Pundits and Cartoonists Split on 'Everybody Draw Muhammad Day'

Was its message noble or shameful?

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Yesterday a number of cartoonists and activists around the world partook in "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." The campaign encouraged people to submit caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad to Facebook and the Internet at large (which resulted in Pakistan temporarily banning Facebook). It was billed as a free speech statement against recent threats toward cartoonists and entertainers for portraying the religious figure. Some commentators, however, found it tasteless and needlessly offensive toward Muslims, many of whom consider drawing Mohammad to be blasphemous.

  • Political Cartoonists Are Split, reports Michael Cavna at The Washington Post:

"Shock for shock's sake." "Choreographed punditry." And "wrong, childish and needlessly provocative." That's what some critics think of Thursday's Facebook-ignited campaign titled "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day." But those aren't Islamic extremists speaking. Those are the words of pro-free-speech political cartoonists...

But petition signee Mark Fiore, whose clients include SFGate.com, says his political animation Thursday will incorporate Muhammad. And noted Islamic critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose book "Nomad: From Islam to America" was published this week, says the protest "is a positive campaign" that can "promote self-reflection among Muslims." 

The Case For Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

  • Why This Is an Important Campaign  According to Mark Goldblatt at Reason:
Our tip-toeing around Islamic sensibilities is nothing more than plain, old-fashioned cowardice. MSNBC stooge Lawrence O’Donnell, for example, repeatedly slandered Mormonism during the 2008 presidential campaign as a sidebar to his creepily obsessive verbal jihad against then-candidate Mitt Romney. But when asked by radio host Hugh Hewitt whether he would insult Muhammad the way he’d insulted Joseph Smith, O’Donnell replied with rare candor: “Oh, well, I’m afraid of what the... that’s where I’m really afraid. I would like to criticize Islam much more than I do publicly, but I’m afraid for my life if I do. ... I’m not going to say a word about them." That’s the problem in a nutshell. But it’s not just O’Donnell’s problem. It’s our problem. America’s problem. The West’s problem. We lack the moral courage to walk the walk.
  • Cartoonist Split Proves Benefit  National Review's Veronique de Rugy reflects on the cartoonist who regrets proposing the idea at all. "Isn't the existence of the cartoonist's fear even more reason to come up with ideas like hers?" De Rugy praises "courage and commitment to free speech."
  • We're Fighting For Free Speech  Reason's Matt Welch recalls the Dutch cartoon controversy. "It is unconscionable that–under murderous duress!–those in the free speechin' business would suddenly cede the authority to depict a really existing historical figure to a loud minority's religious preferences. ... by reprinting one of the cartoons, we would be demonstrating solidarity not with the sentiments contained within it, but with the foundational notion that people ought to be able to publish stuff like that (and worse), period, let alone without fear of having their heads lopped off." He later writes, "in a free society, every day is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day."

The Case Against Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

  • It's Needlessly Insensitive, counters Wonkette's Ken Layne: "To equate the bizarre/violent behavior of a handful of fanatics with the cultural-religious traditions and harmless taboos of a billion of the world’s people, well that’s about as dumb as T.P.ing your neighborhood Sunday School because you don’t like Fred Phelps." He accuses proponents of "childishly prodding angry, impoverished people into rage and violence so you can snicker from the safety of your computer."
  • Offending For No Reason  Ann Althouse sighs, "I have endless contempt for the threats/warnings against various cartoonists who draw Muhammad. ... But depictions of Muhammad offend millions of Muslims who are no part of the violent threats. In pushing back some people, you also hurt a lot of people who aren't doing anything (other than protecting their own interests by declining to pressure the extremists who are hurting the reputation of their religion)." Conservative blogger Erick Erickson adds, "On drawing Mohammed, I'd be offended if ppl had a day to mock my Lord, so why reciprocate? 'Course I w/n go killing ppl who mocked Jesus."
  • Why It Unreasonably Offends  Christian Science Monitor's Husna Haq explains, "I am Muslim and I am American. I love my Prophet Mohammed, and I love my First Amendment right to free speech." However:

To depict him in a bear suit or with a pig snout – as he has been in two recent cartoons – is free speech, yes, but it is intensely offensive. It betrays a willful determination to refuse to see the world through Muslims eyes – to understand how innately the Prophet is loved by his followers and how profoundly flippant disrespect for him wounds us.

Imagine Martin Luther King Jr. portrayed as a monkey and you begin to understand the depth of Muslims' revulsion to such images.

Yet it is more than that, too.

In Islam, as in Judaism, iconography is prohibited out of fear that creating images of sacred figures could lead to dependence on, and even worship of, icons rather than God. The Prophet lifted his people from the worship of many gods to love for the one God. To depict him is to violate a fundamental tenet of Islam as a joke.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.