On the outside, it’s easy to misconstrue “Draw Muhammad Day” as a noble cause, a peaceful protest of sorts. It’s easy to believe that you’re doing the right thing by scribbling down a picture of the prophet Muhammad, posting it on the internet, and flipping the bird at any Muslims who might happen to find your actions insulting, and that they should lighten the-fuck-up because “free speech lol”.
Unfortunately, this is incorrect. What we have here is a classic case of very popular internet forum mindset – specifically, confusing the right to free speech with the right to act like a toolbag.
I’m serious – what else can you call it when a bunch of non-Muslims who live comfortable Western lives, and whose freedom of speech is not threatened in any way, deliberately and enthusiastically engage in an activity that they know will be offensive to others? Offensive to people who have never personally done anything to offend them?
It’s trolling of the highest order; textbook in execution, industrial in scale, and dripping with extra lashings of the misguided self-righteousness that only the greatest breed of troll – the unwitting – can summon.
Is it that simple? Yes, it is. But let’s examine it in more detail.
Draw Muhammed Day has its roots in the Jyllands-Posten controversy of September 2005, during which the Danish newspaper of the same name printed twelve images of the prophet Muhammad. Some of these were deliberately offensive, depicting Muhammad as a terrorist and oppressor of women, and some were completely irrelevant. Needless to say a lot of Muslims found this offensive – as the newspaper knew and intended that they would – and a lot of protests followed. Some of these protests were completely outrageous, violent and disproportionate, which made it even easier for the “supporters of free speech” to convince themselves that they were doing the right thing and Muslims just “couldn’t take a joke”.
Then nothing much happened for a while, until April this year when South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone received death threats through the Internet after they aired an episode depicting the prophet Muhammad in a bear suit. Complaints were submitted to Comedy Central and they pulled the episode from air.
Bad idea, Comedy Central. You upset the Internet.
Cartoonist Molly Norris created this cartoon espousing a “Draw Mohammad Day” as a joke and it caught on like wildfire, specifically across social networking sites like Facebook and Youtube. Norris was horrified the overtly racist overtones the “event” was quickly taking and immediately distanced herself from it, even going so far as to publicly condemn it, but it was too late. The Internet was angry, and there’s nobody who can take up a self-righteous cause and convince themselves that they’re making a difference like an anonymous man behind a computer screen.
So thousands and thousands of drawings began to flood in on May 20, the official “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day”. Some of them trying to be respectful. Some of them trying to be funny. Many, many of them trying and succeeding to be horrifically racist.
All of them offensive.
Doing something that you know will deliberately offend somebody else deeply proves nothing about free speech. If I went up to a man on the street and explained in great detail about how much of a syphilitic whore his wife was, I should expect that he should get angry about it. If I stroll through a funeral parlour during a moving service, farting wildly and shouting about how the deceased enjoyed carnal relations with donkeys, I should expect that those people at the service would get angry about it. And if I tried to say, as they advanced upon me with murderous rage, that I was just exercising my right to free speech and they should all get over it, I highly doubt that would carry any weight at all. They would be finding small pieces of my body clogging nearby drains.
Yet apparently, knowing that Muslims believe visual depictions of the prophet Muhammad to be deeply blasphemous and then doing it anyway, it is okay to act surprised and say “Woah Muslims, get over it, free speech lol”.
Having the right to free speech also comes with the responsibility of knowing when to exercise it meaningfully and respectfully. Yes, I have the right to put pen to paper and draw the prophet Muhammad. But I have the responsibility to realise the effect my actions will have on others who share this society with me, and I choose not to exercise that right. I’m willing to put money down, that nobody who took part in Draw Muhammad Day has a single Muslim friend in real life. It’s easy to deliberately upset people on the Internet, but it’s not so easy to have to look your friend in the eye the next time you meet, knowing that you’ve deeply offended them and their beliefs.
The only thing that Draw Muhammad Day has conclusively proved is that some people don’t deserve the right to free speech. And that it’s easy to drape yourself in moral righteousness and confrontational attitudes from behind the safety of a computer screen. I should know.
I’m not trying to upset anybody who took part in or supported Draw Muhammad Day. I’m just exercising my right to respectful and well-meaning free speech.
Oh, and before anybody jumps in with the well-worn line about “But we show pictures of Jesus all the time and Christians don’t get angry!”, stop for a moment and consider that it’s not actually blasphemous to depict Jesus under the tenets of the Christian religion. In fact it’s encouraged.
That said, I’d be interested to see how any Christians who took part in Draw Muhammad Day would react, if there was a “Draw Jesus Fucking A Dog” day. Free speech indeed.
10 thoughts on “Trolling in the Name Of”
When is “Draw Jesus Fucking a Dog” day? I have to tell the Internet about that one! 😉
Also, yes everyone has the right to be a dick. Accordingly, if you choose to exercise that right, it becomes very apparent that you are a dick. Good post.
I considered starting Draw Jesus Fucking a Dog Day as an actual thing but realised all the smug atheists would cling onto it and that’d be the point I give up and move to a cliff-side base to build a giant orbital laser.
Hm, so it’s okay to troll Michael Atkinson but not muslims? You should write a list.
Rich: Yes, essentially! I think we can both agree that political satire of one public figure is not the same as deliberate provocation of one of the world’s largest religions.
Or are you just trying to troll me too? Ho ho ho
Nope, was a genuine argument. Why is Michael Atkinson a valid target and not Muslims? Because he holds a public office? Because if you provoke Muslims, people often get killed in retaliation? You didn’t mention that 140 people were killed in a Danish embassy in Tehran in response to the Danish comic… Surely those people should be condemned above the satirists.
I think it’s all very well being righteous when you’re far removed from such cultural clashes, but experiencing it here in the UK is much different. Take this story for example;
Now I’m not saying the Muslim community as a whole should be held responsible, but in the same way we chastise parents for naughty children’s behaviour, there should be increased pressure on religious leaders to ensure that such extremist behaviour is not bred within their walls.
Regardless, as a Brit talking to an Australian, I’m suprised you support any notion that our history of brutal, scathing satire and provocation is not anything but a badge of honour. I for one do not want to live in a world where we have to be tiptoe around and watch our words in case we offend anyone. Especially when it comes to religion – it’s been at the heart of pretty much every major conflict since time began.
Richard you are a cool dude and I like you a lot! But you are putting words in my mouth and then arguing against them as though they were something I actually said.
I did not in any way state or imply that Islam – or any religion at all – should be above criticism. And I am absolutely not saying that violent extremists should be ignored or worse, encouraged. I fervently believe the exact opposite of those things!
What I am saying is that there is a difference between criticising a religion and deliberately setting out to be offensive to somebody’s religious beliefs.
What I am saying is that Draw Muhammad Day is pure trolling and adds nothing to any sort of constructive dialogue about the place of radicalism in Islam. Doing something that you know other people will find offensive, just so that you can feel smug when they do get offended, is fucking retarded!
This isn’t about cultural clashes or whose country is closest to the flashpoint, this is about people’s unwillingness to engage in a respectful and educated dialogue, and their absolute willingness to believe that somehow Muslims as a whole are “violent” because they get angry when people deliberately offend them.
I can also once again only reiterate, that political satire of a single politician is not the same thing as deliberately setting out to offend millions of people. I am very confused as to how you can draw a connection there!
I agree with you that many people intentionally made rude and disrespectful depictions of Muhammad just to anger Muslims, but this is nothing new at all. People have been doing this for ages.
I think what most people feel when Muslims get angry over ANY depiction of Muhammad is the hipocracy Muslims show over it. Their religion forbids the depiction of ANY religious figures not just Muhammad.
So why don’t they get angry, protest and deliver death threats when Buddha, Jesus, Moses or any other religious figure is represented in either a good or bad way?
It’s blatant hipocracy on their part. Not meaning to offend the followers of Islam, but their God means nothing to me, which is exactly the same stance they have on other religions, as evidenced by the posters and shouts of “death to the infidel” you constantly see.
It’s “give and take” but they don’t seem to want to be on the giving side.
We are all Infidels and should be killed as far as they are concerned.
Never saw the point of “Draw Muhammad” day. Then again I don’t see the point of going out of one’s way to be a dick to anyone. I’m a Christian and even I was offended by all that. Many of my friends happen to be Muslim, yes, but even outside of that, this behavior was rude for ANYONE.
There is a huge difference between discussion (and critique) and heckling. Discussion and critique breeds understanding and growth. Heckling does nothing but breed contempt and entrenched positions.
This does nothing, but pander to extremists on all sides: from the paranoid Islamaphobes (both secular and religious) who believe that Western Culture must destroy Islam to save itself (never mind the fact that wiping out belief systems or worldviews has NEVER made the world better) to the Radicals who use Islam to cover a political agenda which relies on them making Muslims believe that Western Culture is inherently hostile to them and will never give them a fair shake (even though they are just as willing to bomb Mosques and violate every single fatwa just to cling to power).
The simple issue is that: can a group (Muslims in that case, but it could really be any group) be allowed to make a superseding rule?
That superseding rule in this case is “Talking bad/picturing our Prophet is an attack on us all and allows us to kill you”. Comparing that to donkeys and your wife is trolling.
Let’s go further.
If you do NOT believe in Islam, you then automatically believe Muhammad was no prophet. But then what was he? Someone who pretends to be what he is not is a liar or a madman. We just established that if you’re not a Muslim, you then think Muhammad pretended to be what he was not, hence that you believe him to be a liar or a madman.
If you say so, you MUST die. It’s not that you are wrong: any Muslim should kill you for that. That’s where the superseding rule hits back at you. That’s also why it’s not trolling, but really making obvious the cultural issue here: should one group, the Occidental free-speech minded world, tolerate that another group makes rules that hits that free-speech rule?
I don’t. You can go and say I’m a dick, but I’ll side with Voltaire. I personally disagree with these cartoons, because I don’t see why they were any fun or witty. However, we should fight so that people keep the right to make those stupid unfunny cartoons. Our civilization depends on it.
For a comment that opens with “the simple issue”, Mr. I Disagree, it’s pretty clear that you don’t actually understand the issue at hand at all.
The issue is not: “We as a free-speaking society should not tolerate Muslims threatening to kill people who talk shit about their prophet”. The issue is “We should not deliberately do things that anger people deeply just so that we can enjoy how angry they got”. That’s “the simple issue”, and that’s the subject of my entire post, which I’m beginning to believe you didn’t even read.
Your comment indicates that you believe that any and all Muslims wish to murder any and all people who do not believe in Islam, which is not only outrageous, but a sweepingly incorrect generalisation, and also, fucking stupid. That’s not even slightly the case, and pretending that it is as evidence to support your ridiculously flawed argument is farcical at best.
You ask “should one group, the Occidental free-speech minded world, tolerate that another group makes rules that hits that free-speech rule” and then say that you “don’t”. If I understand you correctly it appears you’ve clearly judged your your own Occidental free-speaking culture to be superior and therefore believe that it should not have to “tolerate” another inferior culture.
The reality is that no culture is any more or less superior than another, and the only way that different cultures can co-exist peacefully is if they respect each other and don’t deliberately antagonise them, such as oh I don’t know, trolling for a reaction by abusing their prophet.
Do not ask “Why aren’t I allowed to make fun of the prophet Muhammed?” Instead, ask, “What could I possibly gain by making fun of the prophet Muhammed, and will it prove anything at all or in any way help these two cultures to understand each other?”
The onus is not on Muslims to stop being offended by your bullshit. The onus is on you to treat everybody with respect.
As for you, Sean (#8), until you can accept the fact that not all Muslims believe Westerners are “infidels and should be killed”, and that statements like that are actually incredibly racist, hurtful and wrong, I’d ask you not to comment on my blog any more. That’s about as true as saying “all Westerners are fat rich godless pigs”. Generalisations work both ways.
As an aside, did you know “infidel” is actually an English word? Not an Arabic word? It’s a word we Westerners have apparently decided that Muslims and Arabs like to say, when it’s actually one we invented to describe non-Christians during the Crusades.
The more you know, the harder it is to make racist generalisations.
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