Facebook's "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" page was put up in a burst of enthusiasm by an artist named Molly Norris on April 20 of this year, partly in reaction to Comedy Central's censoring of the South Park episode in which, no, it seems Mohammed was not depicted in a bear suit. A character in a bear suit was referred to as Mohammed. Norris suggested May 20 -- yesterday -- should be the day that everybody draw something similarly idiotically random, like a teacup or a spool of thread, and call it "Mohammed." It was all about the fight for free speech. Her own cartoon, below, is excellent.
Image from wikipedia.
Her idea took off, the Facebook page grew, prominent bloggers and news sources approved of it, anti-"Draw Mohammed" Facebook pages started up and of course gained followers, and she got scared and backed off. Understandable, but very regrettable. Her original thought, a mere month ago, was that if millions of free people do this, Muslim terrorists won't be able to kill every one. Noble and rational -- until you get famous and it occurs to you that they may nevertheless be able to kill you. Also, her intention, which on second thoughts all good Westerners repeat endlessly, was "NEVER" to disrespect religion. The extensive Wikipedia article about her quotes her own website in late April:
"This was always a drawing about rights, never MEANT to disrespect religion. Alas -- if we don't have rights, we will not be able to practice the religion of our choice. [...] None of these little characters ARE the likeness of Mohammed, they are just CLAIMING to be!
"I, the cartoonist, NEVER launched a draw Mohammed day. It is, in this FICTIONAL poster sponsored by this FICTIONAL GROUP," [referring to the 'Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor' wording in the cartoon]. "SATIRE about a CURRENT EVENT, people!!!"
Well, maybe. If she never launched "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," if it was only a one-time phrase in a single cartoon's fantasy world, then why go to Facebook with it?
If the breath of Muslim supremacist terror, the breath of thirteen hundred years of sharia -- which lays down among other things that no, we can't choose our religion, and it is forbidden to criticize Islam -- can reach a lone Seattle cartoonist who was trying to do the right thing by free speech given the fate of people like Theo van Gogh, then we can begin to understand what courage it takes for artists, writers, and politicians to do the right thing who are far more in harm's way. Who are living in Muslim-dominated Europe, for example, and need security guards around them in order to give a classroom lecture on free speech. A Muslim killed Theo van Gogh. Nobody to my knowledge so much as threatened Molly Norris. It was just the idea -- and a very vivid one it is.
Not being a cartoonist, I have no drawing to offer as representing Mohammed. Although, given the point of the joke, any one would do. I'm more interested in literary images. Consider this, from Dante's Inferno, Canto XXVIII, on the Sowers of Discord in the eighth circle of hell:
A wine tun when a stave or cant bar starts
does not split open as wide as one I saw
split from his chin to the mouth with which man farts.
Between his legs all of his red guts hung
with the heart, the lungs, the liver, the gall bladder,
and the shriveled sac that passes shit to the bung.
I stood and stared at him from the stone shelf;
he noticed me and opening his own breast
with both hands cried, "See how I rip myself!
See how Mahomet's mangled and split open!
Ahead of me walks Ali in his tears,
his head cleft from the top-knot to the chin.
And all the other souls that bleed and mourn
along this ditch were sowers of scandal and schism;
as they tore others apart, so are they torn ...."
Translation by John Ciardi, 1954. The poem itself was written in the early 1300s. Seven hundred years before the Danish cartoons, why on earth would Dante have done this? Just a bigot? Or did he know something?