May 20, 2010

Why Draw Mohammad?

Someone asked me what the point was of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day (EDM). It's deliberately provocative, insulting, offensive and ultimately what do I expect it to achieve? If I want to draw Mohammad, just draw Mohammad; why do we need to do it in this big massive song and dance style?

Well it's true that we don't need to draw Mohammad as a largely anonymous internet mob. We don't reallyneed to do anything. But it feels right to do something even if it doesn't immediately cause the dissolution of oppressive theologies.

This all started with the controversial South Park double-bill in which their ultimate big-reveal of Mohammad (an act they'd already done without batting an eyelid, in the pre-Dutch cartoon era) was censored by Comedy Central. A lot of people thought this was outrageous but in all honesty it was probably the right thing for Comedy Central to do, in my opinion. Bearing in mind the circumstances and bubbling furore, broadcasting the episode uncensored could well have resolved in an attack of some description. It's all very well for artists to be provocative, but Comedy Central is a corporation and an attack on its offices or its studios might have serious consequences for its employees, most of whom probably weren't ready to risk their safety for provocative television. So Comedy Central protected itself and its employees and I agree with that.

What I don't agree with is that there was such a risk in the first place. What on earth is going on where you cannot broadcast an animation of a crude cardboard(esque) depiction of an historical character without having to decide if it's worth the likelihood of being terrorised? It's utter nonsense.

There is a rule in an extra-Qur'anic text that states it is forbidden and blasphemous to depict the prophet Muhammad. Well who gives a shit? Most people aren't Muslims and if you're not a Muslim then the rule doesn't apply to you*. Why is this such a problem - everyone (and I mean everyone) commit blasphemous (or equivalent terminology) acts every day from the perspective of religions they are not part of. I personally have sworn, taken the Lord's name in vain, worked on the Sabbath, idolised, lusted, coveted, been unruly to my parents, mixed meat with its milk (though indirectly), had sex before marriage, used contraception, eaten beef, eaten pork, been drunk, spelled out and spoken 'Yahweh' and now drawn the image of Mohammad. And none of it matters because I they are all part of my personal freedom to do so and I don't adhere to any religion that considers the above sinful. In fact, I don't even believe in sin because the whole concept is ludicrous. But let us not get distracted.

The point is: a good chunk of the population does a heck of a lot of these things without much consideration as to their irreligious nature. And most people who are part of religions that find some of those acts offensive accept that others aren't bothered by these acts and conscript them to their lifestyle. Heck, a lot of people Muslim or otherwise find young promiscuity to be abominable but they don't firebomb the crap out of everyone who has casual sex. They don't try and stab people to death for not fasting during Ramadan. So why must we even hesitate before committing ink to the basic shape of another persons prophet?

But we do. It's an act loaded with potential violence. And because of that, individuals do not commit to making Mohammad imagery for fear some overzealous nutter with spade them into submission. A corporation or organisation has the same problem - it has central locations; it has population wells to focus violence on - it cannot realistically take risks - that's not its job. But a hive of like-minded, non-centralised people can break the taboo. And they break it for no other reason than to demonstrate their freedom to do it. It isn't a riot or a blockade; it is more along the lines of a sit-in, just to let you know we're all here and we're not just going to vanish away.



* 1) I am aware that if you are religious then you tend to believe your theology is the only true theology and therefore the rules apply to everyone. 2) I could argue that even if you are a Muslim you still should have the freedom to decide for yourself.