Everyone has the right to question Islam and draw whatever they want

January 13, 2015

I don’t want to be told by some cartoonist at the Guardian that I should not draw any pictures of the Prophet Mohammed. And I don’t want to be told that it is — or “might be” — racist to do so.

moonNope. Racist cartoons are hate speech, not free speech. Getting firebombed or killed by fanatics does not automatically mean you’re a racist either. But assuming that a billion people will all react identically to a drawing, well that quite probably is racist.

It’s okay, I know I can avoid it by not reading the Guardian. I’m not complaining.

But I do hear this demand not to draw the Prophet from elsewhere too, including from some Muslims. Okay, I can accept it a little more easily from them, but I’m only prepared to take it seriously if I’m offered some very good reasons. And that’s where the trouble starts. No reasons are offered at all. So, of course — and this will shock some people — I have some questions.

Why was it not “offensive to Muslims” to depict Mohammed in the 15th Century?

0_01The Prophet Mohammed — not offensive in 1489

What changed? It looks to me like historically the censors won, and now they are even instructing me to comply. The order has been relayed to me through the pious pages of their craven and unwitting representatives at the Guardian, and secondly, of course, through generalized threats of violence.

And if I don’t comply, I’m a racist, and possibly a dead one. Well I’m sorry, I don’t respect people who talk to me like that.

It is entirely human to want to depict things. It’s human nature. The only reason to order people to stop being human is to get power over them. And that is what’s behind this insane and pathetic edict about not depicting the Prophet.

And are there really no Muslims today who would wish to depict Mohammed in their art, or see religious art depicting him? (And how does anyone at the Guardian know there isn’t?) Christians and Hindus do it all over the place. Every human civilization ever known does this kind of thing. Are all 1.5 billion Muslims different to the rest of humanity in this regard?

Usually people who make absurd generalizations about enormous groups of people are called racists. But here, that term is reserved specifically for those who do not talk in this stupid and ugly manner.

And what would happen to a Muslim who did just that — depicted the Prophet? For a start, they would be called culturally insensitive by the Guardian, and hounded by the same idiots on the left who call Ayaan Hirsi Ali “intolerant” and Maajid Nawaz a “neocon”. I assume I don’t need to say what would happen to such a Muslim if they lived in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

…….But luckily absolutely no Muslim would even dream of depicting the Prophet in their art, or of wondering about the veracity of the stories about Mohammed. Of course they wouldn’t — that’s just the way those fellows tick. They’re kinda different and exotic. They don’t even notice the censor’s rules. In fact, they love having the censors there to protect them from thinking the wrong thoughts. They need it, the poor darlings. And any neo-colonialist Westerner who speaks out against the censors is endangering the blissful insularity of the 1.5 billion Muslims who flourish under their protection…….

I’m sorry, I’m not buying it. None of it. It’s not wrong to draw pictures or to ask questions. It’s human nature. I cannot believe that all 1.5 billion Muslims have en masse given up this aspect of their humanity. Not all of them. Look in the jails for a start; read Amnesty’s list of political prisoners locked up, tortured, executed for asking questions.

This isn’t religion or spirituality. This is crass, blatant and ugly politics. And remarkably stupid and unrefined politics, at that. Anyone who’s fallen for it should be ashamed of themselves.

I don’t doubt that many Muslims feel upset about those Charlie Hebdo cartoons, especially if they don’t understand them. And they have every right to complain if they wish. But they also have worse things to worry about — like the dark age that has suddenly descended upon the culture they identify with.

You say that Islam deserves respect? How can I respect something — anything — if I’m not allowed to find out what the heck it is? Asking a few polite questions about it, as historian Tom Holland found out, leads to death threats from fanatics and censure from non-Muslims.

You say that Islam has a good model for how to run a modern state, but don’t want to answer any questions or have it criticized? This is why it’s called Islamo-fascism. It’s the very definition of totalitarianism. We can stop it there. You’ve disqualified yourself from being taken seriously. And don’t switch back to saying your feelings have been hurt or that I’m a racist if I question it.

If you want to say that the killers are not the “real” Muslims, well I can understand why Muslims would feel like that, but it’s still no reason for not being allowed to ask questions. In fact it makes it even more important. These lunatics are roaming around using the Qur’an as a recruiting tool. That is where this war started — on the battleground of propaganda. Keeping publicly important ideas like Islam away from public scrutiny gifts political leaders a free hand in shaping, interpreting, and blatantly lying about those ideas to maintain power.

You idiots have no arguments at all. And you either resort to violence, or, in the case of the Guardian, to pious lectures about racism. This is damaging to human beings, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

The liberal left still hasn’t properly woken up to this. And on the political right, some church groups are waiting to pounce on the next opportunity to introduce their own anti-blasphemy laws. (Fine by me guys — if you like this medieval stuff, it was blasphemous to translate the Bible into English. You can start by banning that.)

I keep hearing this has nothing to do with religion, and I kinda agree in a way. Religion is being used as a political tool, and uses the cloak of piety to avoid scrutiny and avoid losing its persuasive power. So by questioning it; by pointing and laughing at it when its conceits are revealed, we are not insulting anybody’s religion, just their politics. It’s their own stupid fault if they don’t understand the distinction, not mine. And their politics in this case needs to be opposed right now with everything we’ve got.

Posted by Yakaru



  1. I should note that it’s not merely the Guardian and that particular cartoonist who deserve criticism. Many other papers refused to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, citing the excuse/accusation that they were racist. As far as I can tell they weren’t.
    See, for eg., http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/11/1357057/-The-Charlie-Hebdo-cartoons-no-one-is-showing-you

    (I should also note that the Guardian has some good journalists and has donated 10,000 pounds to Hebdo.)

    Regardless of the debate about whether the cartoons were racist, the book and documentary by Tom Holland were absolutely not racist, but entirely scholarly and could not have been more sympathetically presented. He explored the evidence for the possibility that Islam in fact evolved later than Mohammed’s lifetime — a thesis which is fairly strongly indicated by the evidence. For explaining this in calm, carefully worded, carefully qualified language, he and his family were targeted with death threats.

    [Further Editorial Note: I have removed the word “dickhead” from the first sentence.]

  2. I just came across this:

    On the left, some construe the attack as a retaliation for severe offenses, essentially suggesting that Muslims are incapable of responding rationally to such offenses and that it is therefore best not to provoke them. The latter explanation is dressed up in the language of social justice and marginalization, but is, at its core, a patronizing view of ordinary Muslims and their capacity to advocate for their rights without resorting to nihilistic violence.
    This outlook also promotes the idea that Muslims and other people of Middle Eastern origin are defined primarily by their religion, which in turn devalues and demeans the attempts of Arab and Middle Eastern secularists to define themselves through varying interpretations of religion or even by challenging religion and its role in public life.
    By seeking to present religion as a form of cultural identity that should be protected from offense and critique, Western liberals are consequently undermining the very struggles against the authority of inherited institutions through which much of the Western world’s social and political progress was achieved.


  3. For a bit of irony, when people complain like this, I have a hard time thinking of them as real liberals. It’s succumbing to the tyranny of heckler’s veto, and, as you say, it seems to be rooted in racist assumptions about Muslims.

    It seems more like a racist’s classic straw man of liberalism as universally soft on “the enemy,” responding to threats with cowardice combined with a paralyzing aversion to offending anyone. They depict liberals this way because they don’t understand that we’re more discerning about how we draw the battle lines. We’re fighting against fundamentalism, totalitarianism, violence in response to speech, and so on. The Muslims who don’t advocate those things are not the enemy and could even be allies, so we do not want to anger or dehumanize them. We criticize ideologies because those are used as a basis to commit atrocities, and because people can choose to change their ideology in light of criticism. Race isn’t a choice, and is of dubious utility in evaluating the merit of a person.

    We want to separate ideology from race, rather than conflate them the way this cartoonist seems to. That does mean that critics of Islamofacism have to put in more effort aiming for the right target while minimizing splash damage, but that’s not an excuse to give up. It also means that if you criticize a cartoon as racist, it would be more helpful to explain why it’s not aiming precisely enough. I worry that if you forbid non-racists from criticizing Islamofacism, public discourse would become dominated by the racists who’d conflate race and ideology, making racism even worse for non-violent Muslims.

    The Guardian’s cartoonist might actually be liberal, but if that’s the case, he’s a liberal who’s terribly wrong on this issue.

  4. “That does mean that critics of Islamofascism have to put in more effort aiming for the right target while minimizing splash damage…”

    Yes, that can’t be emphasized enough. The last thing we need is for real racists and Neo Nazis to use this as a platform. I’ve been extremely relieved to see that here in Germany the racist stupid Pegida movement has been outnumbered more than 10 to 1 on the streets by opposing demonstrators.

    I’m not sure how to label the “liberal left”. They’re not liberal, and they always tell me they “wouldn’t describe themselves of being on the left”. I always say, “Well you should be”. The best label is probably “those who were supposed to be the good guys but have lost the plot”, but it’s a bit unwieldy.

  5. I disagree with most of this. I agree with the headline – we have the right to draw anything and ask questions – but I find your putting those together rather odd. It is drawing pictures that is the cause of the offence, not the asking of questions. You seem to illustrate this false identity by reporting the incident when someone was threatened by people for asking questions about their history.

    I don’t share your feeling that you won’t take the “demand” not to draw the Prophet seriously unless you’re given reasons – and I imagine a time when it probably wasn’t quite as much a demand, but a request or expression of cultural preferences, which some have not taken seriously and chosen to deliberately flaunt.

    I consider it an increasingly violent and entrenched demand directly as a consequence of the failure to take it seriously, and therefore feel that Charlie Hebdo is not above criticism for worsening the state of the world.

    I find your analysis of a period of history when this group of people were “censored”, prior to which they enjoyed the natural human habit of drawing things as presumptious, as presumptious as if a Moslem had told you the West was corrupted by freedom when we used to enjoy the natural human habit of discipline, or even submission to God and his ministers.

    If we keep getting more and more entrenched in the things we hold dear, and care less and less about things other people hold dear, there’s only one end. I think that real-world dynamic is a legitimate moral argument. I don’t think it’s a reason for censorship in this case, just individual responsibility.

  6. Sorry, that came over much harsher than I intended, and more one-sided. I forgot to say that I’m not sure I’ve understood your view, yakaru, so I should have taken more time to understand it, and I’m in two minds about all this myself. I’ve been trying to work out my response to CH, and then to your post. In the end I got fed up with my tedious editing habit, chopped a lot out and posted rather hastily as I was going out. It might sound pompous… :(

  7. Thanks for your thoughts, Lettersquash… Any perceived “harshness”, especially from long term and highly valued commenters is especially welcome!

    I wrote this post rather quickly, while quite sick, so I probablz should have either separated it into two posts for clarity, or emphasized more clearly that it covers two aspects of what I see as the same problem: the refusal of a group who claim special spiritual privilege to accept perfectly reasonable challenges to their public claims.

    I am not claiming CH is above criticism, although they are clearly not racist (see footnotes in comments above) and their circulation is quite small (60,000). If they are damaging the world, as you suggest, their sudden prominence is not to be blamed on them!

    I am however claiming that Tom Holland is indeed above criticism and could not have asked his questions more politely and tentatively — the result was death threats. This for me illustrates that there is simply no talking to these people. We are already far too obsequious to these people.

    I should have made it clearer too, that I do not believe that Muslims — ordinary Muslims — have ever demanded or requested that ppl do not draw the Prophet. That is part of the insane blasphemy laws that every Muslim is in danger of being accused of at the drop of a hat. I am trying to stand with them here.

    Similarly the claim that they are “all” offended by such, I find bordering on racist and clearly absurd. And sorry, but who cares. They would never seen what CH drew had it not been for the killings.

    And all I did was ask what changed historically. If it is “offensive”, since when? Again, I see Muslims as threatened by these fatwas, not me so much.

    I see it as incumbent on us to speak out about the threats to Muslims, who currently must outnumber “us” more than 1000 to 1 among the victims of Jihadism.

  8. This has been quite a learning experience for me, thanks to our email conversation and a bit of googling. After a lot of wobbling on the fence, I have arrived at a position that’s not too far away from yours. I think you’ve done a lot of joining of dots before, which it’s taken me time to understand. Thanks.

    Coming to the fore for me is the idea that liberal-minded people are deeply offended by Islam and the Hadith, as well as by other absolutist dogmas, religious or otherwise – by their very existence on the planet and in everyday expressions of them. They are, in varying degrees, oppressive forces against free thinking individuals and democratic cultures. The satirical drawings of Mohammad can be seen as important, even necessary, protests in response to these offences, instead of just focusing, as I had, on the offence taken by Muslims.

  9. Yes — thanks for the email exchange. I appreciated your criticisms.

    I could certainly have written the above article more clearly, I think. I should acknowledge that I have “history” with the Guardian newspaper too, and am primed for getting pissed off with them. A great deal of their coverage on this and other issues infuriates me. I must also admit to having being banned from commenting there, or at least put on permanent comment moderation. (….for criticizing the captain of the English cricket team!)

    I´m on holiday in Spain at the moment. I´ve visited a few utterly beautiful old mosques as well as some typically hideous old churches full of bleeding and tortured Jesuses. It makes me think that the Muslims are probably right in deciding that religious people should be prohibited from depicted people & animals, and should just stick to pretty patterns.

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