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.