My Interview About A Visual Koran I Drew
“Too controversial” to publish? You be the judge.
Author's note: This is the full transcript of a radio interview I did with the Danish outlet, DR, about the young reader’s Koran I did drawings for, which was written by Danish writer, Kåre Bluitgen, and titled The Shady Garden. DR told me that they would publish it in their online publication, until some at the outlet decided it was “too controversial” to publish. Well, it was finally published this week, a few months later, after some internal pushback. And the full article discusses the internal conflict that the outlet had over the initial decision to not publish it, with a discussion about it, which you should be able to read in English if you click this google search link, and then by clicking the “Translate this page” option in the second link from the top. It should automatically send you to a translated version of the article into English.
Also, in reading the full transcript, I found a number of errors, as well as words that were attributed to me which simply did not sound like me. So I made some edits in order to clarify my intent in my answers.
DR: Let’s start with who you are. Why did you decide to leave Islam?
BF: I was in my mid-teens and the life in my family was very different from the life outside my family at school. I had Jewish friends. I had friends who were girls. I had friends who were basically in happy families. My family was pretty brutal. They were physically abusive whereas my friends' families were not. They were very happy kids and to me that was normal. What we were was abnormal. There was just too much contrast there and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be a part of it. And one thing I recognized were the constant lies from my family being told about Jews, about America, about women in particular. And I just didn't want to be a part of it anymore and I left.
DR: What is your relationship today with your family?
BF: I don't have a relationship with my family.
DR: So they cut you off?
BF: It was a slow mutual break. I don't have any contact with them.
DR: When did you begin drawing professionally?
BF: It was 16 years ago, when I published my first book, which was a graphic novel called Table for One. I had worked in the restaurant business for years and I wanted to use my experiences and I decided to write and draw a story about it. I was nominated for two awards for it from the Eisner Awards, which is considered the Oscars of comics. It was in 2004 that I published that.
DR: One year later, 2005, was the Mohammad crisis, which was sparked here in Denmark. What impact did it have on your cartoonist career?
BF: 9/11 to me was what brought it all back. I had left Islam. I had no interest in it. I had heard stories about bombings, but 9/11 for me brought it all back and that’s when I wanted to revisit Islam. I had never read the Quran. Most of my family members had never read the Quran. They were just content being part of the ‘atmospherics of Islam’, as Hugh Fitzgerald puts it. They were anti-Jew, they didn't eat pork, but they didn't practice it much. I, on the other hand, have read the Quran twice. I had read every book I could get my hands on and I studied the religion because I knew I would take it on in my work. (that ended up being my Pigman comic book) I knew I would be writing a story about it and then, when the cartoon crisis happened in 2005, I had no idea about the prohibition of drawing Mohammad. My family didn't even teach me that, and technically speaking, there really was no prohibition, because even Shiite Muslims drew Mohammad for centuries. To me, the prohibition of drawing Mohammad is really only about Muslims wanting to control the West in this modern era and during this global Jihad. That’s all it’s really about. It is not about this locked-in prohibition. It’s about them trying to control us and trying to make us de facto Muslims. They don't want Mohammad to be drawn anywhere. So that's why in 2005 I said: “Wait a minute, you can be killed for drawing Mohammad?" So what did I do? I drew Mohammad, because that is what a normal person who loves the freedom of speech does. So that's why I began to draw Mohammad in 2005 and then when Charlie Hebdo was fire-bombed in 2011, I drew Mohammad again .. but in 2010 - a little before that, actually - I drew Mohammad more and more, and then, of course, after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, I decided to draw him even more. Do you want me to keep going or do you want me to stop and you can ask a new question?
DR: No, it is okay. You can just keep on flash-forwarding.
BF: After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Muslims in Texas got together and had this conference that was basically in defense of the prophet - in defense of Mohammad. They had no concern for those who were slaughtered. They had no concern that free speech was under siege. They only were concerned with their prophet as if he was abused somehow by these cartoonists. So Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer responded to that by having a Mohammad cartoon contest that would be held a the same place as the Muslim conference was, at in the Curtis Culwell Center, on May 3rd in 2015. And I entered the contest. I had a pretty good idea that I would win. I’m not being arrogant about it, but I had been drawing Mohammad for years at that point. I had drawn him a few dozen times by that point in all different kinds of ways, so I said: "Well, I probably will have a good opportunity in winning this". And I entered it, and I was told that there were 350 different entries .. and I was invited to be at the event and I asked: "Did I win?" I wanted to be sure before I went. They said: "Just come and we will see". I said: "Ok". I went there and I was announced as the winner [if you haven’t seen my winning Mohammad cartoon, check it out here] and I delivered a speech, and one of the things I said in my speech was: "Why do you think we have this kind of heavy security? Because Islam does Not mean peace". Within a half hour, two Jihadists from Arizona, who drove to Texas, came out of their car, shooting. Fortunately, they were shot down by a cop who blew their heads off. People tell me it was a bad thing, that night, but it wasn’t terrible. I went to defend free speech and two Jihadists came to murder us and they were killed. To me that is not a bad thing. The bad guys lost. The good guys won and freedom of speech was defended and .. Hello?
DR: Yes? Sorry, I'm just listening.
BF: I'm sorry. I just heard a beep.
DR: Not from here.
BF: After that, I got more death threats than usual. I took even more precautions. I had to be in touch with local authorities, and with the FBI. But - I will say one more thing - the most threats I have ever gotten in my entire life was two years ago after I was announced as the judge for another Mohammad cartoon contest which Geert Wilders from the Netherlands, was hosting. And for some reason - I don't know why - that got me more death threats that ever. Literally thousands upon thousands upon thousands of death threats on every platform possible. I’ve been banned from platforms for criticizing Islam, for drawing Mohammad, for criticizing those who promote Islam. But still they found their way into private messaging, found my blog, and my e-mails. And then what I decided to do was to use those death threats in a book series called Peaceful Death Threats. And I have two volumes. I probably will have four. Since they gave me death threats for Mohammad cartoons, I drew new Mohammad cartoons, and I published them, one Mohammad cartoon on each page, with about half a dozen death threats published alongside it, with commentary by me throughout the entire book on the “peaceful” death threats. And the reason why I called my series Peaceful Death Threats is because in some of the death threats they literally tell me: "I'm gonna cut your head off. I'm gonna rape you. I'm gonna murder you. And Islam is a religion of peace." They literally say this. They tell me that Islam means peace and then how much they want to murder me.
DR: Before we go on to talk about The Shady Garden - do you think these people are representative for Islam because there are so many, there are millions of Muslims in the world. So even though you get thousands of death threats, they are just a marginal part of all the Muslims living in the world.
BF: Yes, but the problem with that is that the marginal part happens to be the core, meaning that when Mohammad engaged in Jihad, when these Jihadists engage in Jihad, they are following the model of the perfect Muslim. That's the problem. The ones who don't do that - good. I’m happy about that. But they can't tell me that they’re devout Muslims, that they’re practicing Islam the way it was intended to be practiced, because when we have the perfect model who engages in violence - and they don't engage in violence – they’re not following the perfect model. That's the main reason, meaning that the more like Mohammad Muslims are, the more violent they are. So while a lot of Muslims are peaceful, absolutely, they’re not peaceful because of the Quran. They’re peaceful because of themselves, they’re peaceful because they choose not to follow in Mohammad’s footsteps, they want to exist in a world more normalized, they’ve become more Westernized, they’ve become less Islamic. You know, the more Islamic an individual becomes, the more violent they become. So yes, a lot of Muslims are peaceful, but it's not because of Islam that they’re peaceful. It’s in spite of Islam. Islam doesn’t happen to be peaceful. And there’s something in the Islam also, which is called the doctrine of abrogation, which is that there are passages in the Quran which tell Muslims: You have your religion, we have ours. Basically, live and let live. But then there are passages about cutting peoples necks and cutting their finger tips and killing them. And what Islamic experts tell Muslims is that if there are passages later in the Quran that contradict the earlier ones, you go with the later ones. Meaning, that if earlier passages are about peace and later passages are about killing, you go with the later passages. There is a passage called "The Verse of the Sword" and in every chapter of the Quran there is a preamble about the beneficence of Allah, about the mercy of Allah. This sura, chapter, “The Verse of the Sword”, doesn't have that benevolent-sounding preamble, and it is the second or last passage in the Quran which declares war for all time.
DR: This is a perfect bridge for me somehow. I mean you are obviously very critical of the Quran but then why did you want to be a part of Kåre Bluitgen's project with this - the illustrated Quran?
BF: Great question. Because visualizing these things basically show you the truth. Regardless of the intent. Meaning, regardless of what Kåre and the publisher and others might believe. Me simply drawing Mohammad, simply drawing Allah, is an act against Islam. It is critical by the nature of that. Simply drawing Allah, to me, is a defiant act, and I think it might be the first time that Allah has been visualized in print. People think that Mohammad is forbidden to be drawn. I imagine they believe the same about Allah. So I don't think an average Muslim who reads the book would think it’s a favorable thing to them, to Islam. And also, there is a double page spread with Mohammad in his harem with his wives and concubines, and a very young Aisha is being brought in. He married her when she was six and raped with her when she was nine.
DR: That's the blue drawing you are talking about now?
BF: Yes. Exactly. Regardless of the intent of those that this book originated with, I know that simply visualizing these things would tell a truth that the Quran itself tells, but that Muslims and their apoogists do not want told to most people. People can look at it and say, wait a minute, Mohammad is with an incredibly young girl there, I can’t take that as a positive thing. I’ve been asked that question as well: Why would you draw this book? Because nobody else would do it. Nobody. I assumed Kåre had found another artist because he was looking for one for years to draw his book adapting the koran. I assumed he had found one. So then I saw on a website that he was looking for artists. I said: Is he still looking? I’ll draw it. Then we had a little discussion and that was it. And again, no one else was willing to draw it. I'm willing to draw it. I'm a working artist. I want my work to be out there. I have eight books on my own, I have a good number of articles, I have thousands of cartoons. I want my work out there as much as it can be. However someone might view this, the fact that Mohammad is drawn in the book which is forbidden for some Muslims, the fact that Allah is drawn, the fact that Aisha is drawn in that kind of situation, I think it's part of Islam. The way I see it, merely telling the truth about Islam, dams it. Same goes for drawing the truth about it. Telling the truth that Mohammad, at fifty three years old, “married” a six year told, is a damning thing. Muslims have no problem with that damning aspect of Mohammad’s life, but in front of outsiders they try to deny the fact that Aisha was as young as she was. She was six years old when he married her and then he raped her when she was nine, according to Islam’s own history. There is no such thing as consent at that point. Those are the things it's important to show. It's not a positive reflection on Islam, no matter what anyone tries to convey. I just think it's important to show these things... The only thing we’re allowed to hear is "oh, Islam is peace - don't say anything else". That's the whole idea. So visualizing these things was, for me, a good reason to be a part of the book.
DR: Why do you think so many people turned it down?
BF: Because of the death threats. Because of the fact that they may lose jobs. Personally, I can't even say how many jobs I’ve lost because I’ve not gotten many. I self-publish my comic books and my books, though I've worked for some publications which aren’t afraid to take me on, to my great gratitude. I’ve written am article called The Draw Mohammad Challenge. It’s been referred to as my manifesto for free speech, and I take on all those cartoonists who refuse to draw Mohammad. I don't want my world, Western civilization, to be like the Islamic world. You can't draw Mohammed in the Islamic world, and now you can't draw Mohammad in the Western world. That's unacceptable to me. It's unacceptable. I want to have the freedom to draw what I want and to think what I want. I was very happy to see that Charlie Hebdo republished their cartoons recently, because some years ago they said they were done with Mohammad cartoons. And yes, they’re getting death threats, but free speech is more important than fear. Without free speech, we’re not a civilized society. We cannot argue anymore. We cannot try to persuade people anymore. It is all about force and brutality if free speech goes. And I don't want to live in that world.
DR: But having freedom of speech or freedom of expression does not necessarily mean that you should use it all the time. It's a privilege that you can, but do you think it's always necessary to use it, if you hurt people in the process?
BF: Well, how does a cartoon hurt people? How?
DR: If you feel that your boundaries are being overstepped somehow?
BF: Well, the way I see it, after human beings were slaughtered for drawing Mohammad cartoons, there should be no more arguments about “hurt feelings”. How about the feelings of the families of those who were murdered? How about their feelings? These people will never see their loved ones again - ever. They were slaughtered over cartoons. So I have no sympathy, no respect, for those who try to cry to me and say: "Hey, you hurt my feelings". Look at those who were slaughtered. What do you say about those people? They were murdered. Their families, their loved ones, their wives, their husbands, their children will never see them again, because you were upset about cartoons? And not only were they murdered. They also had the support of a lot of Muslims. Average Muslims who were weren’t critical of their murderous co-religionists, and who didn't speak out against those massacres. They didn't rally against them. They didn't have protests against them. They were in support of it. I've never had one Muslim ever contacting me with: "I respect your freedom to do what you want. I may be hurt. I may not like it. But you have the right to do it". I've never heard that. Why? My cartoons cannot hurt anyone unless they want to be hurt by them. A cartoon is a cartoon is a cartoon. After people are slaughtered over cartoons, there is no more discussion to me about hurting others with cartoons. They murdered people over cartoons. That to me crossed the line to the point where I have zero sympathy for those who are critical of Mohammad cartoons. They’ve lost their humanity. The only thing they're concerned about is cartoons, not the people who are murdered over cartoons.
DR: What is your main goal with illustrating the book The Shady Gardens?
BF: I want to visualize these things. And it's important for me to do that. First of all, because nobody else was willing to do it. As you said, people agreed to do it, and then they decided not to. I am beyond that point. I understand the battle that is being waged here. Without free speech, we are not a civilization. We cannot persuade people. We cannot argue anymore. We cannot discuss issues. We need to know that we can say whatever we want, whenever and wherever we want. And if people’s feelings get hurt, so be it. And not only Muslims hate my Mohammad cartoons. Leftists don't like them. Even people on the right don't like them. Conservatives don't like them. And that's fine. I just know that for my life, for my conscience, it's very important for me to visualize these things that we are told cannot be visualized. It's very important for me because I want to live as a free man until the day I die. That’s it.