Opinion

Cartoonists Vs. Islamic Iconoclasts: Have You Drawn Mohammed Today?

These are glimpses of the original 12 Danish Mohammad cartoons from 2006 that sparked the international furor by fundamentalist Muslims, and that led to the firebombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan (via face-of-muhammed.blogspot.com)

It’s the Internet, so one can assume that sacrilegious behavior is par for the course, but yesterday’s Everybody Draw Mohammed Day is one of the zaniest I’ve encountered in ages.

How Mohammad is often depicted in historic Islamic manuscripts … and you thought only fundamentalist Muslim women were veiled. (via Mohammed Image Archive)

Other than the fact that any student of Islamic art history can tell you that the supposed prohibition against depicting the Islamic prophet has historically never been fully enforced in Muslim societies, I have to admit that it is funny to watch religious zealots go ballistic over something they should never have control over — what other people do, say, or draw.

The latest protest began after some Islamic fundamentalists went crazy over the 201st episode of the animated South Park series, which was suppose to depict the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Not only was the image censored by the network (without the show creators’ permission), but Comedy Central (the network that shows the series) bleeped Mohammed’s name, and cut a speech about intimidation and fear. Some have even suggested that the episode was partly responsible for the recent attempt to bomb Times Square — though that seems unclear now.

How this latest protest came about is quite ridiculous — though I guess one should suspect anything called “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day!” would be spawned out of pure hilarity. Here’s the back story: Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris drew a cartoon last month that announced a fictional “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day!”In it everyday objects profess to be the likeness of the Islamic prophet, and the whole thing was dedicated to the besieged creators of South Park. The problem for Norris is that some people ran with it and it became an international phenomenon. Sadly, now Norris is scared to death and her personal website is doing everything possible to separate herself from the fray. I think it’s pretty obvious she has received death threats and other abusive emails/notes to force her into this situation. She has even  posted a revised version of her original cartoon.

As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Wednesday:

Norris has posted apologies, joined protest groups, talked with national media and given her site a mea culpa makeover to try to distance herself from her monster.

Detail of Molly Norris' original Mohammed cartoon (via EVERYWHERE)

Some editorial cartoonists have decided to take part in the cartoon protest, but some don’t agree with the “staged” event, according to the Washington Post.

Since Norris posted her original image, the event has spread to Facebook and dozens of Mohammed drawing day pages (some for, some against) have emerged.

What Norris should know is that her need to apologize to Muslims is ridiculous and not based in history. Depictions of Mohammed have been created even in Muslim societies — though granted they are rare — and have been acceptable as long as they were not used in a religious context. They appear in science texts, and other non-religious documents, so a secular newspaper should be fair game for a representation of Mohammed, right? If you agree, you’re probably being far too rational about this.

Protest signs in Pakistan against yesterday's “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day!” (via Christian Science Monitor)

The celebration of freedom of speech in a multicultural society guarantees that people who say or draw things you don’t agree with should still be allowed to do so. Anyone who has watched Glenn Beck’s daily attacks on US President Barack Obama knows he should be allowed to if we are going to safeguard our society’s strong belief in freedom of speech

If “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day!” has partially been hijacked by some ideological extremists who are using the fake “holiday” to slam Islam as a whole, then that’s a particular beef with those people and their misguided rage. I mean, it’s nothing new, Christmas is often used by Christians as a way to decry and denounce the supposed War on Christmas by non-Christians or those not pure enough in their Christian faith. The reality is fundamentalists and religious radicals will always find a way to blame others for disrespecting their religion.

Yet, the recent wave of violence by Islamic fundamentalists towards cartoonists and artists who have depicted Mohammed or are perceived to have denigrated Islam is alarming. From the death of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, to the recent attack on Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, there is no room for that level of intolerance in a multicultural society.

I guess this is NOT supposed to exist. Full medieval ilustration in a astronomical text showing Mohammed (on the right) preaching his final sermon, currently housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. (via Mohammed Image Archive)

In response to the “Have You Drawn Mohammed?” day, Pakistan has blocked YouTube and Facebook, and Saudi Arabia has blocked the Facebook group rallying supporters of the visual protest. I tried to find a link to the Facebook Group but it now appears to have been completely removed by Facebook. It does exist in a cached version on Google though — for now anyway. (Aside: further proof that the online dominance of Facebook is cause for worry.)

I’ll leave the last word to Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore:

Cartoonists don’t kill people … religious zealots who are destroying Islam kill people.

Check out Fiore’s Jihad on Cartoonists Correspondence Course animated cartoon.

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