Facebook is both a uniting force and a dividing one, and that became evident in the latest controversy surrounding the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” page. The page in question arrived on Facebook as part of a protest against a radical Muslim group that reacted angrily after Prophet Muhammad appeared in a bear suit during a recent episode of the oft-controversial animated comedy show South Park.
The creators of the page have defended themselves by saying that the page was not meant to offend or slander, but was meant to send a message to radical Muslims that they cannot use threats to suppress freedom of speech. The creators especially Molly Norris did however apologize for hurting the sentiments of Muslims worldwide.
The page resulted in different reactions across the Western and Muslim world. Pakistan was quick to ban the website indefinitely on May 19 citing blasphemous content as the reason and sporadic protests by students and Islamic organizations took place. People looked upon such a move as provocative and felt that it was yet another deliberate attempt to insult Muslims. Bangladesh also banned the site until the time that such objectionable material is removed.
Surprisingly not much was heard from the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, a country that considers itself the rightful authority and guardian of Islam. Most countries have steered clear of the debate and controversy, choosing to let their citizens decide if they want to frequent the site or not. The banning and severe reaction from some parts of the Muslim world has actually given the page and issue more attention than it deserves or would have gotten if everyone just went on with their business. As a result of the attention the page attracted 80,000 members, resulting in more than 4,000 cartoons being uploaded to the site.
This event has echoes of the Danish controversy in which a cartoonist drew the Prophet Mohammed, resulting in widespread protests, violence and death threats. The creators and supporters of the page have received similar threats from various radical groups, which has only resulted in more people standing up for their right to “express themselves”.
There are many people who regard Muslims as a group trying to encroach on the Western way of life and using terror as a weapon. They feel justified in standing up to such views and showing that this intimidation to silence people will not go unchecked. On the other hand, many people are looking upon this event as an unnecessary move on part of some misguided people as it doesn’t serve any purpose except polarizing people ever more. Even though it might be successful in portraying the image that in the US freedom of speech is a fundamental right that cannot be abrogated, it is equally successful in antagonizing Muslims by making fun of a figure they hold in the highest esteem. Yes, freedom of expression is important but when it aims to slander a belief that a religious community holds very dear to them it becomes counter-productive. Where is the line drawn then between freedom of expression and hate speech?
Many Pakistani’s were completely against the ban and felt that it didn’t matter if someone drew a picture of the Prophet since that doesn’t change their opinion or their affection for him or Islam. In the face of insult and abuse, the Prophet himself has shown restraint and forgiveness time and time again, and we should not show such hatred or commit such Un-Islamic acts on his behalf. Many people claimed that contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t state anywhere in the Quran that drawing the picture of Prophet Muhammad is disallowed, which sparked an entire debate of its own in the Muslim world. However, it isn’t just a question of drawing a picture of the Prophet as these cartoons or contests were very different from a portrait. Many of the cartoons were derogatory and meant to instigate. Acts of defiance such as these cartoons actually play right in the hands of extremists as this tension and aggression creates a complex situation that is exploited by them to recruit more confused misguided people to their fold.
Intimidation or threat of violence is totally unacceptable, but that doesn’t mean that in the face of such a situation everything becomes fair. Someone makes an offending cartoon, people react to it violently prompting others to target that group or religion’s sensitive points, more threats are made…..what is the point and where is the end?
Seriously, why is the entire burden of American constitutional rights resting on the Prophet in a bear suit? I understand the importance of freedom of expression but to be honest does one really need to show the Prophet on a skateboard? It’s all so unnecessary especially in a tense and divided world. Trust me; you can do way more with your artistic talent than drawing the Prophet as a stick figure. Respecting other people’s sensibilities and what they hold sacred doesn’t mean succumbing to their influence; it just means you’re a bigger person. By starting this page, the creators simply ended up fueling a fire that will only divide, not unite.