‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!’ on Facebook Sparks Censorship in Pakistan

Margaret Smith

By Margaret Smith If you're an average Facebook user, then by now you're probably used to skimming (and subsequently ignoring) the dozen or so page requests that pop up in your notifications on a daily basis. Hey, we get it. Supporting so-and-so's latest music venture is important, but after they send you about 15 messages to your inbox about their latest hit, well, it gets old. Here's one that you might find in the daily stream of notifications today, though, that's worth watching out for: "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." Yes, according to certain fans on Facebook today is "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." The campaign, which has more than 95,000 fans, has been circulating around the popular social networking site for the past few days now, encouraging people to draw a caricature of the famous prophet today in protest of freedom-of-speech violations usually made by extremist groups. "Hopefully this page will spark serious debates in international forums," the personal interests section of the page declares. "We are not trying to slander the average muslim, it's not a muslim/islam hatepage. We simply want to the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Mohammed depictions, that we're not afraid of them [sic].That they can't take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us to silence." The idea was originally inspired by a cartoon drawn by Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris, who drew a poster-like illustration that declared "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" in what she says was in support of the censorship of the creators of the show "South Park." In April, "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone said Comedy Central censored their attempts to broadcast a depiction of Mohammed and a speech about fear and intimidation in an episode. The censorship came after New York-based Islamic website RevolutionMuslim.com posted an image and a video of Theo Van Gogh, a filmmaker who was brutally murdered over his criticism of Islam. The caption chillingly asked "Have Matt Stone and Trey Parker forgotten this?" Well, when does a simple, hand-drawn cartoon stop being funny? Perhaps when it spawns a Facebook page that in turn, makes a whole country block its citizens from accessing the website. On orders from a Pakistani court, Pakistan suspended access to Facebook yesterday. The case was won by an Islamic group of lawyers that argued against the Facebook content, and officials say that the Facebook page is offensive. Islam discourages any visual representations of the prophets of God, they argue, because it can lead to a form of idol worship. So no Facebook for Pakistanis until a May 31st hearing. And that's not all. Needless to say, Internet monitoring has been on high alert since then, and earlier today the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority also blocked YouTube and other individual pages on Flickr and Wikipedia for the same reasons. Other social networking sites like Twitter are still available. The initial campaign has even sparked opposition on Facebook. "AGAINST 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day'" now has more than 100,00 fans, and the number is still climbing. And one of the new campaign's first followers? Molly Norris. She's distanced herself from the initial online campaign, and has since then joined "AGAINST 'Everybody Draw Mohammed.'" Yesterday, Norris told Comic Riffs, a Washington Post blog by Michael Cavna, that: If I had wanted my one-off cartoon to be the basis for a worldwide movement to draw Mohammed, then at this moment I should be thrilled. But instead I am horrified! My one-off cartoon that was specifically about Comedy Central's behaviour vs. Revolution Muslim's threat leading to a slippery slope of censorship in America is not good for a long-term plan. The results have shown to be vitriolic and worse, offensive to Muslims who had nothing to do with the censorship issue I was inspired to draw about in the first place. The YouTube ban has now been ended, but protests in Pakistan continue and the debate rages on.

Margaret Smith, a summer 2010 In These Times editorial intern, is a journalism student at Columbia College in Chicago.
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