Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Happy M-Day--Drawing Muhammad

Today, May 20th, has "officially" been declared Everybody Draw Muhammad day. The idea has been sparked because of the recent flare-up over the censorship at Comedy Central when the popular show South Park wanted to depict the prophet of Islam or at least joke about the censorship of any depiction of him. After a website posted a sort of death threat if the creators of the show actually revealed Muhammad, Comedy Central went crazy on censorship, bleeping out the very name of Muhammad... er, I mean *********, and bleeping out the monologue that gives the show a sense of morality, at least more so than, say, Two and a Half Men.

This is of course also in response to what had happened after the Danish cartoon incident a few years ago. Even now those cartoonists have to worry about their very lives and have been attacked on multiple occasions. So Comedy Central, after seeing what had happened before did not allow Trey and Matt to do what they wanted.

Then again, South Park had already done this. Back in 2001, ******** was featured in an episode. As far as I know, no one was killed or attacked because of this. Oh, and now Comedy Central has blocked that episode from being viewed on its associated websites.

All of this goes against an almost sacred doctrine in the West, that of Freedom of Speech. By declaring "blasphemy" all of the sudden Islam and its founder are off limits. Well, it's more than shouting. It was in part because of riots, murders, and further threats of violence, all in the name of the religion of peace. It's hypocritical if networks such as Comedy Central allow depictions of Jesus and Buddha, especially in a mocking fashion, but not Muhammad...oh, sorry, but not *********. And yet in the very episode that was censored Jesus watches porn and Buddha does lines of coke. If you didn't get the point of why they did these things, then you didn't really watch the episode. Even with the censorship, the purpose is all too clear.

So, to make up for the self-castration by censorship that major networks have done, it is up to regular folks to proudly depict a major religious figure. Today we draw MUHAMMAD.

Why do this? Simply to insult?

Perhaps for some, this will be the case. The recent videos of Thunderf00t on YouTube suggest that. However, I see a very important reason that is beyond petty blasphemies or mockeries. If thousands stand up and do the thing that so many mobs complain about, the power of the mod will be undone. If threats are made idol and anger begets more or what is undesired, the vehicle of violence will be ripped of its fuel and die on the side of the road. Not all can be attacked, and with so many targets it will overwhelm those that decry free expression all that will happen is tails will go between legs and the stupidly proud mobsters will cower away.

Already the effect is felt. Pakistan has banned access to Facebook because of a group promoting the depiction of the prophet. An entire nation is supposed to be afraid of cartoons now? They have to block one of the largest peer-2-peer networking sights in the world? Well, perhaps once they find out that you can Google images of the prophet they will have to ban the Internet. Yeah, I'm sure abandoning modern technology is the way to go forward and become a first-world nation. With nukes. (Crap.)
(UPDATE: Now YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan!)

Shall I draw Muhammad and potential put my livelihood at risk? No. Not because of fear of violence. Rather, I just suck at art.

Instead, how about letting real artists show us the prophet. In fact, how about Muslims drawing Muhammad?

This is from a 15th century leaflet, depicting the prophet being called upon by the angel Gabriel to speak of the word of Allah.

How could a Muslim possibly depict the prophet? Isn't that against the faith? Is this kosher?

(Note: the Wikipedia page on the subject is very good, especially concerning the response on the editors of the site to those that wished to remove images of Muhammad on the "Depictions of Muhammad" page.)

If you turn to the Qur'an, there is nothing about not being allowed to draw a picture of the prophet. It does not allow idolatry (Sura 21:52-4), similar to that found in Judaism and Christianity. Yet in these religions there are plenty of depictions of Jesus, Moses, etc. Occasionally there are puritans, such as, well, the Puritans that not only forbade the celebration of Christmas and birthdays, but even stain-glass windows in churches.

Now, even non-believers can appreciate the glories of medieval architecture in cathedrals. The minsters of England, Notre Dame of Paris, and so on are beautiful in their own right, even if the religion itself has an ugly side. Similarly, a mosque is marvelous when well-built, and the above piece of art is also masterful.

Yet some Muslims would rather put this page to the torch. In fact, many old Persian pieces of art showing Muhammad were destroyed in the middle of the last millennium. As far as I am concerned, drawing Muhammad is not anti-religious; rather, it is both pro-free speech and pro-art. Why not fill the world with the beautiful? Why destroy that which was made with devotion, especially when it is devotion to your more glorified figures?

It may be the case that South Park's Muhammad is not as masterful as others, but it is not revolting either.

A prophet that can shoot fire from his hands? And has nice threads? I'll sign up!

Oh, but no, this is too much for some. What possible basis can there be for this apparent displeasure with any drawn image of Muhammad?

Since the problem in this case does not stem from the holy book, instead you must look to the traditional literature, the Hadith. These are works that claim a basis in tradition going back to the early days of Islam. And they are about a dime a dozen. Not all hadiths are considered canonical, and historians doubt a better number of their contents. Nonetheless, some of these are held in high regard by Muslim scholars, much like the Talmud in Judaism or the apostolic fathers in Catholicism.

In one of these traditions, it is inappropriate to draw any living creature. Some go so far to ban the painting of anything (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 648; Sahih Muslim, 24, 5272)! No art at all? Well, that is much like the Taliban's policies, which include the complete removal of music from life. But why on earth remove art from life? From what I can tell, the theological idea is that it is boastful for the human to depict the world that Allah created and call what you had done your own creation. In the first of the cited hadiths, Allah calls the artist unjust and challenges them to create the smallest of things. And so, in the Hanafi school of law, a part of Sunni Islamic world, forbids all depictions of animals and humans.

What could be more anti-human than the walling off of humanities creativity in rendering the world around us. These fundamentalist imams and their like which to starve us off of all the created world in order to focus on their deity and rituals. This is the most strident stand against humanist values, deploring what abilities we have in order to shut out the very thing so worth exploring. It is the death of the soul for the sake of "saving" it. One may cut off a limb to avoid a more serious sickness, but this is a lobotomy as deep into the psyche as possible.

But then why are the Muslims only crying about images of Muhammad when even pictures of people or animals is so terrible? There is one reason that I can see, and that is when these complaints are made Westerners back down and cower to these demands. That weakness has allowed the tyrannical misanthropy of cowards who could not possibly persuade by reason to cripple some of the most important rights in the democratic world. Also, the prevention of depictions of Muhammad stave off criticisms of the religion he represents; if you fear to as much as draw him, do you really have the courage to spit at his beliefs or chide his philosophy?

This is about power, and I for one shall not yield to such barbaric hatred of the human condition. Not only shall I put up pictures of people and places, cattle and the cosmos, I shall put up the image of the prophet Muhammad and the various prophets sacred to the major religions of the world. Not to insult, not to harass, but to empower the human spirit, to let it soar no matter what weights some philistine wants to place on its wings.

The religion of Islam has done much that is vile, but I shall oppose it with the beautiful and of its own creation. Let these fools who prefer medieval thinking to return to caves with their head in the desert sand. Let them hide from the wonders of the universe and the minds that inhabit it, the free minds that will not be shackled by superstition and fear. Let their timidity be writ large as their own symbols of religion destroy them.


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