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Everybody Draw Muhammed Day!

Muhammed Drawing

It is ‘Everybody Draw Muhammed Day’ today.  In the wake of South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, receiving threats on their lives because of their bear-suited Muhammed, quite a few people have taken it upon themselves to all start drawing. Granted, most people draw stick-figures. However, I wanted to make something more of it this time since I already drew a stick-figure on blasphemy day. Now, if it is not obvious by my actions, I fully support the drawing of Muhammed. I support it for a very simple reason; a reason so eloquently explained by Ayaan Hirsi Ali when they interviewed her about the threats against Parker and Stone.

I have protection but there comes a time when if – not just Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone – but if the entertainment business were to take this on and just show how ridiculous this is that there’ll be too many people to threaten. And then I think, at that time, I won’t need protection and the gentlemen who made South Park will also not need protection.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

For me the key-issue here – on so many levels –  is participation. I wanted to make a cartoon that reflected that. The relationship between the hand-less Muhammed and me as a drawer is mutually participatory. I need to draw him in order to make a point, even though he might kill me for it once I’m done, and he needs me to keep drawing in order to stop me. Likewise the relationship between the Muslim extremists and all of us is mutually participatory. If we do not draw Muhammed en masse – if we let people like Parker, Stone, Hirsi Ali, Westergaard, Van Gogh, Rushdie et al. take all the heat – then we participate in the effectiveness of the threats.

However, the participation runs deeper than that. It always amazes me that Muslim extremists would be angry over a drawing. It amazes me because it shows that they must have no idea what just happened when they saw the cartoon. I’m going to do what magicians must not do – but cartoonists are free to – and reveal the hoax perpetrated upon you. A cartoon – any cartoon – is merely a completely meaningless ink-blot. Yes, like in the Rorschach test, only where Rorschach’s inkblots were designed purposely to really be meaningless, cartoons are designed to hack your brain.

The Treachery of ImagesThis will be familiar to anyone who has ever spent time pondering Magritte’s “The Treachary of Images.” Underneath the “pipe” Magritte informs us that it is not a pipe. He is quite right. It really isn’t. It is a painting of a pipe. This one is a digital representation of a painting of a pipe. Yet that is a treachery too. Like a good magician Magritte only revealed the little trick in order to pull an even bigger one.

Any image requires the viewer’s unconditional participation. Magritte’s painting was not of a pipe simply because Magritte intended it to be. Magritte’s painting is only of a pipe as long as there is a cooperation between his intentions and our willingness to accommodate them by suspending our disbelief. If we are caught up in the illusion it is because we let ourselves be.

To return then to cartoons. In his magnificent book Understanding Comics Scott McCloud elucidates on the unique ability of a cartoon to be recognisable even when it becomes ridiculously abstract.

Scott McCloud - Understanding Comics

Scott McCloud - Understanding Comics 2

In light of our new-found understanding of cartoons and images, a good question – the right question – to ask is did I really draw Muhammed? Well, could I have intended to draw Muhammed given that I have no idea what the man looked like? To what degree did I manage to hack the brain-triggers conducive to making you fool yourself that a few black squiggles are Muhammed? I have heard people make the argument that when drawing Muhammed we should only draw stick-figures and under no circumstances should we include the dreaded bomb.

Westergaard's Muhammed CartoonI disagree. The bomb is now crucial iconography. It ties what would otherwise have just been a cute, little bearded cartoon into our shared cultural background triggering the viewer to recognise my intention. “Ah! There is a bomb! Like Westergaard’s drawing. This drawing was obviously intended to be Muhammed.”

However, given that Westegaard knew as little as I about the real appearances of Muhammed one must wonder what is really being drawn here. I think the answer is that none of us are drawing Muhammed at all. We are all drawing an intricate metaphor. Muhammed in cartoon-form detaches himself ever more from his historical personhood. What he becomes is a graphic personification of collective Islam. When he has a bomb on his head it reflects the volatile temper of the extremists – it says nothing of his historical persona. When he urges me to draw his hands so he can use them to stop me from drawing him, it reflects the irony – an irony lost on the extremists – that their violent reaction toward criticism is precisely what makes us criticise them.

If these extremists had any good sense whatsoever they would rejoice at every drawing of their prophet. They would know that every iconic representation inflates our collective conscious with conventions of ‘Muhammed’ cartoonery until those conventions will make us unable to attempt a drawing of the historical prophet even if we wanted to. Moreover, they would know that their anger only proves that they accepted the drawing as Muhammed and therefore, in their participation, are just as guilty as the artist of blasphemy.

Post-edit 22/05/2010:

My drawing was featured on Friendly Atheist and on the Faroese web-magazine Mess.

I think this is quite awesome.

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9 Responses to “Everybody Draw Muhammed Day!”

  1. mohammad says:

    bollocks

  2. Could you perhaps elaborate? ‘Bollocks’ is not an argument so it fails to compute.

  3. Jón Bjarnason says:

    Really really good.

    “those who accepted the drawing as Muhammed , are just as guilty as the artist of blasphemy” 🙂

  4. Very valid point. I only saw an unfortunate being with a bomb strapped to my head when I the page first loaded.

  5. Hayden says:

    Obviously a picture is not exactly the object itself as you have explained, but by saying this is a drawing of Muhammed you are obviously trying to depict him, which is a sin according to the Qu’ran.

    What exactly is the point in drawing said prophet other than to provoke a response (the reason South Park did it)? Sure it seems a ridiculous response to get threats for drawing said prophet but the way in which he has been depicted is half the problem from what I can see, drawing Muhammed (and obviously stating it is Muhammed) with a bomb for a turban is just outright offensive (relating their most holy of prophets to terrorism, what’s the point?).

  6. Nick says:

    Finally someone at the Faroe Islands that stands up for the freedom of speech.. we really appreciate it – keep up the good work.. greetings from pittsburgh

  7. Ahmad says:

    drawing prophet mohammed peace be upon him is challenge to muslims and their faith and deleperate insult in the name of “freedom of speech”. freedom to do harm? i think not. while christians and jews find no peroblems in drawing their prophets and even making fun of them through ads and cartoons (lack of respect obviously) still its their own prophet. making fun of other’s prophet is as good as declaring war

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