So, You Want to Draw Muhammad?

I love South Park; it’s one of the most brilliant shows of our time, providing excellent and necessary commentary on American society and politics in the form of well-written satire presented under the guise of the suspicious innocence of children.

Talking turds included.

So, one can only imagine what went through my head upon hearing about the newest controversy in a series I’d like to call, in the spirit of  the institutionalization of my knowledge via thesis proposal submission, “Pending Provocation: Depicting Holy Figures in the Cartoon Form and Subsequent Violence-Inducing Reactions by People of the Islamic Persuasion.”

South Park decides that for it’s 200th episode it was going to depict the Prophet Muhammad, in another installment of the League of Super Best Friends (a divine group, really). And some fringe extremist group Revolution Muslim, based in New York City, chats online about how Matt Stone and Trey Parker are gonna get Theo Van Gogh’d.

Slightly unsettling to say the least.

Comedy Central has a huge panic attack and censored the follow up episode, number 201, blocking any and all references to the Prophet in the cartoon, whose super power is the ability to not be criticized by anyone. Catch ends up being that the Prophet, disguised throughout the cartoon in a bear costume, is actually revealed to be Santa Claus.

Okay, cool.

But it doesn’t end there. What’s spawned from this little controversy has been a huge mess and mixture of ignorance, Islamophobia, intolerance and further and completely unnecessary provocation.

Sigh.

Aside from the inciting comments made by Revolution Muslim, there have been – at least to my own knowledge – no protests against the cartoons in the broader Muslim community. No threats. No real and inciting condemnations. Perhaps people, like me, expressing their discomfort in watching such an episode (See also: Aasif Maandvi on the Daily Show). But that’s about it.

But the backlash from those who claim to be the supreme bearers of free speech and all that is “Western” and beautiful? Holy crap.

The media coverage of this incident has been thunderous, equivalent to the Danish cartoon controversy which had far more of an actual violent backlash, which was indicative of political dissatisfaction and in response to some rather distastefully done and (some) poorly satirical cartoons, printed by a well-established right-wing, anti-immigrant newspaper.

Why is the same level of attention being given to this South Park  issue?

All of sudden a cartoon made by a Seattle cartoonist, Molly Norris, which asked for ‘the real likeness of Muhammad [to] please stand-up’ was used in a campaign proclaiming May 20th “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day!”. Facebook, along with comments sections everywhere, implode with endless “yeah! This’ll show them! First amendment!” chatter in response to …to …

…to a fringe group?

This is where I get offended. I’m not offended by South Park’s depiction of the Prophet. I’m uncomfortable with it, but I’m not necessarily offended. I’m not losing any sleep over it. I worked things out with young myself back during the good ol’ days of the Danish cartoon controversy, which, again, were far more resonant of a real antagonism towards the growing (and visible) Muslim minority in Denmark. But South Park? No. Not really. Not really a cause for concern. I remember watching the first episode which introduced the League of Super Best Friends – originally aired in 2001, prior to the murder of Theo Van Gogh – and seeing the Prophet depicted, in a positive light. I remember feeling incredibly uncomfortable but never offended.

What offends me is that a fringe group like Revolution Muslim is being listened to by my fellow citizens who are not Muslim. That my fellow citizens are falling into exactly what fringe groups hope to achieve, if even on some subconscious freudian level – wreak frenzy, divides and controversy. Their fulfillment is never in anything good, pure and pious (i.e. their own betterment as human beings). Their fulfillment is in driving the divide that has been created and is increasingly becoming deeper. And how do my non-Muslim fellow citizens and, presumably, South Park enthusiasts, react?

By …claiming May 20th as Everybody Draw Mohammad Day?

Are people for real anymore?

I support freedom of expression, but I have a problem when freedom of expression becomes almost synonymous with deliberate provocation.  And let’s not fool ourselves – this reaction to a fringe group’s online subpar-but-still-a-gruesome-reference-made threat to Stone and Parker is not in celebration of the freedom of expression and speech. Please. If you’re going to serve me the turds of bulls, I’d like them on a silver plated platter.

At the very least.

What this recent controversy shows us is not the overreaction of Muslims, but the overreaction of people who are starting to see a real problem in the general presence of Muslims. By people who think every little group speaks on behalf of all Muslims. By people who have their mind made up about a religion they’ve most likely only have ever read about online. By people just generally misinformed and terrified of an unuttered, non-existent threat.

What good is provoking the vast majority of Muslims, who could care less about the South Park man-made fiasco, going to do? When you tell me – a Muslim who is more interested in the recent Krygyz revolution and Goldman Sachs brouhaha than South Park depicting the Prophet of my faith in a non-offensive light – that you’re going to, in the spirit of freedom of expression, draw to your own liking a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad ..what exactly is being said here?

Are you actually showing me, telling me that freedom of expression is a beautiful and powerful thing which creates real momentum for progress if and when used rightfully? Or are you just showing me spite?

Let’s get over this. It’s stupid, it’s lame, and if you’re planning in attending Everybody Draw Mohammad Day! then good job on being bought into the hype.

And to my fellow Muslims, all I have to say is – remember the Sunnah. With all this emphasis on the Prophet, remember him as who is was not who we have made him seem. The Prophet, may peace and blessing be upon him, had the most foul of words and rocks thrown at him, he was endlessly ridiculed for his message and for what he brought – change – to pre-Islamic Arabian society. And how did he respond? With patience. He was a soft man, polite, respectful and never harsh. And remember that the Prophet has always been treated with malice – from his own lifetime to Dante’s famous depiction of him in his Divine Comedy.

Rather than react, as Muslims we should reflect. We should consider what we have turned our religion into which seems to almost justify, in the eyes of too many, the sort of reaction propelled by the South Park controversy.

Additionally, we all must reflect on how we continue for the growing visibility of Muslims in the West to allow for fear-drenched, racist and generally backwards words, policies and ideas to be thrown about and accepted. Muslims are certainly not alone in this and they certainly are not the most pained receivers of such a brunt, but they are the ones who easily are sensationalized. They make for better news.

And angrier, albeit horrifically laughable, comments’ sections.

And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except one having a great portion [of good].” Qur’an 41:34- 35

Banning Minarets: A Dangerous Precedent and Sign

In case you happen to live in under an abode commonly referred to as a “rock” then you are well aware of a major vote which took place yesterday in Switzerland. Following months of controversial campaigning, a strong 57% of Swiss voted to ban Muslims from constructing minarets on their mosques. The vote comes amidst a campaign which claimed that minarets were representative of the slow domination of European society by militant Islam.

Yes. Architectural formations are also a threat to freedom, apparently.

Interestingly enough, the government itself is against the ban. Given the direct democratic nature of the country (here’s a great post from Kabobfest about that), however, it is forced to respect the decision of 57% of the Swiss who agree with the conservative nationalist Swiss People’s Party that minarets are certainly a sign of the impending Islamist takeover.

See? Tyranny of the majority in practice! In. Freaking. Practice.  

This is why I don’t vote.

I’m not going to lie. I’m concerned. I’m extremely concerned. This recent vote falls within the growing trend around an increasingly antagonistic and laced with irrational fear European (particularly Northern European) attitude towards immigrants (i.e. primarily Muslims and Arabs), a trend noted earlier this year in the EU parliament elections about which I wrote in a Kabobfest post as well as the French discussion on the banning of a rarely-worn burqa amongst several other instances.

What worries me in particular about this vote is the precedent it sets and the ridiculous characterization of militancy it subscribes to something which is in fact rather innocent.

Defenders of the ban claim that it it not something which seeks to limit Muslims from practicing their religion, but rather is meant to control the violent political imagery which is associated with it. How is a minaret, an architectural formation found upon the top of a dome of a mosque (four in total in Switzerland and yes they’ll be allowed to keep their precious minarets) a symbol of militantism? And if something as harmless as a minaret can be seen as militant, what about the hijab? The length of beard? Non-Western Clothing worn outside? Non-English/German/French words scrawled on store signs? Halaal food stores? Where is the line drawn? What is the criteria set forth to define the militancy of objects? Is it possible for something to be a representation of Islam without being seen as a political statement nowadays?

Let’s not kid ourselves. This vote was not meant to push back any threat. It was meant to assert hegemony over a large minority population which makes up the second largest religion in the country. This vote was meant to intimidate this population, amongst others, to show them who is in fact in charge. A friend on Twitter perhaps said it well when he said: “if it was in a non-Western country, there would be furore. They make racism seem so “civilized” with a referendum.”

This in turn brings up the point of relativism which is always brought up in light of such occurrences.  I am well aware of the oppression which exists in Arab and Muslim countries of minority populations; it is undoubtedly ridiculous and unjust. But oppression and tyranny are not about comparison and it’s time we move beyond this argument to which conversation always seems to be reduced. Too many supporters of the ban are resorting to the age-old “well in Muslim countries…” line. Get over it, move on.

(Un)Fortunately, it’s not over. This ban has not only prompted voices of support from various world leaders and officials, it has also merited some condemnations – perhaps the biggest being from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Asma Jahangir who believes that this is in violation of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the Swiss had ratified. There is also talk about the issue being taken to the European Court of Human Rights, by the Swiss Green Party and other groups who wish to appeal the ban.

But reversing or appealing the law should not be the primary concern at this point. That 57% should be. How is it that 57% of the Swiss population agrees that minarets (again, existent on four mosques in total across the country) are a symbol of militancy? How is it that 57% of the Swiss population see their Muslim countrymen and women as potential militants slowly taking over their country, their continent, their way of life and religion? What does this say not only about the direction the Swiss have decided to take their country but also the direction Europe itself is going? The problem here is far bigger than a ban. It’s a lot bigger than architectural formations. It’s about an irrationality which has seemingly gripped millions in Europe; low ethnic-European birth rates and increasing immigration can only ever equal the complete destruction of Europe. Eurabia is on the horizons. And we should be concerned about where this rationalized irrationality can take us. What else will be banned? What else will become a threat? What else will symbolize militancy?

Additionally, what effect does this have on the Muslim population of Switzerland? Of Europe? I mean, what better to “radicalize” individuals than to assert racist hegemony and marginalize them, right? Awesome.

Until things sort themselves out – if they ever do and whatever that means – I’m going to avoid chocolates, army knives, banks and neutrality for awhile.