Today, May 20, 2010, over 60,000 people on Facebook have embarked on a campaign they call “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”
They are doing it for two reasons: a) because they know Muslims love their prophet and therefore consider any depiction of him to be offensive and b) because they believe that they are flag-bearers for freedom of speech and that drawing Muhammad is one of the last taboos left to break in Western society.
I won’t get into the freedom of speech debate and why such an endeavor has little to do with freedom of speech heroics, except to briefly point out two things: a) that this is not the first or last time someone has gone out to draw Muhammad, so there is nothing really ground breaking here, and b) we in the West do in fact have a standard of decency despite our freedom of speech.
You won’t for example find 60,000 people promoting a day of drawing racist or anti-Semitic cartoons, even though they would have the right to do so under freedom of speech – at least not without a public backlash. The reason for this has less to do with freedom of speech and more to do with the simple fact that our society – after decades of missing the point – has evolved to such a level where we actually comprehend why such a public campaign would be offensive and uncalled for.
You may say, “oh but the Muhammad campaign is different.” Your reasoning may go something like this: religion is a choice, whereas race or ethnic identity are not, so it is fair game to be critical of religion but not race.
There is truth to this argument.
But there are also two small problems with it that many seem to readily miss: a) there is a difference between objective criticism, and a campaign of ridicule and insults, and b) what if the next Facebook group came out and said, we find your lack of enthusiasm for a Facebook cartoon campaign that ridicules Blacks, or Jews, or Whites, or Latinos to be prudish and inherently incompatible with the values of our great Western civilization?
You may say: well but I don’t object to the principle that racists have a right to free expression of racism, absolutely they do.
Great, but the question is would you promote it? Would you champion it in the name of the principle of free speech or so as to make an academic point about defeating existing taboos of what is deemed off limits?
And the reason why not? Because your own standards of what is decent and what is not righlty cause you to write off racially offending people.
My friend, that brings you to the “yes you can but no you shouldn’t,” club, doesn’t it? Come sit next to us because I and my fellow American Muslims never questioned that Americans have a right to offend our religious sensitives and draw our prophet. Our simple message always was: just because one has a right to do it, it does not make it the right thing to do.
Having said that, the campaign is already on, so what are we Muslims to do now?
Well, it’s simple: absolutely nothing. Let the show go on.
I would however advise that we do something for ourselves and that is make today a “Pray for Muhammad Day.”
Rather than concern ourselves too much with the actions of others, let’s put our own values to action. If someone wishes to offend, let them knock themselves out trying. Let us instead take the higher ground and appreciate the mercy, love, and other teachings our prophet brought us by making a prayer for him on a day when others go out of their way to ridicule him.
Today, let us pray for our prophet. But that is not all. Let us pray for the cartoonists who see fit to insult our prophet, that they should understand our love for our prophet and that they should be guided to peace in their hearts rather than animosity for others. Let us pray for our fellow Muslims who react to prophet cartoons with anger or violence, that they should also find peace in their hearts rather than return hate with greater hate.
Further Reading: A debate on Muhammad cartoons and freedom of speech with the Tribune’s Eric Zorn.
For more on religion and society, visit The Chicago Tribune’s Manya Brachear’s The Seeker Blog