Drawing Mohammed: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
March 2, 2015
(My own contribution to the genre is below, the last item under “The Bad”.)
You’ll have heard about the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January, when Muslim gunmen killed the editor in chief and apparently more than a third of the cartoonists at the magazine, among others. You may not have heard that there have already been other attacks since then, such as the St. Valentine’s Day shooting at a free-speech event in Denmark (CBS, Mark Steyn, more Steyn), or the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya.
As many have argued, if terrorists are going to try to impose an extra-legal, supra-national death penalty on anyone who draws Mohammed, then a lot more of us had better start drawing Mohammed.
- Ross Douthat takes a stab at thinking about the issue systematically. I think his three-point framework has a lot to recommend it.
“. . . if publishing something might get you slaughtered and you publish it anyway, by definition you are striking a blow for freedom, and that’s precisely the context when you need your fellow citizens to set aside their squeamishness and rise to your defense.”
- Iowa Hawk (old-fashioned blog, Twitter feed) agrees more colorfully:
Does being insulted cause you to be violent? Then that’s proof you need to be insulted again.
Instead of desensitizing people to massacres, maybe the media could work on desensitizing people to cartoons.
- Steyn Online has the round-up of Mark Steyn’s first several reactions to the killings. He argued that “Charlie Hebdo had been forced by a cowardly western media to bear a burden that should have been more widely shared.”
- The creator of the first Everybody Draw Mohammed Day urged in 2010, “Do your part to . . . water down the pool of targets” (Wikipedia’s paraphrase: “if people draw pictures of Muhammad, Islamic terrorists would not be able to murder them all, and threats to do so would become unrealistic”).
- Reason magazine agrees that “we all must be Spartacus on Everybody Draw Mohammad Day. And that in a free society, every day is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”
- Kathleen Parker agrees, “As for the rest of you characters: Draw to any heart’s discontent. It’s a free country.
- The National Review editorial on the subject, as usual, is also worth reading.
- The surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo, far from being bullied into silence, have continued to show true courage: Immediately after their fellow cartoonists were murdered, the survivors printed another issue, with a brilliant cover depicting Mohammed again, and as of last week, they are apparently back to the weekly schedule that is their namesake. One of the surviving cartoonists explained in January “that Charlie Hebdo must continue to publish. ‘Otherwise, (the Islamists) have won.’” If the ones who saw their friends and colleagues gunned down can continue to draw Mohammed, surely the rest of us can.
In that spirit, I present a selection of drawings of Mohammed: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Charlie Hebdo gets pride of place. This is their cover the week after the attack, as it appeared on their Web site at the time (Mohammed himself holds an “I am Charlie” sign; the magazine says, “All is forgiven”):
So it is possible to depict Mohammed in a positive light. This one of the original twelve Danish cartoons (published in 2005, ten years ago this September), for example, does not appear to have been meant disparagingly:
Cartoonists typically show solidarity after events like this by drawing blasphemous cartoons in defiance. The most common subject is Mohammed, drawn in a ridiculous, violent, or sexual fashion. While I think defiance is important, mockery isn’t my style. If all drawings of Mohammed are blasphemous to terrorist eyes, I see no reason to make one which mocks him. A drawing which celebrates him works just as well.
According to this Web site, it wasn’t always unanimous among Muslims that depictions of Mohammed were verboten; the site collects several examples of historical depictions of Mohammed by Muslims. This one, for example, is apparently of Mohammed on his deathbed, an illustration from a History of the World published in A. D. 1307 (apparently written by a Muslim):
A cartoonist in 2010 proposed Everybody Draw Mohammed Day and offered whimsical drawings of Mohammed as a spool of thread and a box of pasta. After serious threats on her life, the cartoonist apparently changed her name and went into hiding.
Reason actually managed to curate an Everybody Draw Mohammed Day contest, albeit ultimately hosted on a different Web site (articles about it here and here; final results here, linked from here). One of their three winners invites imams to help finish drawing Mohammed themselves before they start executing people for it:
On the other hand, it is also possible (for now) to depict Mohammed less favorably (and the more his followers murder people for depicting him, the less favorably some of us are inclined to view him).
Here’s a light-hearted Charlie Hebdo cover from 2011 (the magazine is renamed Sharia Hebdo, with Mohammed supposedly the new editor in chief, giving a goofy thumbs-up; the larger Mohammed threatens “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing!”):
Via this Danish Mohammed Cartoons blog, French cartoonist Plantu in Le Monde imagines being required to write “I must not draw Mohammed” a hundred times:
The courageous author of the witty (if not exactly G-rated) Day by Day comic has also tried his hand at drawing Mohammed more than once. Here’s a whole strip on the subject from 2010.
Here’s Mohammed chilling out in 2012:
They have a tradition in Sweden of roundabout dogs — canine scultptures that pop up mysteriously on Swedish roundabouts — and Lars Vilks decided to do a drawing of Mohammed as a roundabout dog. He wound up with a fatwa on his head. And one night he came home to find the jihad boys had firebombed his kitchen.
A French cartoonist in 2012 imagined that Mohammed would love to kill Charb, the editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo who was killed in the attack two months ago (“Mohammed publishes a comic strip on the death of Charb—with lots of boxes”):
My own contribution to the genre is here (copy and distribute at will):
There are some drawings of Mohammed that get a little gross. I won’t reprint them here, but they do count as drawing Mohammed; so I’m providing links to them, with the understanding that you won’t click on them if you don’t want to look at pictures like these.
Day by Day again caricatures Mohammed, this time in a parody of one of Matisse’s Odalisque with Magnolias paintings.
There is a whole Web site styling itself Draw Muhammad Day, a Tumblr blog, collecting drawings or other pictures submitted by the public. A lot of it is pretty gross and juvenile, on the level of middle-school graffiti—OK, I take that back, it’s more obscene than middle-school graffiti—but some of the submissions are all right, such as these two examples.
Though Comedy Central prevented them from depicting Mohammed, the vulgar but sometimes incisive South Park creators fought the good fight and did succeed in producing the great pro-free-speech, anti-terrorism two-part South Park episode “Cartoon Wars”.
In this video, the turbaned and robed character clarifies, “I am not Mohammed!” I’m giving the creators credit for courage anyway.
Updates (March 3rd, 2015):
- Fixed typo in last paragraph.
- I found a lot more drawings of Mohammed. Here, a disabled-veteran mother and blogger offers a tasteful portrait:
- Ayn Rand-oriented magazine The Objective Standard assembles a sizeable (and relatively tasteful) collection of submitted drawings of Mohammed. A couple of examples:
- (Fair warning that both of the following sites have some “ugly” stuff, including the ads on the second site.) There’s another whole blog devoted to drawings of Mohammed, this one styled Muhammad Drawings. (If you’re looking for a way to put your own drawing of Mohammed out there while protecting your anonymity, this could be a great way to do it.) Meanwhile Encyclopedia Dramatica offers a couple of freewheeling, irreverent histories of all the drama, with whole galleries of the offending pictures. (Warning for language and content.)
Honorable mention to the comic strip Over the Hedge for mentioning Draw Mohammed Day in 2010.
- Honorable mention also to CNN for at least being willing to show this photograph of a two-layered chalk drawing to illustrate this guy’s column:
- A British newspaper discusses the fact that the Muslim world historically produced many drawings of Mohammed.
- Via this Facebook group (“Everybody Draw Mohammed Day 2: Electric Boogaloo”), I see that people are planning to hold an actual in-person event about drawing Mohammed at a center in Texas this May. That’s courage. (If you’re interested, they’re also talking about taking submissions of drawings of Mohammed, with a $10,000 prize for the best one.)
Update (March 9th, 2015):
- Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others agree (this is from 2010), “Spread the risk.” In that spirit, the People’s Cube contributed this great image: