Friday, October 01, 2010

draw Muhammad?

In a response to my Jyllands-Posten post, Brian wrote an excellent comment that says in part:

I'm with you on this and am not attacking you, but, you are an artist: will you be posting your own pictures of Mohammed? You don't need to draw an overtly offensive picture, a stick figure would be fine.

I began writing a response in the comment thread, but the response grew in length until I began to realize that it might be better simply to write it out as a full-on blog post.

I haven't drawn Muhammad on the blog yet, but I've shown a depiction of him here before. If someone really wants a picture, stick figure or otherwise, I'll slap one up. My point, with that previous picture, was that many Muslims have claimed that images of Muhammad are forbidden by the faith, but this isn't true at all: the Prophet has been depicted many, many times in art, both with and without a face, and often by Muslim artists. In the meantime, if I haven't slapped Muhammad up on the blog, it's for the same reason that there are no images of Mahavira or Lao-tzu: I just haven't gotten around to it.

I can say, however, that I wouldn't draw a Muhammad picture like some of the ones I've seen that depict him as a pedophile. People have the right to be transgressive, but we all set different limits for ourselves as to how transgressive we're willing to be. It's not contradictory to set boundaries for oneself while affirming that others have the right to go further if they want. The point about freedom of expression is that the larger society should be maximally permissive, thereby allowing its members to figure out their own boundaries of taste for themselves. By restricting freedom of speech in a slipshod, patchy manner, that basic right gets violated. (And in this context, I intend "restricting" to refer not only to federal and local laws, but also to society's less formal means for controlling or curtailing expression: finance/funding, public opinion, etc. The double-standard regarding the public treatment of Christianity versus Islam is an example of a slipshod, patchy restriction of freedom of speech.)

Of course, the problem of conflicting cultural values comes into play at the global level, but this is precisely the arena in which we separate the men from the boys: should I, as an American, tout the Western value of freedom of speech as a global, human value? For me, the answer is a clear yes, while keeping in mind that, if it's OK for me to assert the global relevance of my values, then it's OK for members of another culture to do the same. This is where the notion of orientational pluralism becomes a useful ethical guide. The resulting dialogue will be messy and acrimonious, but that's the superior method for hashing out our problems-- not retreating to our own separate corners and building walls that restrict the flow of information and direct interaction.

That in itself is a value-charged notion: the idea that freer information flow is better than restricted information flow. But that's precisely what orientational pluralism contends will always happen: in making judgments, we assert our values (and, implicitly, the superiority of our values), and this is only rational. The PC route is to deny ourselves the right to assert our own values while affirming others' right to assert theirs.

Anyway, as I've been writing this, I've decided that Brian's comment should be taken as an actual request, so here's the stick figure (along with some others, and with apologies to for treading on its territory):



Anonymous said...

Thanks for breaking me out of my apathy on the subject. I drew one image myself and posted it online.

Nathan B. said...

Mohammed got himself engaged to an eight or nine year old, if I remember correctly.

Anyway, I very much agree with you that depicting Mohammed has been done thousands of times by Muslim artists over the last millennium, and I can never understand why the media seem ignorant of this fact. It really irritates me.

As for the drawings you drew: very funny! But I very much hope that no harm comes from them. If you were to delete this post, I don't think anyone would hold it against you.

Kevin Kim said...

Nathan, my lack of fame probably prevents me from being a prominent target. Compare what I've done to what the cartoonist Chris Muir for Day by Day has done.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, there was a recent campaign in Islamic circles to promote Islam using a sort of 'What Would Jesus Do' concept. They were several sayings - I can't find any- that went something like, "Go to school...Muhammed did." Eventually, satirists wrote, "Boff a tot...Muhammed did."

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

All religious leaders look the same to me . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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