CAIRO: In Pakistan, people are furious, and fury is contagious.
A Facebook group aiming to mark May 20 as “Draw Mohammed Day” was created to elicit caricatures of the Muslim Prophet and has attracted over 81,000 fans.
According to reports, in Pakistan, a court ordered authorities to block Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia after a petition filed by a lawyers’ group called the Islamic Lawyers’ Movement, described Facebook group “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” as “blasphemous” and sought to have it blocked.
The group itself was inspired by comments made by Seattle-based cartoonist Molly Norris who, on a radio show last month criticized Comedy Central’s decision to censor a South Park episode depicting the Prophet in a way that some Muslims deemed “offensive”. Her comments followed recent threats against the makers of South Park that they risked the same fate as slain Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim extremist in Amsterdam in 2004.
The actual creator of the Facebook group, Jon Wellington, had reportedly withdrawn his support for the campaign and so has Norris, who, according an article published by the Economic Times (an Indian publication) has distanced herself from the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” Facebook group, writing on her webpage: “Hello, I never created a facebook page for EDMD”.
She also went on to “apologize to people of Muslim faith and ask that this ‘day’ be called off” and she thanked “those who are turning this crazy thing into an opportunity for dialogue”.
And indeed this is precisely what has happened. And this is also why I write this column both in defence of Facebook and of freedom of expression, despite being deeply offended by some of the initial responses that started appearing as May 20 dawned in.
Within less than 24 hours, what began as a competition on how to be as offensive as possible to Muslims while pretending to defend freedom of expression, quickly turned into a fervent dialogue between people with views that spanned the extreme ends of the spectrum on this ages-old debate.
Actual cartoon submissions began to dwindle, replaced instead by a generally reasoned conversation, which, though not without its share of expletives, showed how participants were at least attempting to engage with their polar “other” through dialogue, as opposed to vitriolic images born of ignorance, hate and bigotry.
Thus, exchanges like the following are why I would never support absolute censorship:
A comment by a Facebook member who goes by the name Christian Major says:
“My two cents: If you’re drawing Muhammed, fine. If you’re drawing a deliberately offensive or inflammatory depiction of Muhammed, well, you’re asking for trouble and you probably deserve some of it, too. Just because someone doesn’t agree with an edict doesn’t mean you have to be a prick about it. This group and event was supposed to be used to promote and raise awareness, for Christ’s sake, not as a way for petty, small-minded people to provoke senselessly.”
To which Noelle Dalton replies: “Oh please people make fun of jesus all the time he’s a character on a few cartoon shows like family guy & south park muslims need to get a sense of humor especially if they plan on being in the US.”
Christian Major: “Freedom ends where other people’s Freedom begins, and human rights rule over all. No, they don’t have a right to threaten ANYONE with death, but you don’t have a right to trample their religious beliefs either.
So I’m saying: draw Muhammed; but don’t be a prick about it. Because being a prick solves NOTHING. Just ask any social justice movement group out there. Because in a sense this is what it is about.”
Noelle Dalton: “Also just speaking as an atheist I think religion is stupid in general it has propagated more bigotry misogyny intolerance & ignorance why why why do we continue as a species continue down this path.”
Christian Major: “Atheism is just another support group for finding purpose in life. No different than religion. And we don’t get pissed at Jesus jokes because we’ve been secular for so long, we don’t give two s**ts.”
Noelle Dalton: “Why do you care so much about how Islam is perceived Why do you care Why cant Muhammad be picked on & ridiculed just like every other deity look at the super best friends on south park they poke fun at a lot of deities including the one they had doing blow off a desk Moooooslims need to lighten up & so do you.”
And replying to a contributor who said that “this event was set up to raise awareness of how rediculus some muslims can be when it comes to a drawing”, Christian Major says, “Some” muslims is right. But implying all of them are ridiculous about it is like saying all Americans were behind Bush because he got elected.” (sic)
And the conversation continues.
The power of instant media and virtual open borders to alter perspectives is unfathomable, and to that sublime end, I would be more than willing to be a little offended, if it means that my offender will listen to me if I try to explain why Muslims like me react so strongly to what those who subscribe to the absolutist definition of freedom of expression think of as simply a joke.
What I see as a positive reaction to this provocative group did not come about overnight. It is the fruit of global initiatives that have, on the one hand, presented the Muslim side to the West and on the other, shown Muslims — even “moderate” ones who somehow went ballistic with the first cartoon incident — that violent over-reactions only defeat the purpose and lead to more provocation, and that what to us is sacred, is no more than an empty myth to others.
The rule is: express your indignation, but learn to accept difference.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.