Flawed interpretation of Koran results in overreactions to “˜Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’
By Tyler Dosaj
May 17, 2010 10:48 p.m.
Images can become idols. Stare too long at Justin Bieber’s venerable mug and you might forget the real boy behind Usher’s experiment. Look at a picture of God, and the image might take God’s place. And since the human hand cannot possibly portray the divine, it will be a poor copy. Ask to see God, and you’ll be shown Santa Claus with Christmas-red swapped for a toga.
And Muhammad? Draw him, says the Koran, and the prophet and everything he represents are suddenly void of meaning. Or your house might be set on fire, as was the fate on May 15 of Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist who depicted Muhammad as a dog.
This arson comes four days after Vilks was head-butted during a lecture on free speech. He’s previously been the target of Jihad Jane, the Pennsylvania woman turned international assassin for Islam. And he still has a $100,000 bounty on his head courtesy of a group linked to al-Qaida. Islam might warn against idolizing images, but maybe its leaders should make clear that cartoonists aren’t idols, either. Vilks has incited riots across multiple nations. He qualifies.
“˜Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ is a show of solidarity with both Vilks and “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who received their own death threats for a Muhammad unveiling attempt in Episode 200. Revolution Muslim, which can claim Jihad Jane as a follower, issued the fatwa against Stone and Parker.
Not wanting its resident funnymen to go the way of Theo van Gogh, who was a Dutch filmmaker murdered and hacked up for his film “Submission,” Comedy Central censored the episode. Jesus, a cocaine-snorting Buddha and Barbara Streisand were left to hold the stage for Muhammad.
The aim of Draw Mohammed Day is to showcase too many Muhammad artists for radical Muslims to head-butt or murder. The Facebook group is 35,000 strong. To compare, the anti-Draw Mohammed Day group is almost 30,000 strong. Both are gaining members rapidly.
It would be too convenient to label one group the Christian crusaders for Bush and the other Jihadists for censorship by death. The opposition Facebook page is bedecked with images of religious unity. They seem to condemn the forthcoming slew of Muhammad depictions as Islamophobic, another stone thrown in a fight most Muslims want no part of.
Fortunately for the live and let-live crowd, Draw Mohammed Day protests radical Islam, not the millions of Muslim Americans who couldn’t care less what goes on in “South Park.” Drawings of Muhammad might offend them anyway, but they should know that not all the doodlers will be bigots who applaud every time a drone blows up a few kids in Pakistan.
The reason to take crayons to the prophet is to plumb not the tolerance of Islam but the limits of artistic freedom. To the mind of an artist, or to students bombarded since preschool with the First Amendment, it must seem peculiar that the vast universe contains but one thing that cannot be represented visually. Especially when that one thing is off-limits because, somewhere in the distant past, someone settled on one unshakable interpretation of a few lines in the Koran.
Beyond the passage concerning idolatry, the Koran says of Allah, “Naught is as His likeness.” Nothing can resemble God because no one knows what he looks like in the first place.
But nowhere is it explicitly forbidden that humans try to depict him. We’ll wind up drawing a silly bearded man, but we can try. How “His likeness” covers the prophets is also a mystery. It seems almost idolatrous to pay God’s messenger the same reverence as God.
Granted, Muslims with a personal investment in the prophet aren’t going to be swayed by technical arguments about scripture, any more than a technical reading of the Bible would convince Christians to sell their possessions and give to the poor. Belief cannot be dispelled by logic, but nor should belief dispel contrary opinions.
Even Molly Norris, the Seattle artist responsible for Draw Mohammed Day, has disowned it. Why? In a Los Angeles Times interview, Norris explained that her cartoons “struck a gigantic nerve.” She should feel artistically validated for riling the masses, but because radicals have decided to impose an Islamic belief on non-Muslims, she can only cringe and hide.
This isn’t to say art should mimic hate speech. But no belief system can survive indefinitely by smashing the mirror held to its face by skepticism. Christianity is still here because its followers have sworn off most of the Bible’s more archaic stipulations. There was no hammer of God to punish Copernicus’ blasphemous hypotheses, and we can assume the sky won’t rain hellfire because a few people on the Internet uploaded Muhammad pictures.
If the only reason not to draw Muhammad is that the drawings will offend, his sanctity is ripe to be challenged. Prophet fans should celebrate a few jibes at their faith, if only to reaffirm it.