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Duly Noted

Thursday, Nov 3, 2011, 11:31 am

At Least Draw a Classy Mohammed

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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smite me, Creative Commons.

As Jill Filipovic points out, Bruce Crumley's essay in TIME is a nasty bit of victim-blaming. The offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were firebombed after they published an ugly cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on their front page. According to Crumley satirists who publish such images "openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good."

That said, I generally disapprove of the Draw Mohammed crowd because so many of them are gleefully taking advantage of a Get Out of Racism Free Pass created by terrorists who firebomb newspapers. Whatever cheap shots they want to take against Muslims/Arabs/Semites will seem tame compared to firebombing. It’s a race to the bottom where they know that whoever firebombs the first building loses, so they figure whatever they do on the way down is cool. It isn't.

The taboo against drawing Mohammed is silly. It's as silly than the Christian taboo against yelling "Goddamn it!" when you're frustrated.

Whatever your personal views on representing the Prophet or breaking the Third Commandment, it's wrong to coerce other people into respecting your religion's blasphemy rules. The ridiculousness of bombing buildings over cartoons deserves further mockery. That's as stupid as bombing an abortion clinic to prove how pro-life you are.

So, if you want to draw Mohammed, go for it. Revel in your freedom. Just don’t resort to drawing grotesque hook nosed Mohammed, filthy swarthy Mohammed, Mohammed’s head on the body of some kind of vermin, or Mohammed as Osama bin Laden. That’s mostly what I see when I google image search “Draw Mohammed,” and it’s ugly. A lot of the imagery could have been ripped off from twentieth century anti-Jewish propaganda.

Aside from being wrong, racist Mohammed imagery is directly counterproductive because it encourages to people to equate anti-blasphemy with anti-racism. This is supposed to be an anti-bullying campaign against fundamentalists trying to tell everyone else how to live. If you resort to racism, which is itself a kind of bullying, you lose the moral high ground.

Ironically, the Everybody Draw Mohammed meme started with a mildly funny, non-racist cartoon by Molly Norris featuring a domino, a tea cup, and other household objects arguing about which of them is the true representation of Mohammed. The cartoon was a protest against Comedy Central's self-censorship of a South Park episode that featred Mohammed as a character. In her cartoon, Norris's called out the absurdity of the rule without degrading or demonizing anyone. (She is later disassociated herself from the Draw Mohammed campaign.)

A lot of the Draw Mohammed images depict the Prophet as the personification of everything the artist hates and fears about Islam. There's really no way to do that without denigrating the entire religion by implication.

Whereas, the image I chose to illustrate this post comes from an Everybody Draw Mohammed participant called smiteme, who explicitly denounces racism, sexism, homophobia and other unseemly tendencies among her fellow Prophet-drawers. I chose it because it's a remix of Islamic art depicting Mohammed. It underscores the fact that a handful of extremist bullies do not, and have never, spoken for all Muslims.

If you can’t think of a way to make fun of fundamentalism in a way that doesn't look like it was swiped from Stormfront, maybe you don't understand it well enough to satirize it.

Thank goodness we have free speech. Today, I'm exercising my First Amendment right to tell the racist Draw Mohammed contingent to stop being so goddamned racist.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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