19 May 2011

On the Drawing of Self-Proclaimed Prophets

Islam was founded in the early 7th century by a mortal man who we know today as Muhammad. The fact that his religion fundamentally shaped the history of Asia, Africa, and Europe, and that some 1.5 billion people alive today revere him as a prophet (whether through genuine faith or at the point of a sword), arguably makes him an important historical figure.

Unlike other historical figures (and indeed even other religious figures), there is an explicit prohibition against drawing a caricature or even a benign depiction of him in most of the Islamic world, and an implicit prohibition against it in much of the rest of the world.

The explicit prohibition in the Islamic world is due to theocratic rule and its criminal (sometimes capital) penalties for blasphemy.  The right to draw a picture of a particular man is the least of your worries when the separation of mosque and state is nonexistent.

The implicit prohibition in the rest of the world is due to two distinct fears: an altruistic fear of being seen as a bigot by cloying multiculturalists, and a practical fear of violent retaliation by fanatical Muslim hardliners.  We thus see Raptor Jesus become an amusing internet meme, boxing nun puppets on sale in the checkout aisles of stores, and corpulent Laughing Buddha statuettes serving as paperweights and lawn ornaments, yet any depiction whatsoever of an influential 7th century self-proclaimed prophet gets you lumped in with the likes of Terry Jones and simultaneously puts you in some extremist's crosshairs.

I understand the sentiment from the accommodationist left that intentionally drawing Muhammad knowing it will offend some Muslims is an unfair jab at an already marginalized group in this country.  There are certainly some people who participated in last year's Everybody Draw Muhammad Day armchair protest who were trying to do just that.  I understand and disagree.  The notion that a religious law with no secular purpose should apply to the general public is absurd and outrageous, and it is hypocritical to fight the Christian Right's attempts to do just that while allowing Muslims to advance on the same front.  Muslims should be free to practice their religion without fear of intimidation or harassment, and with that freedom must accept that respecting others' right to believe does not entail abiding by their religion's tenets.

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard has been living in fear since he drew a now-infamous depiction of a bearded man with a bomb in his turban, narrowly surviving an assassination attempt in his own home; a planned South Park episode featuring Muhammad was censored due to death threats against creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone; American cartoonist Molly Norris went into hiding after receiving death threats for her cartoons that spawned last year's Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.

Below is my contribution to this year's protest against the events described in the previous paragraph.  As Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta touts, the power of threats to censor cartoonists can be diluted if more people participate, and hopefully can be done to the point where the threat no longer really exists.  If poorly drawn stick figures representing your religion's prophet offend you, don't scroll down any further.

I intended it to tell a story.  Read it from right to left, like Arabic script, and interpret it however you will.  Good night, and peace be with you.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License