Archive for May 21st, 2010

Mohammad Drawing MohammadFor those not paying attention, yesterday was “Everyone Draw Mohammad Day”, where a number of bloggers and websites (most notably a Facebook page, taken down late in the day by FB) purposely collected and posted drawings of the prophet of Islam, Mohammad.

I already touched on this issue a bit a couple of weeks ago (though it seemed to have gotten lost on the discussion of Arizona’s affirmation of the enforcement of federal immigration law), but here’s the basic skinny:

  1. A few years ago, a Danish newspaper published some political cartoons which depicted the prophet Mohammad.  Somewhat predictably, because they believe it is a sin to even draw the image of big Mo, radical Islamists rioted, instituted death threats, and created a great deal of chaos around the globe.  In the course of these events, it is reported that about 100 people were killed.  One of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, has since had two attempts made on his life by radical Islamists.
  2. In the aftermath of the Danish cartoon controversy, again predictably, the response from the establishment media was to blame the Danish newspaper – rather than the radical Islamists – for the violence (noting that the cartoons were far from blasphemous).  Also, predictably, this was a rather obvious double-standard, since these same condemners had no problem with similar treatment of Jesus – primarily since there is almost zero likelihood of a Christian issuing a death sentence against a secular cartoonist.
  3. Dutch Film Director, Theo Van Gogh, was gunned down by a radical Islamist on the streets of Amsterdam for his 10-minute film, Submission, a documentary which criticized the abuse of women in Islam.
  4. In 2009, Yale University published a book about the Danish incident, The Cartoons that Shook the World.  In an act that can only be accurately described as ‘cowardice’, Yale chose not to publish the actual cartoons the book was about!  In fact, Yale University Press decided to expunge all images of Mohammad from the book – even the historical works of art that depict him.   Lest this be spun as a nod to tolerance or respect, the Press editor who made the decision to expunge the images stated about his decision ““when it came between [standing on principle] and blood on my hands, there was no question.” [It should be noted that all of the images were later published by a Duke professor, much to the consternation of the University leadership, in "Muhammad: The Banned Images".]
  5. Earlier this year, the cartoon South Park depicted the prophet Mohammad in a bear suit (so that his image was not actually ever drawn, underscoring their point), which led to the suggestion of a death threat against the cartoonists and South Park’s owning entity, Viacom (who, incidentally, had an explosives-laden car parked in front of its Times Square headquarters a few weeks later).  Comedy Central, South Park’s network, did the brave thing with the follow-up episode and censored it, caving in to the implied threat.
  6. As a response, Molly Norris, a cartoonist/blogger, suggested “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” on May 20, 2010, as a way to have a large number of people draw images of the prophet – not as a statement against Islam, but to create a group too large to be intimidated by radical Islamists.  However, when her suggestion went viral, she disavowed the suggestion – in fear for her personal safety (a response which, ironically, was what her idea was to combat!).
  7. In the meantime, another Mohammad cartoonist, Lars Vilks of Sweden, was forced to go into hiding after attempts were made on his life by radical Islamists.
  8. Yesterday – May 20 – there were a number of sites which hosted EDMD images, even without Norris on board.  The primary Facebook page, in the face of International boycotts (!?!) was deleted by Facebook late in the day (though this one and this one are still there).  The best ones, though, in my opinion were published by Reason magazine (none of which, incidentally, actually had pictures of Mohammad drawn on them :) ) and by one of my favorite cartoonists, iMaksim, who drew three cartoons, none of which were statements about the Muslim faith.

Reason magazine writer, Nick Gillespie, in summing up the ‘need’ for Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, noted that we, in America, define freedom of expression as a right granted by God and that:

no one should be beaten or killed or imprisoned simply for speaking their mind or praying to one god as opposed to the other or none at all or getting on with the small business of living their life in peaceful fashion. If we cannot or will not defend that principle with a full throat, then we deserve to choke on whatever jihadists of all stripes can force down our throats.

So, there are two questions that spring to my mind: 1) What should the Christian response be to radical Islam, specifically in this matter of “drawing Mohammad”; and, similarly 2) Should Christians be supportive of “Everybody Draws Mohammad Day”?

Drawing Mohammad

This is not MohammadAs a Christian, we have a number of principles to balance in our dealings with people of other religious faiths, who worship other gods.  In the face of extreme proselytism, Elijah’s response was to mock the false Ba’al and his prophets (which is sometimes the correct response), particularly if it can deliver a death-blow to the gods in question.  Conversely, Paul’s response to Artemis, in a society that demanded respect of the her, was defended by a city official as having not blasphemed her, even though he (Paul) taught that man-made gods were no gods at all.

The challenge we face is – how do we deny the false gods of the world – Islam, Joseph Smith, the state, etc. – without so turning off their followers toward Christ that they refuse to listen?

So one question, in this instance is – actually how offensive is it to Islam to “draw Mohammad”?

Moderate Muslims will note that there is a rich history within Islam which includes the artistic depiction of the prophet, and that the prohibition on making images of him is similar to the Judeo-Christian prohibition of graven images – the creation of physical idols to be worshiped.  As such, it is only the fundamentalist branch which takes the literalist view, sometimes issuing fatwas against artists for insulting Islam via drawing Mohammad.

With this in mind, in addition to the recent history of intimidation on the part of radical Islamists, it becomes apparent that what is at hand is more than simple respect towards other with different beliefs.

Everybody Draw

In the case of Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, I think Christians – particularly those in the West – have a thin line to tread.

We can take an in-your-face approach which is completely disrespectful and offensive to all Muslims (for example, by encouraging that Mohammad be drawn as a pig) – one that seeks to brand all Muslims as fanatical extremists.

Or, we could take an equal-but-opposite, limp-wristed and myopic approach which says “what is Christ-like about promoting or doing things that seek to do nothing but offend”?  In doing so, we basically bow to extremist elements of a proselytizing, anti-Christian force, which seeks to squash not just anti-Muslim speech, but ultimately subjugation of all to Islam.

I think, though, that we can find a middle ground in the matter which says that we, as Christians, will not stand for the violent coercion of anyone on behalf of religion – our own, or anyone else’s.  As such, I think that we could support EDMD from the standpoint that if we all draw pictures of Mohammad (in a respectful manner, as in the Reason drawings), the fringe elements of Islam cannot single out and target the few who are (currently) willing to speak out against them.  At the same time, we should not support those who would create images that are truly sacrilegious – of any faith.

It’s a delicate path to tread – to be neither an equal-opportunity-offender or a spineless appeaser.  In one way lies driving others away from Christ, and in the other lies an invitation to oppression of all – Christian and non-Christian, alike.

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At Jerry’s Request :)

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