving him from pursuing his constitutional rights? In the best case, as you or the lecturer are claiming, how would someone feel that in an academic environment he is just a joke to the staff based on his name or racial profile?
16:17 February 22, 2013 by bcterry
"Humiliation and wretchedness were stamped on the muslims and they were visited with Allah's wrath."

"But you [muslims] went back on your word and were lost losers. So become apes, despised and hated. We made an example out of you."

"The muslims are a nation of liars.... The muslims are a treacherous, lying, and evil people."

"Allah made the muslims leave their homes by terrorizing them so that you killed some and made many captive. And He made you inherit their lands, their homes, and their wealth. He gave you a country you had not traversed before."

"The bestial transformation occurred when Allah turned muslims into apes, despised."

"Sufficient for the muslim is the Flaming Fire!"

"Has the narration reached you of the overwhelming (calamity)? Some faces (all muslims) that Day, will be humiliated, downcast, scorched by the burning fire, while they are made to drink from a boiling hot spring."

"We sent a plague upon the muslims from heaven, for their evil-doing."

"We shall rouse Our slaves to shame and ravage you muslims, disfiguring your faces. They will enter the mosque as before and destroy, laying to waste all that they conquer."

"The muslim transgressors changed and perverted the word from that which had been spoken to them to a word distorted; so We sent a plague upon them from heaven, for their evil-doing."

"Humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon the muslims and they were visited with wrath from Allah."
16:26 February 22, 2013 by AnEye

Lolzzz, I could not have put any better than this.

It was just epic, to see all of these people making comments about muslim without even reading the story properly :D just epic.
16:26 February 22, 2013 by Svensksmith
It was foolish what this teacher wrote, but to fire him over it seems overly sensitive especially in light of the imam who preached over the radio that it was okay to kill apostates and was not disciplined at all.
16:40 February 22, 2013 by james_g
What in - er, well - allah's name is RACIST about this? It isn't lampooning! It's just light-hearted! The lecturer was simply asking his colleague to provide the asked-for help to the student! Mohammed - Mecca - straightforward word association. Total over-reaction!
16:57 February 22, 2013 by Khazara
"White people in Sweden and Mulattoes who speak Arabic. Don't care for neither of them. I'm just here for the free college courses." Says African Man
17:01 February 22, 2013 by peterrkj
As a lecturer and a politician he should be well educated enough to know that Mohammad and muhmoudi are 2 completely different names like mike and mark in English. I also find it funny that here in Sweden they are rascist towards foreigners and middle easterners yet 90% of the country are Christian and follow the teachings of Jesus who was middle eastern Jewish and real name in Hebrew was yeshua and probably was a different skin colour and didn't look like a member of abba so why not hate Christians aswell or am I missing something about the Swedish train of thought if there is one or is it just blind hate of anything different from what your used too.
18:06 February 22, 2013 by Reason and Realism
What, precisely, is the 'unacceptable' part of the humour?

Let's say Ricardo Vickari shows up, and the professor lightheartedly says in an email: 'Vick from the Vatican has just shown up, can you give him some guidance?'

Does Ricardo get the professor fired because he mixed up and abbreviated his first and last name?

Or does he get the professor fired because he implied that with an Italian sounding name he is probably a Catholic?

Or is the Catholic religion so utterly repugnant to Ricardo that the slightest lighthearted joke in a private email that suggests that he arrived from the world center of Catholicism warrants the dismissal of this professor?

Over reacting in public, just because you can (in Sweden), is not automatically noble and appropriate. A quiet discussion with the professor in the presence of his superiors with a letter of apology from the professor thrown in would have sufficed .
18:31 February 22, 2013 by allnotmoney
why not joke with Jesus just came from jerusalem
19:15 February 22, 2013 by Max Reaver
Have you even seen the picture of the email conversation??? The email from Mehran was clearly in SWEDISH, there is no way the lecturer could've gotten that wrong and thought Mehran came straight from Mecca. The school made the right decision by SUSPENDING him (he has not been fired yet, folk!). He made a couple mistakes: first he couldnt see difference between Mehran and Mohammed; second, he was stupid enough to send the email by mistake to Mehran himself. He has shown a few bad traits: stupidity, ignorance, xenophobia and prejudice. Högskolan Dalarna is not known to be a good school, this incident is bad PR. For the school, the best thing to do is to distance themselves with this man through a suspension.

For those idiots who like to suggest hypothetical examples, take this one: what if Mehran's family is actually Christian, as a Christian minority from mideast? Since you are so fund of hypothetic scenarios, how about this one eh? You can't say it's never possible. Most ppl here are clearly biased towards Christianity, tell me if it happened to you, then you wouldn't be upset about it? If you dont think the joke is "unacceptable", it's futile to argue how "acceptable" it really is, since the only person who has the right to speak is the victim of the inappropriate joke. Try make a Hitler joke in the German parliament, or say something like "Johann probably came directly from the Reich". I'm sure some will always find such jokes laughable and loads of Germans will be offended.
19:58 February 22, 2013 by bcterry
18:31 February 22, 2013 by allnotmoney

why not joke with Jesus just came from jerusalem "


"jokes about jesus"

Lots of jokes, many insulting art works, no end to the amount of pictures, criticism, etc. etc.

None of them that made them lost their lives over it.

Muslims need to get over themselves, they're not special, and neither is their fascist ideology.
20:22 February 22, 2013 by irridium
How long must we walk on eggshells in order not to offend such thin skinned people?
22:35 February 22, 2013 by Children Of Adam
Swedes always joke at your back and make fun of other non-Swedes, I have seen it many times but when you are with them their are very shy.

By the way, Mecca sends billions of dollars to Sweden by buying the Swedish weapons, most of the western countries got rich by selling their deadly weapons to Asians.

As a Muslim myself, it is not offending and I believe he just joked it, so the university should take it easy. The only difference between Swedes joking and Muslims joking is that Muslims always joke in front of you. It is not just good to be double faced.
23:19 February 22, 2013 by bcterry
As a Muslim myself, it is not offending and I believe he just joked it, so the university should take it easy. The only difference between Swedes joking and Muslims joking is that Muslims always joke in front of you. It is not just good to be double faced. "

00:44 February 23, 2013 by Ulvenkai
Once again, people's ridiculous hyper sensitivity goes ape.

I'd say it was more of a cultural joke than a religious or even racist one. People need to get over themselves. They give the more down-to-earth folk a bad rap.
02:28 February 23, 2013 by bcterry
"The only difference between Swedes joking and Muslims joking is that Muslims always joke in front of you. It is not just good to be double faced. "

Speaking of double faced, muslims tell you one thing to your face, and when your back is turned they mock you and say something totally opposite.
02:30 February 23, 2013 by Reason and Realism
@ Max Reaver

You must really hate Muslims to imply that to refer to someone as a Muslim who is not a Muslim is the same thing as referring to a German as a Hitler supporter or someone from the Third Reich.

If you have Muslim friends who invite you to dinner, maybe you should tap on your glass with your spoon after dinner and share this opinion of yours with them.
10:30 February 23, 2013 by Max Reaver
@Reason and Realism

Hahahaha you are funny! From where did you get that I hate Muslims? Can you even read between the lines? I don't hate Muslims, just ask my Muslim friends.

What I said was if you mistake the devoted followers of Joseph Ratzinger as Muslim, then they might feel offended. It's the same thing as if you refer to a German as someone from the Third Reich, they might feel offended too. So in this case, how "appropriate" a joke is can only be decided by the recipient, not the deliverer or bystanders like you.

Then again, if the news states that a Swedish student with a German name sent an email to this lecturer, and he replied "Johann came probably directly from 3rd Reich", would you say its not inappropriate?
11:46 February 23, 2013 by Reason and Realism
@ Max Reaver

The 3rd Reich was the most brutal, destructive, and genocidal dictatorship in the 20th century. It is never appropriate to assume or to joke that a student with a German sounding name is a Nazi.

The Muslim faith is a religion.

If a professor makes the mistake of assuming you are Muslim, it is not a gross violation of your human rights and a reason to have the Professor fired or suspended.

And if I was Muslim, I would be deeply insulted that you feel that to be called a Muslim is so humiliating to you that you would erupt into a wild public rage and demand that this professor be fired.
12:07 February 23, 2013 by HorstRadisch
It was a crap joke. But a sackable offence? Jesus H Christ on a bike, how thin-skinned can we humans get?

If I turned up at a uni in Iran and a prof said "Reply to this guy's email, would you, he's probably just landed from Bethlehem (or Jerusalem)" I'd think he was an idiot and that would be the end of it.

The idea that he could be sacked for such a poor effort at humour actually scares me MUCH more than the fact that an educated man would say such a thing.
14:57 February 23, 2013 by Max Reaver
@Reason and realism

Now I know you didnt even bother to read the news article properly. The student, Mehran never personally demanded the teacher to be fired. In fact he's far away from being fired. The school suspended him temporarily due to PR reasons. If you dislike his suspension, dont blame the student, blame the school.

Furthermore it wasn't even a joke between the teacher and Mehran. The teacher was making fun of Mehran (whom he never met) with another teacher and got caught. The school will probably also look into the anti-Muslim sentiment among teaching staff in their investigation. If Dalarna Högskolan is perceived as an xenophobic institute where making fun of students with immigrant background is normal, then the school's reputation is seriously at stake.

As I said, neither of us has the right to decide if Mehran should feel offended or not by this "joke". Even if you feel that he overreacted, that is his right, and his choice. He also has the right to inform people about this incident, even if it's not very diplomatic. The rest of the moves came from the school. If the teacher actually gets fired, the ones who make the ultimate decision comes from the principal office, and never the student. Be careful to not blame the wrong guy.
19:28 February 24, 2013 by klubbnika
Typical Swedes: say something derogatory about one's origin and refrain to "joking" when confronted with it. Of course it's a joke. A RACIST joke. The guys's name is not even Mohammed. Good that the offender is being dealt with.
12:41 February 25, 2013 by D. ane
How dare a lecturer make a joke about anything never mind this sort of thing.

You have to become part of some homogeneous humanity rather than show

any personal traits. I used to make jokes and largely got away with it, but then I have a foreign background.

Losing his job over this is ridiculous.

Some friends at uni used to call their muslim friend Osama bin Laden, then after 9/11 all that stopped and everyone was more formal. Sad.
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