Friday 21 May 2010

Depicting the Prophet Once More: Reactions to 'South Park' & 'Draw Muhammad Day'

It appears that those seeking gratuitous publicity cannot get enough from what they know fully well works like waving a red rag on a bull: depicting the Prophet Muhammad in cartoons. Once again the issue has generated widespread reactions on the internet and in the media.

The 'Draw Muhammad Day' initiative was triggered by the predictable threatening response of the radical Islamist website Revolution Muslim to the alleged representation of Muhammad in episode 200 of the hugely popular animated sitcom South Park. This was not intended as making a case for free speech. Rather, those hiding behind the initiative (so far they have not been willing to identity themselves) are fully aware their campaign will create a wildfire of reactions and easily snowball into a further antagonisation of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims -- and lest we forget, increasing tensions between Muslims of different persuasions.

A measured response was given by Hussein Rashid in a contribution to Religion Dispatches.

"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."

Taking on both sides, Hussein pointedly observes:
"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."

University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, who achieved both fame and notoriety (depending on where you stand on the political spectrum in regards to US policy towards the Muslim world) with is Informed Comment blog  has also added his voice to the debate; widening the issue to other religious traditions by providing examples how other 'jerks' could find easy ways to hurt the sensitivities of Buddhist, Hindus, Christians and Jews, Cole rightly observed:

"The juvenile “draw Muhammad” day has generally been avoided by professional editorial cartoonists. One Islamophobic theme apparent in the writing on it is that Muslims are peculiar in their thin-skinned responses to such assaults on their religious sensibilities and that members of other religions never riot or protest. This assertion is not only bigoted but it is silly. So here are some other needlessly offensive cartoon-drawing days that could be adopted by the jerks bothering Muslims today, just to show that they are jerks toward other communities as well. All these subjects have produced vigorous protests or rioting and violence among members of other religious traditions. Me, I think when you know people have died in violence over some piece of thoughtlessness, it is the height of irresponsibility to repeat it for no good reason."
Another scholar, Professor Ebrahim Moosa of Duke University in North Carolina, made a more introspective observation on his facebook page:

"Start an Honor the Prophet Muhammad Facebook site. I am offended by blanket denouncements alleging Jews are behind this. Be a smart Muslim, not a dumb one. We have enough of the latter. Expose the offensive speech towards Muslims: strengthen your argument, don't raise your shrill voice. Religion, sex, color or sexualit...y does not foment bigotry, ignorance does. Don't we need a, Dumb Things Muslim Say page?"

The final word  goes to Hussein Rashid, who referred to the invocation of a well-known saying about Muhammad by another commentator (human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar) writing on the Muhammad cartoon issue: 'The Prophet forgave, he never angered, he did not meet kind with kind, but with kindness.'
Moreover, in the epigraph to his own website Islamicate, it says:
"islam doesn't speak, muslims do | "the ink of the scholar is worth more than the blood of the martyr" - Prophet Muhammad.

1 comment:

Abdulkader Tayob said...

You might want to see the issue as it has appeared in South Africa with SA's leading cartoonist Zapiro joining the fray.