South Asia Wired Rotating Header Image

Hurling insults at each other on Facebook is not a debate

What is a peace loving, almost-but-not-quite-total non-atheist supposed to make of this whole ruckus about the Everyone Draw Mohammed Day debate?

US cartoonist Molly Norris wanted to counter Comedy Central’s decision to censor the episode of South Park that pictured the Prophet Mohammed as a teddy bear.  So she drew a cartoon about her revulsion of the censorship.  And she announced on a radio programme that she would start a campaign called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.  The idea was picked up and elaborated on by others who started a Facebook site for it and scheduled the day for May 20.  The plan was to solicit pictures from the general public of the Prophet Mohammed, with the idea that if lots of people do it, they can’t all be threatened, and a fundamental Islamic taboo has been breached.

The campaign was launched on Facebook and at the time of writing there were 41,000 followers and counting – but there are precious few drawings on the Facebook site.  Instead, it’s become an instant magnet for vitriol coming from people who want to insult Islam and from Muslims taking umbrage.

Most of the insults to Islam, sometimes accompanied by logos of western flags or outright disgraceful photoshopped images demonstrate nothing but the lack of education of their uncouth authors. I could take about ten minutes of reading those comments before I just had to stop, and the experience has left me feeling bilious and sad.  The responses of people calling themselves friends of Islam have been little better, with a liberal sprinkling of swear words and threats.

I mean really folks, is this the way to carry on an intelligent debate?  Not believing in a religion doesn’t mean you have to debase it.  What started as a kind of rationalizable if not rational idea from Molly – to show there should be no line drawn as far as freedom of expression is concerned – has morphed into exactly the same kind of thinking that produced the images of Guantanamo and Abu Graib that shocked any decent person around the world.

So what happens with such a campaign?  Molly herself has gone on record to distance herself from the vitriol that’s been thrown at the site, but my question is:  what were people expecting anwyay?

Facebook refused to censor this page despite a tsunami of protest that came their way, and so the Islamabad courts have banned Facebook from Pakistan – and now 1.8 million users in the country have lost their favourite social networking site.  Maybe more countries will follow suit.  Eventually Facebook will intervene, there will be official apologies of sort and when the dust settles down, both sides will go away from this whole affair even more firmly convinced of their own prejudices.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  A cliche perhaps, but an incomparable image.

All the great figures of history – from Jesus to Gandhi to Nelson Mandela showed us the code to follow against injustice, taunting, repression.  It’s another cliche but again, its a cliche that’s lived through history because it teaches a memorable lesson: - the best response to insults should be to turn the other cheek, not to descend to the lowest level.

1 Comment on “Hurling insults at each other on Facebook is not a debate”

  1. #1 David Berridge
    on May 19th, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    This new controversy sounds much like the debates over the PVV, Geert Wilders, and the June 9 general elections upcoming in the Netherlands! Although this idea of a mass “draw-in” was meant as a popular protest, it is being attempted during what is still (and probably will be for a very long time to come ) wartime, since Article V of the NATO treaty was invoked shortly after 9/11. In this conflict there are fluid battleines without regulated boundaries on multiple levels of communications and actions. Heated and otherwise anti-social exchanges will not be rare, and any rational, educated viewpoints will be considered oddities in themselves. When Iran held a cartoon/drawing contest against Israel and the Holocaust, it was denounced all outside the Muslim world as defamatory and discrimnatory. It is easy propaganda for those against this exihibition to cast it in the same light given the tensions and fears worldwide terrorism has evoked. This war is in too early a stage to begin seeking peaceful opposition to the censorship of democratic freedoms through the caritactures of other’s symbols of beliefs and rights. Globalization has brought both communication and conflict to each other’s homes via the internet from any point on the globe. This in turn can only escalate highly negative conduct by all concerned. This of course does not excuse any such forms of this behavior, but can serve only to wisely warn and prepare for when and where these occurances arise, and to expect the damages resulting thereby.

Leave a Comment