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In response to Comedy Central’s decision to censor an episode of a recent “South Park” featuring a cartoon depiction of the Prophet Muhammad after receiving threats from Muslim extremists, May 20th has been designated “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” on a Facebook page with the same name. Since then, even the proponent of the original idea, Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris who first suggested the day last month now says the campaign “has lost its anti-censorship focus and is now being used to bash ordinary Muslims.” She also told the Washington Post that “the Facebook protest had become ‘vitriolic and worse, offensive to Muslims who had nothing to do with the censorship issue I was inspired to draw about in the first place.’” Additionally, Jon Wellington, who set up the Facebook page, has quit the site, saying, “I did not create this event to encourage people to be deliberately offensive, by equating the silliness of those zealots with the entire Islamic faith and its bazillions of adherents, a few of whom I am lucky to count among my friends.”
These remarks underline the hidden dangers even in the most sacred right of freedom of speech, when speech is used to degrade, insult, and disrespect a religious figure, beliefs, or the adherents who cherish both. Just as society does not tolerate the right to draw racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic symbols, this same respect and sensitivity should be afforded to all groups and belief systems. Read ING president Maha Elgenaidi’s remarks on the question of religious freedom without limiting free speech.
On the other side, this campaign should not be used as a pretext by those who claim to be defending the Prophet Muhammad to behave in ways that are indefensible. Upholding the honor and dignity of the Prophet Muhammad is accomplished in one way and one way alone: by behaving in the manner that reflects his message, his character and his behavior. Just as he responded to those who hurled stones at him in Taif or throw garbage at him in Mecca, with dignity, decorum and compassion, those who claim to be defending his honor must begin by emulating his actions, rather than overreacting or adding fuel to the fire.
To learn more about how Muslims and people of all faiths can use this opportunity in a positive manner while upholding the critical right of freedom of speech, we recommend the campaign that was launched by the Interfaith Youth Core, a campaign that truly represents an interfaith reaction and response. See: “Talk the Talk, Don’t Chalk the Chalk” resource guide, which provides programmatic ideas and talking points for how to lead a cooperative & constructive response.