Today is Draw Muhammad Day. Created in response to two idiots who reacted to a South Park episode, the event signifies that the right to do something should be seen as a license to do something. The South Park episode focused on the failure of censorship. Comedy Central, like the two buffoons from Revolution Muslim, missed the point and focused on the non-representation of Muhammad, causing the episode to be censored. The response of the supporters of Draw Muhammad Day (DMD) is not to focus on the question of censorship, but on the depiction of Muhammad. In other words, they have chosen to support the two idiots of Revolution Muslim and talk about the depiction of Muhammad that did not actually appear in the episode. The result is that they have, as Shahed Amanullah points out in The Huffington Post, decided to actively insult the millions of Muslims who do not agree with Revolution Muslim and/or who actually understood the point of the South Park episode.
Molly Norris, who initially floated the idea of DMD, has stepped backed from the idea. Now, we have people who refuse to identify themselves leading a charge to depict Muhammad. In other words, it is not about free speech and standing up for rights, but about defaming a religion. If it were really about free speech, they would identify themselves, and they would, as Juan Cole has done, go after all religions to show the absurdity of Revolution Muslim’s position in a global world where there are no sacred cows.
Both RM and the folks behind DMD miss the depth of feeling many Muslims have for their religion and Prophet Muhammad. I think that Eboo Patel has it right in his article in Inside Higher Education; we need to do a better job about talking about religion on college campuses. I do not hold that any depiction of Muhammad is blasphemous, but to treat him as a political tool misses the point of what his life was about.
Andrew Sullivan posts a reflection on why one should remain Catholic despite the emerging child abuse scandal. It is because the papacy is not necessarily the people of God. By analogy, RM is not Islam, nor is it even close to representing all Muslims. Islam, like any other religious tradition, offers a revolutionary way of seeing and acting in the world, not a reactionary one. Arsalan Iftikhar, writing in On Faith, tells one of my favorite stories of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet forgave, he never angered, he did not meet kind with kind, but with kindness.
Today is the day after what would have been Malcolm X’s 85th birthday. One does not need to look any further than him to see the continuing relevance and revolutionary qualities of the faith in the modern period. One of the most famous political figures in America was a Muslim; one of the greatest athletes in American history, Muhammad Ali, is a Muslim; one of the funniest people in America, Dave Chappelle, is a Muslim. I wonder if any of the cartoonists intent to insult on DMD would show these cartoons to any of these individuals in person. I wonder if the cartoonists could see the hurt and pain in the eyes of another person and say it’s about free speech. Just because you have the right to do something does not mean that you have to do it. Our rights come with responsibilities.
No religion should be above criticism. It is a mistake for groups like RM to threaten others. The response to speech should always be more speech. My issue here is that DMD does not address the key question raised by the South Park episode, or the stupidity of RM, instead they are using free speech as a slogan to attack a third group of people, Muslims. And just to prove that I do not believe any representation of Muhammad is problematic, below is an image of the Angel Gabriel talking to Muhammad from a Persian miniature.