With last Thursday’s “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” which began on Facebook but spread to anti-jihad sites all over the Internet, Muhammad cartoons are now everywhere – and Muslims are outraged. The government of Pakistan shut down Facebook and YouTube, but that didn’t pacify the thousands of Pakistanis who took to the streets to protest against drawings of Muhammad that they could not have seen even if they had wanted to.
One protester held a sign bearing a threat: “Facebook, do not try our patience/STOP your coward activity.” Others shared a large banner reading: “We are ready to sacrifice on [sic] our beloved holy prophet.”
So far there have been no new riots or killings to rival the immediate aftermath of the publication of the original cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in September 2005. After the Organization of the Islamic Conference decided at its meeting in Mecca in December 2005 to use the cartoons as an object lesson in the perils of Western secularism, Islamic rage against the cartoons began to boil over all around the world. At least 139 people were killed and 823 were injured over the next few months in Muslim riots against the cartoons.
Another, perhaps even more ominous response to those cartoons was the beginning of the OIC’s anti-free speech campaign – an attempt to compel the West to criminalize criticism of Islam and accept Sharia restrictions on non-Muslims speaking about Islam. In 2008, the Secretary General of the OIC, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, issued a peremptory threat of his own: “We sent a clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed” regarding free speech about Islam and jihad terrorism.
Yet while the government and media elites in America and Europe have generally rushed to show how willing, even eager, they are to show that they will not cross those red lines, their supine response to this assault on free speech has created a backlash among free people. It is worth bearing in mind the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” would never have aroused much interest among anyone if cartoons of Muhammad didn’t arouse Muslims worldwide to homicidal rage and attempts to restrict the freedom of speech.
While it may in other circumstances simply be obnoxious, or legitimately (not to say to an extent justifying murder) offensive to lampoon someone else’s cherished religious leader, the Muslim reaction to Infidel cartoons of Muhammad is entirely itself responsible for the interest Infidels have in lampooning the Islamic prophet in the first place. If Christians had reacted to Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ or Chris Ofili’s dung-encrusted portrait of the Virgin Mary with the same murderous outrage with which Muslims greeted the cartoons of Muhammad, the West would be experiencing a glut of pictures blaspheming Christ and Christianity.
It is, in the first place, an irresistible human impulse to tweak the humorless and self-important; it can in many cases also be a healthy safeguard against tyranny. The figure that cannot be mocked or ridiculed is the one that holds all the cards, all the power. Opposition, dissent, free exchange of ideas depend upon the ability to cause offense without taking one’s life in one’s hands. That’s why the Muhammad cartoons published last week all over the Internet were not an exercise in obnoxiousness or gratuitous offense. They are, rather, the foremost battleground in the defense of the freedom of speech today. Every newspaper in the country should be printing them today, to show they are not cowed and will defend free speech.
It is useful to recall some of the earliest reactions to Cartoon Rage: Carsten Juste, the editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the original Muhammad cartoons, refused to apologize for publishing them: “We live in a democracy. That’s why we can use all the journalistic methods we want to. Satire is accepted in this country, and you can make caricatures. Religion shouldn’t set any barriers on that sort of expression. This doesn’t mean that we wish to insult any Muslims.” Cultural editor Flemming Rose concurred: “Religious feelings,” he declared, “cannot demand special treatment in a secular society. In a democracy one must from time to time accept criticism or becoming a laughingstock.”
And so now with “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” the prophet of Islam has indeed become a laughingstock – albeit those who mocked him last week did so with what was ultimately a very serious purpose. The Muslims who fulminated against the cartoons have only themselves to thank – or curse.