James Taranto, whose missives I read daily and greatly appreciate, has decided that “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” is maybe not a good idea:
If we don’t act like inconsiderate jerks, the terrorists will have won!
He describes an epiphany on the subject, occasioned by an Ann Althouse post. I extensively quote Mr. Taranto’s thoughts here because I have reactions to many of them.
The “South Park” Muhammad meshugass in turn inspired a joke that is being taken too seriously. MyNorthwest.com, the Web site of three Seattle radio stations, reports that Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris “wanted to counter the fear. She has declared May 20th ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.’ ” The story reproduces Norris’s strip, which depicts an anthropomorphic teacup declaring, “I am the real likeness of Mohammad” and other household items–a cherry, a domino, a spool of thread–claiming that, no, they are the prophet’s image.
Blogress Ann Althouse notes that commentators across the political spectrum–Glenn Reynolds, HotAir.com, Dan Savage, Reason magazine–are endorsing the idea, apparently in all seriousness. Which prompts an update to the MyNorthwest.com story:
After the massive response to the cartoon Norris posted this on her website:
I make cartoons about current, cultural events. I made a cartoon of a “poster” entitled “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” with a nonexistent group’s name–Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor–drawn on the cartoon also. I did not intend for my cartoon to go viral. I did not intend to be the focus of any “group.” I practice the first amendment by drawing what I wish. This particular cartoon of a “poster” seems to have struck a gigantic nerve, something I was totally unprepared for. I am going back to the drawing table now!
Our reflexive response to “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day”–which we too thought was serious, not having seen Norris’s cartoon or her disclaimer–was sympathetic. But Althouse prompted us to reconsider. Here is her objection:
Depictions of Muhammad offend millions of Muslims who are no part of the violent threats. In pushing back some people, you also hurt a lot of people who aren’t doing anything. . . .
I don’t like the in-your-face message that we don’t care about what other people hold sacred. …
At the same time, real artists like the “South Park” guys or (maybe) Andre Serrano should go on with their work, using shock to the extent that they see fit. Shock is an old artist’s move. Epater la bourgeoisie. Shock will get a reaction, and it will make some people mad. They are allowed to get mad. That was the point. Of course, they’ll have to control their violent impulses.
People need to learn to deal with getting mad when they hear or see speech that enrages them, even when it is intended to enrage them. But how are we outsiders to the artwork supposed to contribute the the [sic] process of their learning how to deal with free expression?
…Until 1989, it was a crime in some states to burn the American flag as a political statement. In Texas v. Johnson the U.S. Supreme Court held that this is protected symbolic speech. In ensuing years members of Congress repeatedly tried to propose a constitutional amendment permitting the criminalization of flag burning. It is the view of this column that flag burning is and should remain protected speech. We deplore it nonetheless, and we think holding an “Everybody Burn the Flag Day” would be stupid, obnoxious and counterproductive if one seeks to persuade others that flag burning should be tolerated.
…[W]e would not endorse or participate in an “Everybody Shout a Racial Slur Day” or an “Everybody Deny the Holocaust Day” to make the point.
Why is “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” different? Because the taboo against depictions of Muhammad is not a part of America’s common culture. The taboos against flag burning, racial slurs and Holocaust denial are. The problem with the “in-your-face message” of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” is not just that it is inconsiderate of the sensibilities of others, but that it defines those others–Muslims–as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders. It is an unwise message to send, assuming that one does not wish to make an enemy of the entire Muslim world.
First of all, “Everybody draw Mohammed Day” could be a joke if death threats weren’t involved. However, that isn’t the case, and self-censorship is not how we encourage moderate Muslims living in our culture to speak out against their fanatic co-religionists. What’s the message for moderates? What’s the message for the fanatics?
Second, the question of racial slurs and Holocaust denial are trademarks of those very Islamist fundamentalists being defended because of their association with Muslims who neither foam at the mouth, nor open it to complain about their brethren.
If fanatic Muslims can say these things in America, I’ll be damned if I’ll accept the idea we can’t say they are idiots. If they can enforce this and other death penalty offenses in their own countries then they live in inferior cultures, and I’ll be damned if I’ll encourage them to intimidate ours.
Third, for Taranto’s main analogy to hold we would be talking about death threats over a drawing of somebody burning our flag. Tangentially, we might consider the insult to our culture they display in stomping on our flag. It’s a bigger deal for them than burning, as I understand it.
Fourth, I would say of flag burning, as has SCOTUS, “Get over it.”
Fifth, maybe the “millions of Muslims who are no part of the violent threats” should push back on those Muslims who are part of violent threats. That way Islam might only be subjected to the same frequency and intensity of ridicule that every other religion has experienced at the hands of South Park. Oh, wait, that would be a lot worse wouldn’t it?
Sixth, May 20th is still “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” even if the originator of the idea has withdrawn from fear of beheading.
Finally, we don’t, in fact, “care about what other people hold sacred,” when it arises from the same spirit and intellectual rigor as voodoo. We do insist, “[T]hey’ll have to control their violent impulses.” And why should they not control their violent impulses whether the offender is a “real” artist or not?
We can burn our own flag because that only offends some of us, but we’d better not be offending others to whom we offer the privilege of burning our flag and protection for calling us infidels who deserve to die.
“The problem with the “in-your-face message” of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” is not just that it is inconsiderate of the sensibilities of others, but that it defines those others–Muslims–as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders.” Yes it does define those who advertise, or acquiesce to, the idea that a drawing is worthy of death as “outside our culture.” What’s wrong with that?
If we grant the power to ridicule, then we grant the power to ridicule. That’s how it is in our culture. As Mark Steyn points out:
…In a more culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of “suttee” – the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Gen. Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:
“You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks, and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”
Instead of cultural confidence, we have Ann Althouse writing this:
In pushing back some people, you also hurt a lot of people who aren’t doing anything (other than protecting their own interests by declining to pressure the extremists who are hurting the reputation of their religion).
Allowing your religion to come into disrepute is “protecting” your interests? I’d call it a cultural judgment with which you acquiesce through your silence. Not unlike those in India who were quite happy to watch suttee. Or as Martin Niemöller said of the Nazis, “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews…” Do these moderate Muslims think they are not targets just as soon as practicable?
And Althouse goes on to this, reminiscent of Della Sentilles,
…how are we outsiders to the artwork supposed to contribute the the [sic] process of their learning how to deal with free expression?
Well, they’ve had several hundred years to acclimate. I mean, we assimilated algebra, but there hasn’t been much since.
It’s – “Get a life. When you moderate Muslims rise up and call farce on the Islamic leaders who urge a new holocaust and describe America as the Great Satan, then maybe we’ll think about observing your loosely held 12th Century iconographic distinctions.” Of course, if you get that far, we probably won’t have to.
(For the Andre Serrano reference, see TOC’s own effort to offend every religion here.)
Regarding the third point: Actually, we would be talking about death threats over a drawing of somebody burning a bear suit rumored to contain our flag, but didn’t.