May 20th was “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” (Yes, clearly I keep abreast of the latest goings on – I write these 2 weeks in advance, give me a break). People from all around the world drew pictures of what the prophet Muhammad might look like (nobody really knows) and posted them on the internet, as a protest against the actions of radical groups threatening or carrying out acts of violence against people who draw the prophet (including Trey Parker and Matt Stone). Muslims all over the world completely missed the point and protested that they were being victimized. How one is ‘victimized’ by a campaign supporting the rights of people not to be censored or physically attacked is beyond even my considerable mental powers of comprehension.
True to form, the Muslim world responded by doing exactly what everyone was complaining about, making violent threats and completely ignoring the purpose of the criticism. And of course, not wanting to be left out, the government of Pakistan blocked all access to Facebook, and for greater measure canceled YouTube as well, citing concerns that there might be content that was offensive to Muslims. First of all, Pakistan, not all of the people who live in your country are Muslim. Second, those who are Muslim have the option to simply not use Facebook or Youtube. Third, they can still use it, but not navigate to those pages they find offensive. Fourth, there’s content on the internet that everyone finds offensive (or at least should) – that’s the world. You can’t simply stick your fingers in your ears and make all the bad things go away.
Fida Gul, the lawyer who asked the high court to uphold the ban was quoted as saying:
“I am grateful to the High Court judges for this verdict… We needed to provide a message to non-Muslims not to disrespect our prophet.”
The problem with Mr. Gul’s reasoning is that it does not provide a message of any kind. It provides a giant non-message. It says to the world “every time you do something we don’t like, we will walk out of the conversation.” It says, quite proudly “we will refuse to engage in any kind of rational discussion, and let religious superstition and irrational idiocy rule our lives.” What a sad statement to be proud of.
A part of me wishes I was more sympathetic to Muslims in this matter. Right now, Islam is the whipping boy of the entire world, and people who have no dog in the fight are being dragged in. The problem is, it’s not arbitrary. Atrocious acts are being committed on a regular basis under the guise of Islamic teaching. Women are being subjugated and abused, children are being seduced into murdering people, secular education and life is being forced to make accommodation after accommodation for impractical dress codes… Islam is not being targeted at random. And while I’m sure there are many moderate Muslims who don’t think it’s right that these things go on, they complain until they are blue in the face when someone draws a picture, but there is no similar outrage when someone firebombs a hack cartoonist’s house. Where’s the protests then? Where are the Facebook groups decrying the distortion of your purportedly peaceful religious beliefs? Oh right, they’re right there next to the “Evangelical Christians for Abortion Rights” and “Jews against Palestinian civilian deaths” groups. You can’t have your hypocrisy and eat it too.
There is one group of people in this story with whom I do sympathize. Just like you’ll find in any group of people, there are many smart Muslim people who can see the point of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day – affirming the statement that one’s personal religious beliefs do not apply to anyone else. If I believe that the ghost of Colonel Sanders lives in the apartment next door, my neighbours don’t have to let me into their home to pray and eat chicken 4 times a day. Just as they are not obligated to accommodate my superstition, nobody in the world has the right to tell me that I must censor myself to abide by their religious beliefs. Talk about why it offends you, if you wish. Engage in a dialogue. But when people see that the beliefs of one group of people are affecting how they live their lives and express themselves, they have every right to fight back and do the exact same (minus the violence). While I deplore anyone who lifts a finger to hurt an innocent Muslim (or an innocent anyone) as an act of revenge for the actions of extremist groups, I cannot condemn someone for drawing a picture and forcing a debate.