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.

  • I understand your point. Then again, I understand Matt Welch’s point more (link below):

    “If people who threaten violence on cartoonists are treated not with fear but with outright mockery, and produce as a direct result of their actions not a cowed and silent respect for their fervor but an epidemic of giggling and a global WTF, maybe they’ll be less incentivized to repeat the threat next time around.”

  • mvirenicus

    I dunno. I'm a fan of ridiculing any and all religions. Why should deference be given to religion just because some people strongly “believe.” I strongly believe that the human herd needs to be thinned by 90%, but I don't expect many people would respect my belief despite the fact it is reality-based and doesn't include a virgin birth. I should probably start a religion.

  • As a good librul I respect your belief that 90% of the human race should be killed off, mvirenicus.

    Don't you have just as much of a right to promote said nonsense as those who believe Mohammed is too sacred for chalk stick figures? Or people who believe in the virgin birth, the holy trinity and the “fact” that the gospels were actually written by disciples of Jesus?

    Thinning of the herd aside, I generally tend to agree with your assessment of religion as nonsense even if I don't always agree with your assessment of those who claim to be believers and/or followers.

    I know so many very intelligent people who believe ridiculous crap like this and still lead very productive lives as software engineers and accounts and lawyers and fighter pilots.

    God is always being marketed to us from all directions. And most people just stick to the product they feel most comfortable with (i.e. the product their parents used). It's all about proper marketing techniques that start when we are really young.

    And once you get past the mythical stories and strange rituals there are still some good things that get done in the name of gods.

    For example I still make (tax deductible, of course) contributions to World Vision even though they are a very Jesusy organization. The fact that they send a crap load of bibles to my “adopted” kid doesn't really bother me that much since they also send fresh water, soccer balls and goats. 3 out of 4 is a passing grade is my book.

  • mvirenicus

    Your comment provides too many bases to be covered in a forum such as this, so I will attempt to focus on what I consider the core of the matter.

    I'm not a librul, but a leftist. As such I consider it to be a social responsibility of the whole to provide for the well-being of society's people, not left to the “charity” of individuals and organizations, whether religious or secular. This well-being includes productive and satisfying labor suited to the individual, recreation,food, shelter and education. Central to that education would be reproductive health and freedom, not some ninny in a clerical collar telling people they are somehow separate from and above nature because superman in the sky loves them.

    Planning. Education. Freedom.

    That is how we thin the human herd while providing for each individual's well-being. All the religious crap can go to blazes. Parents and institutions who brainwash the young in fantastical and destructive bullshit would be charged with child abuse. Nothing less.

  • It doesn't have to be needlessly offensive (and culturally tone-deaf) to challenge or disagree with their view. It's about being tactful.

    Think of it this way – if you are a-religious, the (ultra) polite response to “I'll pray for your heathen soul” is “thank you, I know you mean well”, not “I wish to piss on your bible”. The choice isn't a binary one between being insultingly disagreeable and accepting as valid.

    I think Westernized Muslims understand that in a secular, multicultural society they may believe it is blasphemous to depict Muhammad, they cannot expect all of society to abide by their rules on that. We should be polite and avoid making avoidable insults where we can, especially when it is not necessary to make our statement.

    The way to protest people trying to shut down others who draw Muhammad is not to draw Muhammad graffiti everywhere. FWIW, I agree with the overall message of that link, I just disagree with the method.

    BTW, is it ironic that in Matt's “free discourse” piece he disallowed comments due to “past experience” and “limitations of managerial time”? I think so.

  • I love the fact that you still believe and pursue a pure leftist ideology mvirenicus.

    But the older I get the more I realize the importance of working within the existing system to achieve positive change.

    The whole “fuck you it's my way or the highway” perspective has proven not to provide a solid foundation for expansive, long term change.

  • mvirenicus

    “The whole “fuck you it's my way or the highway” perspective has proven not to provide a solid foundation for expansive, long term change.”

    only when the dems are in power, right? the gop seems to use this approach quite well to further their agenda.

    my own politics have vacillated over the years between left communist (trotskyism), democratic socialist and left liberal. for better or worse i've noticed a trend to my political ebbs and flows.

    i tend to be more “mainstream liberal” when the dems are out of power and move to the left when the dems gain power. how far left seems to be dependent upon exactly how awful dem leadership is at any given moment. over my lifetime the dems have always been awful. it's only a question of degree. right now i'd say i'm somewhere between hard marxist and, well, i'm not between anything. that means the dems have been supremely neato-boffo awful over the last couple years.

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