April 27, 2010

Draw Mohammed

It is not often that I part ways with James Taranto. His humor and genial outlook are an inspiration to me, as is his ability to engage the other side and hold to principle. (Plus he's had me on BOTW a few times and I am very easily bought!)

But I have to respectfully diverge from "Everybody Burn the Flag." Taranto seriously explores and comes out opposed to "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day:"

The problem with the "in-your-face message" of "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" is not just that it is inconsiderate of the sensibilities of others, but that it defines those others--Muslims--as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders. It is an unwise message to send, assuming that one does not wish to make an enemy of the entire Muslim world.

I have a few weeks and plan to correspond with a couple of Muslim friends before then. But unless I get a change of heart, tune in May 20 for a respectful -- if badly executed -- image of the Muslim prophet.

Courage is a funny thing. I'm not extremely worried about ritual beheading with our small readership (a whois does provide my infidel address) but it is way out of my comfort zone intentionally to offend innocent people. I don't take that lightly.

But the heart of liberty for me is that none of us is empowered to prevent another from offending us. I'm disturbed by "Milton Friedman, Father of World Poverty" signs but I'm not issuing fatwas. One of the prices of freedom is extending it to others, and this religious group has no standing to tell me what I can and cannot draw.

Had our elites stood up for freedom, I would pass. Rare kudos to Jon Stewart, by the way. He was brave and correct in his defense of his colleagues. But I think it is unfortunately required -- to preserve freedom -- that everybody draw Mohammed.

UPDATE: Taranto posts some thoughtful responses today -- hey I told you he was a swell guy!

Freedom on the March Posted by John Kranz at April 27, 2010 11:46 AM

By all means, jk, issue fatwas.

I can't draw a straight line to save my soul, and any attempt on my part to draw Mohammed (ppuh) wouldn't be so much sacrilegious as it would unrecognizable. Besides, Chris Muir's recent effort is a tough act to follow, so I will defer to his talent:

http://tinyurl.com/25gkm2t

Posted by: Keith Arnold at April 27, 2010 3:06 PM

Taranto's example of flag burning is not "entirely apposite" either. Nobody is proposing "Burn Mohammed Day."

Taranto says the exceptionally benign "offense" of drawing the Islamic prophet "... is an unwise message to send, assuming that one does not wish to make an enemy of the entire Muslim world." And Althouse says "... you also hurt a lot of people [Muslims] who aren't doing anything." But it seems to me this is exactly the point of drawing pictures of their religious prophet - to inspire them to do something about the intolerant premise of their own faith. To the extent that Muslims allow their faith to justify the harm or murder of "infidels" they are de facto my enemy. (And if Christians (still) did the same thing then I would not wholeheartedly embrace the newest Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow, which non-theist I indeed do.)

Now, where's my mighty number-two pencil?

Posted by: johngalt at April 27, 2010 3:14 PM

Awesome DBD strip Keith. Thanks for the link.

By the way, I forgot to slam Comedy Central for censoring not just the Mohammed references, but Kyle's speech about "intimidation and fear." When will it be Burn Comedy Central Day?

Posted by: johngalt at April 27, 2010 3:19 PM

@jg: What I like best is the "Sparticus defense." Are they going to kill us all? Oh wait, don't answer that...

@ka: Yup, that Muir fellow has a gift.

Posted by: jk at April 27, 2010 4:51 PM

I have to go with Taranto on this one.

Revolution Muslim is the only place this threat has come from. Which doesn't make it less real, but it does make it pretty whackjob vs run of the mill Muslim Extremist. (Even CAIR doesn't like these guys)

The threat hasn't come from numerous sources, just one.

I'd go for "email an image of Mohammed to RevolutionMuslim.com day", or even "Everybody draw Mohommed in a uhaul truck day", but to purposefully depict his image knowing it's insulting, in order to show how we're not frightened of 12 particular Muslims (members of the group) seems not respectful to a lot of people. I'll be interested to hear what your friends think.

Posted by: Terri at April 27, 2010 5:44 PM

Thanks, Terri. You're opinion is (as always) appreciated.

They may be a fringe group, but there is a freedom-sapping threat of real violence behind them. I'm deeply disturbed that the savage murder of Theo Van Gogh, the threats against Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the reaction to the Danish cartoons were enough to make Comedy Central buckle.

The Spartacus defense dictates that we all yell "I Am Spartacus!" though the Kirk Douglas accent is optional. And, in the end, I bristle at showing that level of respect for a religion I don't believe in. The Amish don't ask that I don't drive. I respect their limitations on their own behavior.

My friends are in funny time zones (Ireland and England, not Iran and Egypt) and I'll have to catch them on IM. I will report.

Posted by: jk at April 27, 2010 6:15 PM

Does anyone remember "Life of Brian" and its stoning scene?

Taranto is correct that Althouse is wrong, but for the wrong reason. Althouse is suggesting that Christians might have protested that absurd "art" by...doing the same thing. Thus she made an idiotic strawman. Also, her cautioning isn't about tolerating, but to be tolerated by conforming to others' expectations. Yes indeed, bow down to your masters, be fearful of offending them!

Taranto's simply wrong for a good part of his piece: "...we think holding an "Everybody Burn the Flag Day" would be stupid, obnoxious and counterproductive if one seeks to persuade others that flag burning should be tolerated.... it defines those others--Muslims--as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders." Actually, these "offensive" acts are meant to show who's in the "Die traitor!" and "Die infidel!" crowds. Yes, people will be offended, but the acts will show who's offended and will do something violent about it.

"But we would not endorse or participate in an "Everybody Shout a Racial Slur Day" or an "Everybody Deny the Holocaust Day" to make the point." But that isn't the "point" at all. If you're said to have shouted certain racial slurs, people from, say, Harlem and Crown Heights wouldn't start tracking you down. Outside their homes, yes, but they won't bother crossing neighborhoods to find you. You could shout anti-Semitic slurs in the Diamond District, and the Orthodox and Hasidic Jews would just call the NYPD -- and likely just to remove you for creating a public disturbance, not for a "hate crime." On the other hand, the point of "Let's draw Mohammed" is to show a religion with an awful many "fringe" members ready to hunt down and kill people with cold calculation.

"Why is "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" different? Because the taboo against depictions of Muhammad is not a part of America's common culture. The taboos against flag burning, racial slurs and Holocaust denial are." Actually, the taboo against Holocaust denial isn't really part of American culture. It's more of a European thing, because some Europeans are simply anti-Semitic, and others don't like to think that it was possible for grandpa to just stand by while his Jewish neighbors were taken away. The taboo against drawing Mohammed is seen in the U.S. now, only because Islamofascists made it a prominent issue. If there hadn't been such an outcry over Turban-Bomber Mohammed and others, few Americans would have heard about the cartoons in a Danish newspaper.

Even then, the cartoons were drawn to demonstrate that Islamofascists' offense already existed. Ever since 9/11, I've thought of using a Koran's pages to comply with pooper scooper laws. But I no longer have a dog. Now if I did, and I used a Koran in that way, I'd need to prepare to defend myself. And if I equipped myself properly, I'd first have to worry about the police. They'd beat the Islamofascists to, uh, beating the crap out of me. Now that's impracticality, not the fact that "Oh dear, this might not sit well with some." And again, the act is not deliberately to offend, but to draw a clear line between the good guys and the bad guys. "Art" can blaspheme God's Son, and some people may be mad, but I've yet to hear the equivalent of fatwas among churches for a lot of truly vile things. A few hundred years ago, yes, but Western civilization moved past that. Much of Islamic culture has not.

Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at April 27, 2010 10:33 PM

I am disturbed by Comedy Central's buckling, but the Sparticus defense was used against an army in battle. Islamic extremism is the enemy, but no fatwa has been called here. If there were, I'd be more likely to join in. "I am Sparticus" wasn't shouted in the relative safety of the net, but in direct response to the person asking - again, I vote a direct email to the source of the problem.

The Danish cartoons were not a problem in print right up until one Iman decided he wanted to start something.

Revolution Muslim is acting like that Iman and so far, no other group of Muslims is taking the bait. I give them credit.
My drawing will go directly to Revolution Muslim, the idiots who are trying to start something here and who got CS bend over.

Posted by: Terri at April 28, 2010 7:55 AM

I will not be drawing a picture of Mohammed. I understand the anger over this issue and I believe that there are elements of our society that would like to impose Sharia on our way of life, but I see no point in attacking the precepts of a major world religion to combat this. What are we really upset about, after all, the prohibition on depicting the Prophet, or the lack of spine in protecting our First Amendment? There is nothing easier, or older, than attacking organized religion. Human institutions are subject to all the folly, foolishness and, yes, evil of the human beings that participate in them. Yet religions also transcend human weakness. They provide direction, comfort, a sense of purpose and joy for the billions of people that adhere to them.

American pop culture has savaged Christianity in general and Catholics in particular in the most cowardly and offensive ways possible. What passes for courage, humor and cutting edge art is often nothing more than childish bigotry and hatred. I have no use for those who would give us Piss Christ or who would disrupt a religious service with political performance art. I would prefer respect. And to have respect, I must give it. How can I look my Muslim friends in the eye and tell them I would debase their religion for any reason. I would tell them that in this country, they must, like the rest of us accept that the First Amendment that guarantees their right to say what they wish also protects those who would say what they despise.

Instead of “Draw Mohammed” day, I would suggest “Write to the DOJ” day. Demand a full investigation of these threats and demand prosecutions. Write to your newspapers and write to Comedy Central. Hell, you might even write to our own Al Franken (D-Acorn), whose livelihood depends on offensive speech. I understand the political climate under this administration favors capitulation but this will be an ongoing battle carried out over many administrations and I would like to see it waged respectfully.

Posted by: sugarchuck at April 28, 2010 9:57 AM

Very well said SC and, like Taranto, I think you approach Islam as it might be and not as it is now. Specifically, I'm unaware of any "New Koran" that tempers the faith's teachings from those of the 6th century.

I wonder this: How can your Muslim friends look you in the eye and tell you their religion deserves your respect when, if not tempered by their participation in western society, it teaches them that you are less than human and they have a right, which springs from their own "fidelity" to Islam, to harm you?

Posted by: johngalt at April 28, 2010 3:05 PM

John Galt’s comment on my post contains within it one of the most pertinent questions we will answer in our lifetimes; is Islam compatible with the values of 21st. century America? There are clearly Muslim fundamentalists in this country that wish to do us harm and there are others, as evidenced by the Minneapolis cab drivers that wish to live under Sharia, rather than laws written in accordance with the Constitution. That being said, there are Christian fundamentalists and many other factionalists who would live outside of our laws and do us harm as well. The question is, how do we gauge the threat. I have been asking myself that question since 9/11. The answer I’ve come to rests on two assumptions and I’ll readily admit I could be wrong, but I hope that I am not.

My first assumption is this: the Koran, like the Bible, is a spiritual text and as such, it transcends place and time. It is also like the Bible in that it is an ancient text written in a specific historical, geographical and cultural location and it shares the Bibles’ historical limitations, in that books written to benefit people living in small tribal patriarchies, will contain elements sensible to those cultures and not our own. It is my belief that most contemporary Muslims, interpret their Koran as most contemporary Christians interpret the Bible, not literally but figuratively. Both documents give ample opportunity for those so inclined to miss the forest for the trees but the Muslims I know seem to be living a Koran that teaches tolerance and living in God’s love and service. I don’t hold the specific details of the Bible against it, acknowledging that it has been used to justify terrible things over the centuries, nor do I hold that the Koran and it’s followers must be locked into a violent, 6th century world view.

My second assumption is that most Muslims in this country share our belief in the Constitution and the declaration of Independence. Most of my Muslim friends are immigrants, so they came here seeking freedom and I believe they see our founding documents as their best hope for securing that freedom. They are willing to live and let live.

Obviously, if I am wrong, we are all in a world of hurt and the years to come will be perilous indeed. If I am right, we need not insult followers of a great world religion to defend our First Amendment. We are not required to follow the British in creating a parallel society, one for Sharia and one for English law. Rather, we demonstrate through speech and tolerance the value of free speech. Let the cartoonists draw Mohammed when it suits them but for the rest of us, let’s speak hard and with compassion. And don’t forget to write Al Franken.

Posted by: sugarchuck at April 28, 2010 5:57 PM

Woot! I am with SG here.

I'll add this question:

What is the goal here? Are we standing up for our right to free speech? Or is this an attempt at the 'Spartacus' defense, as mentioned earlier?

I am not sure drawing Mohammed is a particularly effective way to achieve either goal.

Consider the audience. Lets say some 4 million Americans draw Muhammad on draw-Muhammad day. How will the average Muslim see this? How much you wanna bet that 'freedom of speech' will never enter the discussion? No, it will be - 'see, look at intolerant Muslim-hating Americans." That is how the Muslim street will see it. Tribalism writ large. And how does that help us? What will the American people gain by being thrown into an us-vs-them competition with Islam itself?

Lets not fool ourselves. We can scream ourselves silly saying, "I'm doing this to protect the right to insult any belief and creed", but all that will be heard is, "I'm doing this to protect those who insult your beliefs and creeds." And ot be honest, this isn't a message I am too keen on sending.

Posted by: T. Greer at April 29, 2010 2:23 AM

Well, that's how the West-hating Muslim world will see it. Tolerant Muslims, wherever they are, will see that Americans are at worst being "ignorant" about that Western ideal of free speech. Rational people will ask themselves, "They're being offensive, but won't Allah take vengeance? Is it necessary for me to kill over this?" So someone can have his opinion, and you can have your opinion that his opinion is dog poop.

My purpose is to expose the irrational ones, the closet jihadists: they seem normal but will suddenly demand the shedding of "infidel" blood. This is why I use the old term Mohammedan for jihadists, to show that their religion is about Mohammed, not Allah. The Spartacus motive isn't mine yet still has merit for others. "And what if you track down these men and kill them, what if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can't kill that fast."

"us-vs-them competition with Islam itself"

Who made it "us-vs-them" in the first place, though? Even without the cartoons, the jihadists still make it "us-vs-them." Maybe this amounts to poking an anthill, but then we can see just how many ants there are.

It's really a shame that the jihadists make it "us-vs-them." In my travels around Mindanao, except for certain places few civilians dare to go, I've seen lots of Muslim Filipinos (at least those who wear traditional clothes) living peacefully with their largely Roman Catholic countrymen. Some men wear traditional robes, and mwomen wear hijab (burkas are very rare), yet virtually all are peaceful people.

Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at April 30, 2010 9:50 PM
Who made it "us-vs-them" in the first place, though? Even without the cartoons, the jihadists still make it "us-vs-them."

Agreed. But don't we play into their hands by reinforcing the narrative?

Poke the anthill? That is a fair reason - better than most I have heard. But if the act of poking the anthill creates more ants?

Posted by: T. Greer at May 1, 2010 2:26 AM

I don't think we could "reinforce their narrative" beyond what the jihadists already believe: the parades for 1400 years have called for beheading those who insult the Prophet, as well as a caliphate across the world.

By definition the number of total ants won't change. We'll just see more of them than before. Oh yes, I recognize that "Draw Mohammed" will be offensive, and it will offend Muslims who weren't offended before. But we'll see which were willing to commit violence after being offended.

Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at May 2, 2010 8:39 PM | What do you think? [15]