Why cartoonists keep drawing the Prophet Muhammad

Arsalan Iftikhar, a senior editor at The Islamic Monthly, opines that there are essentially five reasons why artists draw the Prophet Muhammad:

The moral of the story is that people will continue to draw cartoons of our beloved Prophet in the future whether we like it or not.

For these reasons, it is important for global Muslims to understand the some of the top reasons that people decide to publish these inflammatory cartoons.

In summary his reasons include:

  • To generate irrational violent responses
  • Illustrate that Muslims are opposed to free speech
  • Show the world that Muslims have no sense of humor
  • Show how Islam and the West are at odds with each another
  • Trying to lure and incite Muslims to respond violently to fuel Islamophobia

The one reason he doesn’t cite (but should have), is that in the Western world, the artist has the right to draw what they want – not to demonstrate Muslims being opposed to free speech but simply exercising a right one already has. I’m on record as saying, just because one has the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, but we cannot discount that Western artists have the RIGHT to do it, even if we disagree with it and that should be respected as well.

26 thoughts on “Why cartoonists keep drawing the Prophet Muhammad

  1. Can someone please clarify the difference between his first and last reason re: violence?

  2. Reason 1 creates injuries and damage in Muslim cities. Reason 5 also does that but has a more long-term goal of helping to spread hatred against Muslims, especially if some of the violence and destruction hits embassies, etc.

    He could have combined them and then added “showing off” as his fifth reason, but this works, too.

  3. If you consider yourself a no-holds-barred, courageous-in-the-face-of-all-forms-of-censorship political cartoonist, isn’t it your OBLIGATION to draw a cartoon of Mohammed while satirizing and making fun of Islamists who threaten violence to those who would do so?

    If you consider yourself a no-holds-barred, courageous-in-the-face-of-all-forms-of-censorship cartoonist, would you use the caricature of a Neo-Nazi who threatened death to any cartoonist who dared to use his image in a cartoon? I suspect many would since they would assume the threat was probably not serious… or at least not serious enough to crumble their image of themselves as ballsy satirists. But in the case of Mohammed, given the attacks that have ocurred in Europe and elsewhere, we all know the threat by the Islamists is real… very real. As a consequence, no one – or very, very few of us – risk it (and that includes me). Who wants to open their door and be facing some jerk with a gun?

    Are we just chickens..ts? Or do we say to ourselves we’re not cowards, we just don’t need the hassle and headache. That’s a common-sense response. But it drips with cowardice. Or do we say we respect Islam and therefore refrain from drawing Mohammed? This might carry weight from a cartoonist in an Islamic country, but not here. This, too, strikes me as a cowardly response from a “bold and fearless” cartoonist.

    The upshot is that the Islamic fanatics have won. American cartoonists are afraid to draw Mohammed. Sadly, we’re all chickens..ts.

  4. Lets try this – what can be drawn to generate irrational violent responses from Christians? Perhaps there just aren’t enough irrational and violent Christians, but I can think of a GREAT way to generate millions and millions of irrational and violent Christians – simply outlaw ALL other religions besides Christianity and POOF! There you have it…

  5. If your definition of “courageous” is “p*ssing people off,” then, yeah, you have an obligation to draw offensive cartoons.

    It’s not creative, it’s not imaginative, and it’s quite a scattergun approach, since it not only offends the violent fringe but is also disturbing to a great many moderate, decent, thoughtful Muslims, but we’re not talking about being creative and imaginative. We’re talking about being “courageous.”

    You know: Offending those we hate. And history is definitely on the side of cartoonists who target religious groups with hateful cartoons. At least in the sense of remembering their work.

    Note, by the way, that the actual article calls for Muslims to restrain themselves from getting upset over cartoons drawn by hateful bigots. Just sayin’

  6. The focus should be on who we want to criticize– is the intent to slam Islamic extremists are we trying to offend Muslims in general? If it’s offensive to Muslims in general to have the prophet Mohammed depicted, then why do that and muddle your message and cause a useless and dangerous controversy that winds up missing the point? The cartoonist should be targeting Muslim extremists/jihadist /terrorists and not just Islam itself. Such a message could open the minds of moderate Muslims, and win support for the cartoonist, whereas a cartoon attacking one of their religious tennents will obligate them to side with their extremist overlords.

  7. I think this issue is a little more nuanced and less black-and-white than is suggested. There are many countries with various religions other than Islam, where cartoonists, comedians, columnists and others can be arrested and thrown in jail on charges of blasphemy or even showing disrespect for leaders. There’s a mindset that believes that gods need to be protected, for some reason. Makes no sense, but there you are!

    Muslim rage over this sort of thing is only the most exaggerated, and dare I say, cartoonish version of this pathology. We take a lot for granted in the US, where anyone can make a drawing ridiculing anything. That doesn’t mean we *should* do it, but we *can*!

  8. @Carl Moore
    I don’t think a cartoonist has an “obligation” to draw anything for ANY reason. Being a cartoonist isn’t about constantly proving what a hard guy you are–if that’s what you want, join the Hell’s Angels. Cartooning, or any creative endeavor,is about telling your truth as best you can. If that includes drawing derogatory pictures of Mohammed, have at it. But if all you’re trying to do is show the Islamists or some other sensitive group that you aren’t afraid of them, then be man enough not to come crying when they respond badly. No one likes to be told what to do, and I think the violence directed at people who draw Mohammed is deplorable. That being said, I don’t think it’s bad to respect other people’s religions and to refrain from gratuitously offending them.

  9. It seems to be an issue of cognition. To draw a cartoon of the prophet in question, the cartoonist must label it as such, becase Muslum culture and beliefs forbid picturing, not just the prophet, but really any living thing. The reason being that each believer may picture, say the prophet Muhammad, for themselves, and not be sold a bill of goods as to what they must accept as such in an important personal representational image.

    In contrast we in the west largely have a narrow range of images relating to Jesus or Moses or George Washington or Martin Luther King Jr, or John Lennon etc. that ‘own’ our perceptions of the images of these people, but do not further much our understanding of their persons or real importance. I would say rather the opposite is the case.

  10. I agree that drawing the image of Mohammed simply to tick off believers – or anyone else – is stupid.

    By “obligation” to draw him I mean that when anyone anywhere threatens violence to cartoonists (or journalists) for whatever reason – be they Muslims or Neo-Nazis – they are threatening the most fundamental right of a free society. We all know and believe that. Can we do something about it? Yes, we can draw cartoons that say that – that no matter what reason you give for threatening me, in a free society, you must be opposed and here’s my cartoon that makes that belief manifest.

    But we aren’t doing that, are we? (I assume there must be a few out there who are doing it but I’m not seeing them… so far). Top-notch, widely seen cartoonists are not doing that. If I’m wrong someone tell me so.

    I’m worried that because we want to be careful about the sensitivites of Muslims, or because we just don’t want the hassle, we are acquiescing in an obvious – and serious – attack on our most fundamental right. Are we surrending inch by inch, slowly giving in on something so at the center of us? If we aren’t willing to stand up (and by “stand up” I mean risk danger) for this what are we willing to stand up for?

  11. So, Carl, serious question: If some nutty group threatened anyone who drew the Virgin Mary performing a grotesque sexual act, would you feel compelled to draw it?

    And, to bring Sodom and Gomorrah into it, how large would the group have to be? If one lone gunman made the threat, would that compel the drawing? If it were a group the size of the Aryan Nations, would that be enough lunatics to force the matter? What if a group of a million gunmen, out of 750 million believers, made the demand, would that do it?

    At what point — remembering how few people it took to carry out the OK City bombing — would it become necessary to offend countless Christians in order to show the middle finger to a contingent of screwballs?

  12. Has any cartoonist ever drawn Muhammad because he/she simply had a great idea for a cartoon that wouldn’t work without showing Muhammad? Or is it always, in 100% of cases, a political statement or a desire to goad Muslims?

  13. Mike, the equivalent situation would be if some nutty group threatened to kill me if I simply drew a cartoon of the Virgin Mary. And, yes, I would draw a toon with her image in it in order to thumb my nose at them. And so would you I assume. However, if that nutty group had a record equivalent to the Muslim fanatics in Europe of attempted murder, beating people up, stabbings, etc., I might think twice about it… and a third time. And if that nutty group numbered in the millions (I’
    ve heard the number put at some 10% of the 1 billion, 300 million Muslims) I would consider it a serious problem. And if members of that nutty group immigrated in increasing numbers to Europe and America, the centers of Western culture and civilization, and threatened death to those who would draw the Virgin Mary, I would consider that an even more weighty threat to the 1st amendment.

    From the tone of your postings, I take it you wouldn’t. I’d be interested in hearing why you feel that way (I’m not being hostile here – just curious).

  14. Pissing people off and flipping them the bird in an intentionally offensive cartoon seems weak and impotent to me. Trying to understand the other guy’s point of view may be a more compassionate and useful path to power.

  15. About 30 years ago, I had a radio talk show and came across an Aryan Nations flyer. I contacted them to see about setting up an interview, but the information they sent me was so off-the-wall insane that I decided there was nothing to be gained by giving them publicity, since they obviously weren’t rational enough to debate anyway.

    Now, sometime later, in the radio market just to the north, Alan Berg came to a different conclusion about a similar group and had them on his show, where he proceeded to rip them apart with logic and sarcasm. And a little while after that, he was gunned down in his driveway.

    It certainly helped me feel good about my own decision, but I had decided against honoring their idiocy by devoting an hour to it out of decency, not fear for my personal safety.

    I think the amount of unwarranted media attention being paid to a minority of fanatics may be why you apparently consider them more representative of Islam than they are. Both Muslim extremists and rightwing armed crazies need to be dealt with, of course, but they don’t need free public relations assistance.

  16. Don’t take this the wrong way Mike, but your comment “Both Muslim extremists and rightwing armed crazies need to be dealt with, of course, but they don?t need free public relations assistance.” sounds disturbing like the death list of the Neo-Nazi crowd you cite in the Berg shooting.

    All people have minds and free will, and assumptions about ‘all Muslums” or ‘all cartoonists, or ‘all boys’ or ‘all girls’ are equally meaningless, and any assumptions made about any such set of persons can only lead to errors.

    A vicious circle fallacy in logic, is defined as a fallacy in reasoning in which the premise is used to prove the conclusion, and the conclusion used to prove the premise. Way too much of this in many posts on this board imho.

  17. You’re right, Donald. There are no extremist Muslims or right-wing crazies, and, if there were, we could just let them kill as many people as they like and it wouldn’t matter in the slightest.

    I have no idea what I was thinking. Thanks.

  18. Are you too illiterate to read what I wrote Mike, or to goofy to understand it or respond with clarity? It’s not really clear to me which from your posts. Clearly there are extremist persons as those you hate and fear, my suggestion is that they should be identified before sending the drones. Never forget one may live quite near you, and you could blow up too. But more likely people with ‘Mike-like’ innocence are killed all the time by group condemnation by ignorence.

  19. No, Mike — you can not only read, you can mix the letters up and still figure’em out. (Fun story arc!)

    As they say, it’s you, it’s me. When entire trains of thought get jumbled, I lose track of what it means. What I usually do is back very slowly out of the room and pretend I wasn’t there in the first place.

  20. You cartoonists are just a barrel of fun!
    Here’s a good tip: If it’s not funny, don’t draw it; if it is funny, then draw it!

  21. The AAEC convention in Salt Lake this June will be hosting a panel called, Satire and the Sacred: from Mohammed to Mormon Underwear. We’ve got National Book Award winner Victor Navasky and BYU Islamic Studies professor Daniel Peterson lined up. It should be great.

    And did I mention Pat Oliphant is going to be in town, too?

  22. Pat- what day is that panel scheduled? I’m assuming Oliphant will be speaking Saturday night…

Comments are closed.