From the archive: Tinkerbell

Then there’s one on February 4 2006 wondering what anyone even means by “images of Mohammed” anyway.


Wait, hold on – something has just crossed my tiny mind. These cartoons – that are so ‘offensive’ because they are cartoons of Mohammed – how do the people who are so offended know they are cartoons of Mohammed? There aren’t, like, photographs of him, right? Not to mention the fact that it’s a no-no to make pictures of him anyway, so that if there were photos of him, they’d all have been thrown away by now. But surely it’s much more likely that they weren’t taken in the first place, and that drawings, paintings, watercolours, engravings, etchings, and silhouettes were not made either. And even if they had been they’d probably be pretty dilapidated by now. Pretty crumbly and curly at the edges and faded – at best. And then who knows how accurate the artists would have been, if they had taken any likenesses, which they probably didn’t, on account of how it was taboo (as we keep being reminded, because we’re so likely to forget, with all this shouting going on)? So – let’s face it – nobody knows what the guy looked like. It was fourteen hundred years ago after all. It’s like Jesus. People think they know what he looked like, but they don’t really – they know what Raphael and Rembrandt and people like that thought he looked like. But they didn’t know, see, so that doesn’t help.

There’s not, like, an unbroken chain of accurate portrayals of Jesus going all the way back to 35 CE, is there. Same deal with the prophet. Nobody knows what the guy looked like. No idea. Now I know what you’re thinking – well he looked like the cartoons! Mediterranean, bearded, kind of burly (because he was a powerful guy), kind of impressive-looking, a mensch – dark hair, big features – kind of like – oh, Anthony Quinn, say. Well no doubt you’re right, but I have to tell you, we don’t actually know that. Seriously. Nobody does. (Don’t forget the taboo thing.)

So what I’m wondering is, why on earth do all these offended people think the cartoons are of Mohammed? Because the cartoonists said so? Because they have, like, ‘Mohammed’ scribbled somewhere along the edge or on the bottom? Because of the pose and the turban? Well – that’s not much of a reason! I can do that! I can draw a picture of a dog or a cat or a bag of carrots or a teapot (no, not the one that orbits the sun, a different one) and say it’s a drawing of Mohammed, but what good does that do? Me just saying it’s Mohammed doesn’t make it Mohammed, does it. So why does a cartoonist saying it’s Mohammed make it Mohammed?

Now that I’ve had my fun, that’s actually a serious question, as well as a mocking one. Really – why do all the offended people accept that the cartoons are of Mohammed? Because a bunch of non-Muslim Danish cartoonists say they are? But how would they know? And what are they, magic? They can transform a drawing of some generic bearded guy in a turban into a representation of a specific person who died fourteen centuries ago? How? By saying so, by writing his name underneath, by the context of the jokes. But that still doesn’t make the cartoons cartoons of the actual Mohammed – not for people who just don’t accept that that’s what they are. Why don’t all the infuriated Muslims just laugh and shrug and ignore the whole thing? Why don’t they just say ‘those goofy Danish cartoonists, pretending they’ve drawn pictures of Mohammed – like they have any idea what he looked like. I’m so sure’? Why don’t they just say ‘you guys don’t know what Mohammed looked like any more than we do, and probably less (because we have this like inner intuition, which is denied to non-Muslims), so dream on – draw your stupid little pictures if you want to, we don’t care, it’s nothing to do with us’?

Actually the whole taboo is empty, it’s a taboo without a referent. It’s like a taboo on walking on water, or a taboo on sleeping on the wing of a jet plane when it’s in flight. Nobody can make a representation of Mohammed, it’s quite, quite impossible – so why worry about it? Just making representations of a man and naming them Mohammed doesn’t make them Mohammed – so why on earth worry about it?

Because the cartoons were a provocation, were meant to offend, and so on and so on. Hmm. Not really. The shouting is all about the guy himself, and how terribly terribly forbidden it all is. So – why don’t they just wake up and realize that those cartoons are not Mohammed, not in any way, because they can’t be? Why not just laugh at the pretensions of cartoonists and forget all about it?

This occurred to me while looking at the cartoons on Groep Wilders’s blog. Surely it must have occurred to a lot of people. Those are just lines on paper. We all have to buy into the idea that they are cartoons of Mohammed; otherwise they just stay lines on paper. Why buy into the idea if you don’t like it then? Very odd, people are – we believe our own lies.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    I think he had a birthmark in the shape of “666” on the top of his head, ergo the necessary turban once he started developing male pattern baldness. Things become required for any manner of odd reasons.

  2. zubanel says

    It was an analogy. And, not to be picky, humans are animals and not because I say so. That was the only thing you objected to?

  3. says

    No, not the only thing. I could have just left it and let others tell you what was wrong with it but honestly I don’t want that kind of thing here. (For instance starting off with “these people” has a very sinister ring, and when what follows is a rant…not good.)

  4. says

    Also, that literalist remark about the fact that humans are animals is just trollish. There’s a long history of calling sets of people “animals” and it’s not benign. I doubt you’re unaware of that.

  5. chirez says

    This is an old idea, which has indeed occurred to many people, you can yes draw images of any damned thing and call them Mohammed. I don’t know if anybody’s made the counter argument that the taboo is not against actual representations of the actual man (at this point, I believe it was initially) but against representations claiming to be of him.

    I’d probably be a bit put out if some Danish atheist claimed to be able to accurately depict my prophet. Not that I have any prophets, or any religion to house them. So yes, it is impossible to depict the actual Mohammed, but it’s clearly not impossible to claim to have done so. A drawing of a teapot called Mohammed is recognisably satirical, rendering it largely immune from the same response. A picture of Muhammad Ali is clearly intended to be a picture of a man who is not the prophet, and the same goes for any other pictures of Mohammeds of which I suspect the world is full.

    The objection then must be solely to depictions of an ambiguous person who could plausibly be the prophet who is not supposed to be depicted, and even then only when specifically claimed to be the man himself. Regardless of the politics or intentions of anyone publishing such images, it’s inarguable that they are doing something that some people would very much rather they not do. This does not mean they should not do it, nor does it mean any reprisals for doing so are justified, but it does mean that any claim that that is not in fact what they are, with full foreknowledge, doing, is disingenuous.

  6. Ben Finney says

    For the sake of readers who may not know the ostensible reasons, Ophelia:

    So what I’m wondering is, why on earth do all these offended people think the cartoons are of Mohammed? Because the cartoonists said so? […] Me just saying it’s Mohammed doesn’t make it Mohammed, does it. So why does a cartoonist saying it’s Mohammed make it Mohammed?

    The artist saying it’s Muhammad makes the audience (likely to) think of the image as being a depiction of Muhammad. The question isn’t about accuracy of the image; the question is of depicting Muhammad, and for that it’s essential that the image come with annotation or some other context to say “this is Allah’s prophet, Muhammad”.

    The clerics aren’t worried about whether the image is an accurate representation. They’re very much worried about whether people think of the image as a depiction of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad.

    This is because of multiple prohibitions in the Hadith, not mentioning accurate depiction, but against icons — that is, an image which makes the viewer believe it’s intended as an image depicting Muhammad.

    So yeah, they don’t care what you draw; they care very much what person you say the image represents. Ostensibly it’s to prevent idolatry (a prohibition Islam inherited from Judaism), but more practically it’s a measure to reduce effective criticism of Muhammad and other characters in Islam.

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