Everybody Draw Muhammed Day!

Just a bit of a ramble from me. I think the best context to put this in is the 2005 cartoons controversy, where some cartoons were published in a magazine that depicted the prophet Muhammed, most memorably the one with a bomb in his turban (which actually wasn’t depicting Muhammed for all you trivia-lovers out there, it was just some Muslim and everyone got carried away with it), and subsequently embassies got attacked, people died and there was that infamous protest in London where some muslims carried signs saying ‘death to those who insult Islam’ and ‘UK you will pay’ (if that’s not inciting terrorism I don’t know what is – no arrests though as far as I know).

Let’s just recap at this point. Some people drew cartoons… and in response some muslims killed people.

Now there was also the thing more recently where Comedy Central decided to self-censor and depict Muhammed in a bear suit instead of as himself or something like that in an episode of South Park, but that was really just the straw that broke the camel’s back and seeing as I don’t watch South Park I wasn’t too bothered about that. I don’t blame them to be honest, they have a responsibility to their employees and I wouldn’t be prepared to put someone else’s life at risk of attack. It does seem a little bit hypocritical to attack pretty much every religion except Islam, but that’s something I can understand. The important this is that where South Park failed, the internet took over. You see muslim extremists can attack Danish embassies and Viacom’s studios, but how are they going to attack the internet? You may think that’s a stupid question, that of course they couldn’t attack the internet, but Pakistan actually tried! A judge ordered Facebook, YouTube, and about 500 other websites blocked in Pakistan, which is stupid for several reasons. It’s pretty simple to get around that kind of block but more than that, it put Everybody Draw Muhammed Day into the mainstream media where it can be noticed, instead of just on a few people’s YouTube channels and a Facebook group that people wouldn’t see, particularly if they don’t use Facebook or YouTube. Everywhere I’ve seen mainstream coverage, it’s been saying it was a ‘facebook competition’, which isn’t strictly true, but anything else wouldn’t fit into the media’s long-established narrative that Facebook=Evil.

If you take a look at that BBC story just above, there’s a strange comment which illustrates a weird contradiction in how I feel about this:

I feel that the court should not have blocked facebook and instead let Pakistani muslims use the website as a forum to protest what they felt was wrong and blasphemous. However, I do believe that Facebook should monitor content published on the website and control the formation of potentially volatile groups that could be offensive to certain religions. It is a commonly known fact that muslims feel strongly about pictorial depictions of prophet Mohammad and Allah (God) and, therefore, people should be respectful of that instead of trying to irk muslims and create controversies just to prove that ‘muslims’ in general are a fundamentalist and unreasonable people who do not believe in freedom of speech.
Ansareen, Karachi

The last line tries to make out that muslims do believe in freedom of speech, and yet earlier in the comment they say that facebook should control the formation of potentially volatile groups. The thing about freedom of speech is that you can’t just allow what you personally agree with. Now I actually did take part, here’s my little crappy attempt:

Hopefully you can see it. Why did I do it? Because I support freedom of speech and I wanted to show that, and I also wanted to make clear that I don’t have to follow islamic rules about drawing the prophet, and that people making death threats isn’t going to scare the whole western world into compliance. I didn’t do it to be offensive, in fact as you can see the picture is deliberately not offensive, just a little picture of a guy with a beard. Ordinarily I wouldn’t go out of my way to draw Muhammed, but when people are making death threats because they’re used to having others follow their rules, and suddenly people decide they’re not going to do it anymore, then I think sometimes a demonstration is in order to stand up for freedom of speech and expression, even if other people find what you’re saying offensive. Noone has a right not to be offended.

I know what you’re thinking and I know, I am usually the last one to tar all muslims with the same brush. That’s not what I’m doing here. If you’re a ‘moderate muslim’, someone who doesn’t threaten violence at the drop of a hat, then this is not against you. I’ll even apologise for any offence I’ve caused. I mean people like British Muslims for Secular Democracy, who late last year held a protest holding signs saying things like “Debate those who insult Islam”. The people I don’t mind offending are the ones who want to shut down debate, the ones who threaten violence to get their way (a form of terrorism in itself), the hypersensitive ones who’ll get offended at the drawing of a cartoon. They can go screw themselves, freedom of speech is here to stay, to help protect the rights of everyone.

Now there was an element of this event that I didn’t like. Thunderf00t used completely militant language as if he were fighting a war, talking about waking sleeping giants:

Others used their pictures to be really offensive, showing Muhammed being screwed up the arse for example. I really don’t think there was any need for that. The point was to show Islam as an intolerant religion, many of whose members will get offended at next-to-nothing. If you showed pictures of Jesus getting shagged (or getting sucked off for that matter), Christians would get offended too, so you’ve proved nothing. Other comments bordered on racism, which I really didn’t like. But of course I’m no better than the people trying to censor debate if I try to stop people doing something that I personally found distasteful. So what did I do about it? I left comments on a few pictures saying what they were doing was unnecessary. I made this blogpost explaining why. I used my words to try and persuade. I used my own freedom of speech. That’s how civilised people solve their disputes. No petrol bombs, no death threats. When we have freedom of speech, there’s no need for that kind of primitive behaviour.

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11 Responses to Everybody Draw Muhammed Day!

  1. Greg says:

    Mike this is mostly reasonable, but I feel that you’ve perhaps missed the point by suggesting that certain depictions of Mohammed are offensive, and others not – your suggestion that your (cute) drawing of Mr Hammed is “deliberately not offensive” is incorrect.

    The very principle of depicting Mohammed is inherently offensive – of course intuitively it seems to be far more nasty to show him fucking a horse or a 12-year-old (no comment) but the fact is that for Muslims, ANY representation of Mohammed is offensive, no matter what he’s doing. It’s not a case of whether you mean to attack the religion, it’s just that in Islam the idea that you could even consider attempting to emulate him with a pencil or MS Paint betrays an utter contempt for the respect shown to the prophet, or God, and the principle that it is not even to be attempted to copy either in image.

    Leaving aside the difference between moderates and maderates it is fundamentally contradictory to suggest that there can be an inoffensive depiction – The existence of “Draw Mohamed Day” is simply an attack on Islam, not a defence of free speech. Why the Hell does anybody want the freedom to depict Mohammed? What could we possibly gain from this? It just seems like we’re irritating a beehive because we feel we’re entitled not to take shit from bees. It hurts people, and is it really positive to irk the real bastards of Islam into violence? We know they’re capable of it, why annoy them? Indeed, I fucking hate bees. They’re little bastards, and I know I could have their honey if I wanted but shit, I don’t want to get stung, so I’ll just avoid the hive when possible. The nasty, violent Muslims aren’t getting the freedom of speech message, and they never will – Freedom of speech is one of the pillars of our society, sure, but then so is diversity and to adopt knowingly offensive positions on certain things just seems sort of bizarre. If anything, it has the potential to disillusion moderates who feel that their society is consciously insensitive to their (admittedly irrational) requests.

    It just seems that when translators are getting stabbed and flags are getting burned we might aswell just avoid going there, until depicting Mohammed becomes a necessity for society, like it cures cancer or something.

    Sorry for the rant.

  2. grammarking says:

    OK so where next? When another group demands we don’t do something and threaten to bomb embassies if we do it, do we give in? The point was to show that many muslims ARE intolerant of the slightest offence. Just out of interest, what’s the point in freedom of speech if you don’t exercise it? You’re going to keep the right to blaspheme but in practice let someone bully you into not using it?

    You know the same rules about not depicting God and Muhammed exist in the Bible too, it’s the whole idolatry thing, not making graven images, things like that. Christians wouldn’t expect people from other religions to follow those rules.

  3. Sarah says:

    Somebody sent me this link yesterday which is quite an interesting article in itself, but this passage in particular struck me as true in relation to this drawing Muhammad controversy:

    “To launch a taboo, a group has to be poised halfway between weakness and power. A confident group doesn’t need taboos to protect it. It’s not considered improper to make disparaging remarks about Americans, or the English. And yet a group has to be powerful enough to enforce a taboo. Coprophiles, as of this writing, don’t seem to be numerous or energetic enough to have had their interests promoted to a lifestyle.

    I suspect the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That’s where you’ll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them.”

    Also I saw this post which has some quite entertaining pictures of Muhammad.

    I’m not sure how I feel about drawing Muhammad, but it frustrates me that Muslims can’t seem to see that if only they wouldn’t react, no-one would be at all interested in drawing Muhammad.

  4. Greg says:

    To Grammarking, the point in freedom of speech is the ability of the people in the society to express whatever needs to be expressed. If we wanted, we could all just post pornography all over everywhere. We can do that, so why don’t we? Because we have (a) a sensitivity to those who don’t want to see it and (b) no reason to post it anyway. Same with this. What’s the point? It’s just to piss off Muslims. Why do we need to do that?

    You talk about letting people bully us into not using it. It’s not that these people are bullying us, it’s that if we want to be a rational society, we ought to realise that part of that society is a religious group that get upset over a depiction of one of the aspects of their mythology. So why the f**k do we need to start depicting it? What the hell is the point? Do you want to depict Mohammed for any reason other than just to upset people? We know we have this right but WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO MAKE OBVIOUS???? LEAVE IT THE HELL ALONE!

  5. Greg says:

    For the most part, this doesn’t really reflect at all well on Western society anyway. If this was the society we’re all proud of, and wish to maintain, and whose virtues we extoll, then why in the Hell are we focussing on our right to depict a figure who is only relevant to our society because depicting him upsets a minority group? What is our problem?

    None of this should happen. We don’t go out of our way to depict Buddha fucking a fucking dog, do we? And why not? The reason is most likely because there has never been an issue with Buddhists blowing shit up. So what’s the point? To show those fundamentalists that they can kill as many civilians or threaten as many interpreters as they want, but Western society won’t budge? Who gives a shit? People are dying, and nothing’s being proven. It’s a waste of time, and people who are serious about the anti-fundamentalist endeavour could be spending time on far, far more worthy goals than this petty irritation of the Muslim world (most of whom aren’t violent or sadistic, just pissed off with the insensitivity).

  6. grammarking says:

    If I insulted someone’s mother, and the guy stabbed me for it, would you also come and blame me for insulting his mother? Or would you call the guy a psycho and blame him?

    I can’t help thinking that if I called Muhammed a paedophile, or blamed Islam for turning the Middle-East into a cultural backwater, genuinely insulting the religion (albeit with true statements), you would have absolutely no problem with it. And yet because a significant number of people are getting pissed off about it, you’re backing down.

  7. Your mom says:

    It wasnt even Muhammed in the bear suit. It was Santa. See the episode.

  8. […] started thinking about this in the context of Everybody Draw Muhammed Day, and why I thought differently about this burn a koran day than I did about drawing Muhammed, and […]

  9. […] that yesterday was International Blasphemy Day. That might not be as good as drawing these on Everybody Draw Muhammed Day, but we are sorta part of a […]

  10. BILLY SAIS says:

    I hate this!!!! Stop lying about ISLAM! yOU ARE JUST HATERS OF ALLAH!!!
    mAY HE PUNISH YOU DEVIL!!!!

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