May 24, 2010
Everyone Draw Mohammed Day drew international attention this week. The event’s author has received death threats and Pakistan actually blocked Facebook, YouTube, and other sites over the incident. In South Africa, the Mail & Guardian received death threats after Zapiro, one of their cartoonists, drew this image. As for me? I drew this:
I’ve been called out on it by several people now, all with the preconception that I did so as an attack on Islam. I’ve been called an academic snob. An elitist intellectual who thinks he has all the answers. I’ve been accused of being insensitive to what it feels like to be marginalized. If it was an exercise on free speech that drew anti-Semitic images, I would never have participated, but I went after Islamic radicals because they are easy targets, easy to hate.
I’m calling “crap” on all counts.
First of all, this is not an attack on Islam. The people who make death threats against anyone violating the tenets of a faith happen to be Muslims and they base this particular grievance on hadith, supplemental traditions, not the Qu’ran itself.
If Christians said I could not take the Lord’s name in vain or I would be shot, would I be correct in calling them out for their religious fanaticism, or would you say I was being insensitive and attacking Christianity? If you want to be part of a free society in which anyone is free to satire, comment, critique, and otherwise express him or herself, you have to accept that, at some point, someone will say something you don’t like.
Guess what? You have the right to disagree and tell others to get intimate with a well-endowed horse. You do not, however, have the right to use threats of violence against something you find offensive. We lost people a few years ago because of this, and now that we’ve started self-censoring, even if it was over something as stupid as a South Park episode, I’m not going to stay silent.
I’ve been told that this takes us away from rational debate, and while I’m all for sitting down and exchanging pleasantries with someone over any topic, drawing Mohammed as part of this movement was not, at least for me, part of any debate. It was a protest, a flare fired into the air. It was designed to show that I will not be intimidated by radicals and I stand alongside artists who wish to exercise their freedom.
Now that it’s over, I’d like to talk.
You see, we all have the right to believe and say what we want. The free exchange of ideas and information is the foundation for modern science, academia, and one of the driving forces behind the evolution of art. I have the right to my opinion, but coercion is not part of that deal. You don’t get to say whatever you want, espouse a belief, then demand that others remain silent because their beliefs offend you.
You want free speech? Everyone else gets it. Otherwise, it’s not free speech.
While moderate Muslims may cringe at a depiction of the Prophet, they must admit that it is a freedom. If we censor ourselves based on what religions we offend, we would not be able to do anything. Freedom of expression and freedom of speech do not mean we are free from insults and blasphemy. It means we can go after those insults and falsehoods and whatever else comes our way with words. And it means I do not have to fear a reprisal for saying what I believe.
One of the more convincing arguments regarding Everyone Draw Mohammed Day is that depicting the Prophet is as insulting to Muslims as the n-word is to blacks or Holocaust denial is to Jews. Drawing Mohammed in protest, then, is insensitive.
Can I have pork if it offends a rabbi? Should I support my gay friends if a pastor tells me homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God? Can I eat hot dogs on Friday and piss off three major faiths at once? Should I judge all my actions on faiths that are not my own just on the off-chance they will offend someone? As I understand it, the commandment that states images of the Prophet should not be made states that BELIEVERS should not make said images. I am not a believer and, therefore, not subject to these rules.
And that’s the key behind this protest. I am not bound by the rules of Islam any more than they are bound by the rules and tenets of Texas A&M International University, my employer. A hasidic Jew has no obligation to pay respect to Christmas celebrations. An atheist has no obligation to not touch the flesh of a dead pig. A Christian has no obligation to not draw an image of Mohammed.
There is, I know, such a thing as respect. When I enter a synagogue, I wear a yarmulke. If we’re going to have company over and I know one of them is Hindu, I won’t cook beef. These are actions done out of respect.
I do not respect someone who prays for the death of free speech. The Mohammed these radicals look to is not the Mohammed of peaceful Muslims any more than the Jesus of the Westborough Baptist Church is the Jesus of Mother Theresa.
And may I add that, despite all these death threats, not a single person was harmed because of Draw Mohammed Day. Threatened, yes, but not harmed. Could it be that these threats are just piss and bile and nothing substantial will come of them? Do these radicals tarnish their faith and their god by going after the weak and powerless and have finally shown themselves for the cowards that they are? I hope so.
Actions speak louder than words. The radicals can chant for death all they want and some of the moderates may remain silent, but I’ve shown you what I think of religion infringing on the rights of people, let alone the rights of people who have no obligation whatsoever to follow that particular religious law.
If you want to play in the arena of free thought and expression, grow a pair and accept the good with the bad.
If you want to discuss the topic in general, there’s a category in the forum right here. Feel free to start any topics you’d like.