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.