Apparently, as part of the backlash to the Muhammad episode of South Park, folks – many of them Humanist or atheist – have elected to make today “Draw Muhammad Day”, and run around creating chalk graffiti on the ground of Muhammad in protest to the fact that Muslims take offense to it because – and I agree with this assessment – it’s pretty silly to find a depiction of Muhammad offensive.

However, I find this method of reaction silly at best, and incredibly tone-deaf, insulting, and destructive at worst.

It’s one thing to support the right of satirists to do their thing. It’s important. But there is a difference between satire, and being offensive just to be offensive. (Note that Muhammad never actually appeared on screen – the characters went to ridiculous lengths to avoid offending Muslims, which is the point of the satire. Drawing a chalk stick figure of Muhammad is just being offensive for the sake of being offensive, especially in such an in-your-face way. I stumbled across a CNN blog post from a “Humanist rabbi” that was pitch perfect:

The “South Park” episodes, of course, should have been left alone. The show makes fun of everyone, often brilliantly. There?s no reason for Islam to get off easier. Comedy Central seriously erred, kowtowing to extremists or to the small minority of American Muslims who oppose freedom of expression.

But two wrongs don?t make a right. Several campus groups of nonreligious students affiliated with the national Secular Student Alliance, of which I am a big supporter, have started a campaign to chalk smiling stick figures on their campus quads, labeling the figures ?Mohammed.?

Muslim students? reaction? Add boxing gloves and re-label the drawings ?Muhammad Ali.” As an atheist (or better yet, call me a Humanist: one who emphasizes doing good without God) who longs for fellow Humanists to gain respectability in this religious nation, I begrudgingly admit the Muslims? approach in this incident is superior in humor and civility.

There is a difference between making fun of religious or other ideas on a TV show that you can turn off, and doing it out in a public square where those likely to take offense simply can?t avoid it. These chalk drawings are not a seminar on free speech; they are the atheist equivalent of the campus sidewalk preachers who used to irk me back in college. This is not even “Piss Christ,” Andres Serrano’s controversial 1987 photograph of a crucifix in urine. It is more like filling Dixie cups with yellow water and mini crucifixes and putting them on the ground all over town. Could you do it legally? Of course. Should you?

Our country?s top military leaders are struggling to win the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide. And many of the 1.57 billion Muslims are watching CNN and many other American networks to see what we think of them. If we think they are going to perceive this as a thoughtful exercise in critical thinking, we are in serious denial. To paraphrase one student I heard from, we should fight to the death for our right to chalk these images. But we should also have the dignity and respect not to do so.

This is a serious failure in cultural sensitivity. Instead of opening lines of dialog, it is needlessly antagonistic and disrespectful. We can be critical without being offensive.

 

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