Picture This: When We Draw Muhammad, We Draw a Line

July 1, 2010

ssa empiricalLast month, I was invited to write an opinion piece for the Secular Student Alliance‘s eMpirical on “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” and explain why I disagree with it so strongly. Head on over to their website to check it out!

Many thanks to the SSA for asking me to weigh in on this; I’ve been honored to work with the organization several times now, and am really looking forward to speaking at their National Conference at the end of this month. Speaking of: you should come!

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8 Responses to “Picture This: When We Draw Muhammad, We Draw a Line”

  1. Actually, I would say Islam drew the line. We just supplied the erasers.

  2. Hitch said

    The commenter above gets at the heart of the problem.

    See what is “normal” has changed. It used to be normal to include Muhammad in the Superbest friends of Southpark. It also used to be that historical (and highly devotional) pictures of Muhammad were exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    It used to be that we upheld the free inquiry in the plurality of world views.

    Now? A smiling stick figure is a swastika. We have the right to draw it but should have the good sense to not draw it. There is a supposed bigotry in wanting to draw it.

    But what is the real problem here?

    The real problem here is that only one side is explained. Yes in a neutral world noone should want to draw Muhammad. I do not have any particular desire to offend anybody.

    But we have to stand up for positive values even if it is labeled and perceived as offensive.

    Open pluralistic society, cultural goods, free inquriy are positive values. There is no interfaith without these values.

    But in the name of not being offensive we are asked to give up this. We are asked to give up access to culture that we used to have access to.

    Why are we not seeing articles calling for everybody of every faith to protect our cultural heritage? No, it is easier, flashier and culturally more acceptable to say that atheists are insensitive.

    And this is why interfaith of this kind fails. It has not yet understood what pluralism really is and what the identity of a humanist is. And it has not understood that to explain differences means to explain it to both sides.

    It’s not enough to tell an atheist that drawing Muhammad is perceived as offensive. True interfaith means that we also explain to believing Muslims that most who did draw smiling stick figures did not do so to offend. They did so to protect free expression, and in fact to protect the Muslim’s own diverse cultural identity that is being collapsed in more extreme forms.

    As long as we do not explain each other to each other interfaith is doomed to fail because it actually otherizes some, in this case the atheists are the “other” and that should not be.

    Indeed the secular students who drew smiling stick figures reached out to Muslim groups. But that too was hardly reported. These secular students largely acted exactly how we want people who like interfaith to act. Maintain their own identity, but invite other to participate, explain their identity and give voice to the other.

    But there is no praise for these students even from Greg Epstein who should be their advocate and their explaining voice.

  3. Hitch said

    “Yes in a neutral world noone should want to draw Muhammad.”

    On second reading this is not actually what I mean. In a neutral world, Muhammad drawn in a non-offensive setting should have the possibility of a neutral or positive interpretation.

    Exactly like historic devotional drawings of Muhammad used to have, and I dare wager still have that interpretation for many Muslims.

    But this is how far we have lost already. To not draw Muhammad is the new norm, or so we are told. It used to not be that way, and even different strands if Islam used to think differently about the topic. Apparently it’s decided that there is only one Islam and that’s the one we have to honor.

    But in reality we are supposed to abide by a newer more extreme. This is the very problem at hand.

  4. […] week my opinion piece for the Secular Student Alliance on “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” caught the attention of a conservative Christian who […]

  5. […] young people to create communities. They do such important work, and I am honored to be a member, contribute to the eMpirical, and speak at their conference. I celebrate where our ambitions overlap – I too want to see more […]

  6. […] She’s right: we have a lot of work to do. So often, we engage in mean-spirited criticism when we encounter those with different opinions. In many ways, we’ve earned our bad reputation. […]

  7. […] addresses Molly Norris and “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” which I have written about several […]

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