Images of Mohammed

This is an image of the Muslim prophet Mohammed:

So’s this:

And also this:

I bring this up because, as you might have guessed, free speech and Islam are again in the news. Last month, over a dozen Danish newspapers reprinted one of the twelve drawings of Mohammed that caused such a furor after they were first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. The artist of this particular cartoon, Kurt Westergaard, has been under police protection, and recently the Danish police arrested three Muslims whom they alleged were plotting to murder him. The republication of the cartoons was to show solidarity with Westergaard and to demonstrate the newspapers’ commitment to free speech in the face of threats from violent fanatics.

The response from the Muslim world was predictable:

The militant Palestinian group Hamas attracted thousands of protesters to a rally in the Gaza Strip last night, when a speaker urged them to bomb Danish embassies and kill the country’s ambassadors, Danish broadcaster TV2 said on its Web site today.

The threats from these deranged, bloodthirsty lunatics were to be expected by now. However, I’m disappointed with the response of the Danish prime minister:

“The Danish government respects all faiths and their religious feelings,” Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today in his weekly press meeting at his Copenhagen offices, broadcast live by TV2. “When a long line of independent media decide to reprint the pictures, it’s not with the intention to insult religious feelings, but to document the background for the murder plans that police have unfolded.”

Who cares if the intention was to “insult religious feelings”? That is one of the rights of the press in a free society. It’s ludicrous to ban the publication of anything that hurts people’s feelings, religious or otherwise. To do that would eradicate free speech altogether by creating a heckler’s veto for the most thin-skinned members of society to censor anything that offends them. Is Prime Minister Rasmussen saying that we shouldn’t criticize any group that will react violently? Isn’t the violent response itself an indication that the group in question needs to be criticized?

It’s not just the Danes who’ve been targeted by religious aggressors who think that their dogma should be binding on everyone else. Wikipedia has been targeted by a flood of petitions demanding that it remove medieval Islamic depictions of Mohammed from its article on him. To their great credit, the Wikipedia administrators have refused, explaining their position clearly and concisely and reaffirming that they will not censor their encyclopedia for the benefit of any particular group.

Others have not been so lucky. The Turkish publishing house that translated Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion is under investigation on a charge of “insulting religious values”. This even though Turkey is relatively secular, as Muslim-majority nations go. Fortunately, Turkey is also attempting to join the European Union, whose laws protecting free speech are much better (if not perfect). Hopefully, this will serve as a wedge that will persuade the Turkish government to lay aside the more regressive of their laws.

Another writer who’s clashed with fanatics is the French philosopher and atheist Michel Houellebecq, who was charged with inciting racism in 2002 for calling Islam a “stupid” religion. (He quite reasonably pointed out that you can’t be racist against a religion, only against a race.) Thankfully, he was acquitted, but the threat is far from over. As the more recent case of Ezra Levant shows, there are still plenty of Muslims who’ll seize every opportunity to use well-intentioned but horribly misguided “hate speech” laws as a weapon to shut down any criticism of their beliefs.

And, as Hamas’ anti-cartoon rally shows, there are many more Muslims who will gleefully call for violence at the slightest provocation. Western society needs to recognize – it should already be abundantly clear – that Muslim groups and individuals are not calling for the censorship of anti-Islamic speech because their delicate, fragile feelings have been wounded. No, they’re calling for censorship because it is their undisguised ambition to conquer the world and turn it into a brutal theocracy under their heel, where all dissenters and nonbelievers would be silenced or put to death. These measures are, in their eyes, just the first step in that plan. (I take pains to emphasize that I’m not including every Muslim in this condemnation, only those who seek to stifle criticism whether through law or through bloodshed.)

Since these groups haven’t gotten the message, we need to inform them more clearly that, whatever rules they choose to follow for themselves, we non-Muslims are not bound by those rules. The best way to do this would be for many papers and media outlets to rerun the above images and others. This would send a clear and uniform message of defiance, communicating a commitment to free speech that cannot be silenced by a few belligerent fanatics, and would leave them with no single target even if they did lash out.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • hb531

    Would any image, whether of an individual, or abstract, or of a pencil, if said to be of Mohammed, be offensive? What if the image is of the letters that spell out ‘Mohammed’? Would that be offensive too? Simply saying any image is Mohammed is offensive?

    It’s as if any mention of thought of Mohammed is not appropriate. It’s a concept that should only exist in our heads…?

  • Joffan

    I may have confused it with something else, but wasn’t the original reason for this prohibition on images of Mohammed an attempt to avoid veneration of those images (as opposed to the man himself)? In which case the Danish cartoons were not really trepassing on that possibility. Although, again, why should this apply to non-Muslims, who are not going to be tempted to venerate them anyway?

  • k

    I WISH someone would stand up to muslim bullies. Everyone is such a sniveling coward about imaginary friends.
    Not only that, but if you do a websearch about images of Mo, not ALL muslims have this phobia. You can buy fancy pics of Mo because some sects of crazy have no problem with Mo pics. Once again, the nut-jobs are speaking for the entire muslim community and not even their own people will stand up to them.

  • Kittenchasesyarn

    In Islam, any realistic depiction of anyone is at the very least, discouraged, and at the extreme end of the spectrum, completely forbidden. It comes from the same impulse enshrined in the Ten Commandments about not making any graven image. The same anti-iconic impulse was a strong streak in early Christianity, at one point leading to blood running in the streets of Constantinople.

    It’s an interesting process of building up the law to keep it from being broken — in this case building “thou shalt not worship any graven image” to “thou shalt not make realistic images of anyone”

    It’s also intriguing to see that in periods of relative wealth and peace, these strictures are flouted by those in power, in often flamboyant and florid art.

    But then, who expects consistency?

  • Christopher

    It seems like we go through this every couple of years now: media does “something” (the particulars don’t really matter) that offends “some one’s” religious sensibilities, the religious people act indignant and then the media backs down – just to do it all over again later!

    I’m sick of these damn cat and mouse games…

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommy

    You’re quite right Kitten. There are plenty of portraits that were painted of the Ottoman sultans during the height of their power.

    I say, keep cranking out those cartoons. The more they complain, the more we strive to offend them. No appeasing dogmatism and fanatacism!

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Free and freedom-loving people must stand up to bullies and oppressors. You’ve scored a point for the cause.

  • wombat

    Obviously this is “Mo”, so not the same guy at all…

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/

  • konrad_arflane

    However, I’m disappointed with the response of the Danish prime minister.

    You needn’t be. He is, after all, only telling the facts: that this time around, the publication of the image was in solidarity with the cartoonist, not with the intention to insult anyone. By contrast, the original publication was meant to demonstrate the muslims must suffer “spite and ridicule” just like anyone else in a free society – and Mr. Rasmussen fully defended that, and even refused to meet with the ambassadors of Muslim countries to discuss the issue (which was, in my eyes, a colossal blunder – you don’t have to give any ground just because you talk to people, and completely snubbing an entire category of ambassadors is pretty harsh as far as diplomatic relations go).

    All that aside, there’s one rather scary thing about this go-round of the Cartoon Controversy – of the three men arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder, two were foreign nationals (Tunisian), and one was a Danish citizen of Moroccan origin. The Tunisians were, at the request of Police Intelligence, detained for deportation. Due to recent (post-9/11) legislation, this has been done without anything resembling due process of law: neither they, their attorneys, or even a judge have seen any of the evidence against them. The Danish citizen also never saw a judge, but for a completely different reason: the police simply released him rather than apply to detain him further. They’ve since said that they don’t plan to charge or indict him for anything at all, and it’s come to light that when they searched the apartments of the three suspects, they didn’t really look for evidence – they didn’t, for example, take any computers or anything like that with them.

    So I personally really don’t know what to think here – on the one hand, there are certainly muslims out there who have threatened the cartoonists with death, and that is clearly unacceptable. On the other, there’s really no telling if these three muslims in particular were planning anything at all, or if the police overreacted to something, or what.

    We really need to be careful in this so-called war on terror that we don’t start shooting at anything that moves and wears a turban.

  • Karen

    The best way to do this would be for many papers and media outlets to rerun the above images and others. This would send a clear and uniform message of defiance, communicating a commitment to free speech that cannot be silenced by a few belligerent fanatics, and would leave them with no single target even if they did lash out.

    Yes. This is why it was so disappointing when most/many U.S. newspapers refused to print the images when they first created such a furor.

    It’s only when a clear majority stand up to oppression and refuse to back down despite putting themselves at risk that progress gets made against these fanatics. It’s the same principal that sparked the Billings, MT menorah displays during the 1990s.

  • Bill D. Johnston

    Demanding removal of depictions of Mohammed by Muslims is rather odd in many instances because there are many artistic depictions of Ahmad or Mohammed in Islamic art.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    Is it me? Am I some cultural bigot? I look at those cartoons, and others, and I see a clearly Muslim male with a beard. Nothing more. What makes them images of Mohammad, as opposed to any generic Muslim male. He doesn’t have a big “M” tattooed on his face.

    There are literally millions of Muslim men who look like that now. Osama bin Laden looks like that. Why don’t they all look in their mirrors (they do have mirrors over there, don’t they?) and question why they insist on wearing Mohammad masks. It seems that they, by their own facial makeup, reproduce a graven image of Mohammad every day.

  • Ingersoll’s Revenge

    The same anti-iconic impulse was a strong streak in early Christianity, at one point leading to blood running in the streets of Constantinople.

    Ah, but this was an idea that the Ottomans picked up from the ruling families of Venice, as they frequented that city due to the extensive trade network of its port. So clearly, those rulers were tempted by the Devil when they ventured into an unholy land.

    No true Muslim (Scotsman?) would make graven images of the Prophet (peace be upon him!). Therefore, it is obvious that if anyone insults the Prophet, he must be killed.

    *Sarcasm disclaimer: I am not responsible for anyone who takes this post seriously.

  • Brit-nontheist

    Spanish Inquisitor:

    Is it me? Am I some cultural bigot? I look at those cartoons, and others, and I see a clearly Muslim male with a beard. Nothing more… There are literally millions of Muslim men who look like that now. Osama bin Laden looks like that…

    Actually, one Iranain pointed out in a documentary about the cartoons that the famous cartoon with the bomb-turban looks far more like a picture of an Indian Sikh than an Arabic Muslim (the beard/moustache shape and the shape of the turban are the elements he pointed to) and I’d have to agree with him. If it wasn’t for the fuse and the Arabic writing, I don’t imagine even Muslims would assume it was their prophet, much less an attack on him.

  • Chet

    It’s an interesting process of building up the law to keep it from being broken

    I see it more as the kind of pandering we see even today, the pandering that results in things like extraordinarily out-of-proportion sentences for minor crimes. I can easily imagine medieval politician-clerics arguing about who was “tougher on graven images.”

  • TEP

    I definitely think that these cartoons should be widely reprinted. They present a legitimate commentary on the nature of Islam. They raise the question of whether the teachings of Islam are responsible for terrorism. This, of course, is a vitally important issue that needs to be debated, rather than avoided out of fear and political correctness. The fanatics do not want a debate on this matter; they want to stifle all criticism and questioning of Islam. It is natural that they will be upset at any cartoons which portray Islam in a negative light. Any censoring of the cartoons is to cave into those who wish to stifle debate.

    If Muslims have a problem with the message of the cartoons, they should provide counterarguments. They should say ‘we do not agree with this message, and consider it to be inaccurate. We do not believe that Mohammed would have supported terrorism for these reasons . . .” If they really do oppose terrorism, then that would be the appropriate response. They should respond in the same way that anybody else would respond if somebody made a cartoon suggesting problems with their opinions – by making an argument as to why they think the cartoon is mistaken or inaccurate. Instead, the main response to the cartoons has been to prove that the claims made by them are correct – that the teachings of Mohammed do promote violence.

  • Dutch

    I haven’t been here in awhile

    It’s about time you posted something on Islam…You/we have much more to fear from radical Islam than from radical Christians.

    There is some hope. The following link is a NYTimes article about the growing disenchantment some Iraqis are having with radical clerics.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/world/middleeast/04youth.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    It’s about time you posted something on Islam…

    I thought I had posted a comment to someone once showing several examples, on this site alone, of criticism of Islam, but I can’t find it now (if I even posted it!). Anyway, just search the site for “Islam” or “Muslim”, I doubt that you’ll be disappointed. There’s also at least one essay on the parent site.

  • Jim Baerg

    Here’s a report on another such incident.

    Network Solutions Blocks Movie On Quaran: Here’s what you can do.
    http://depletedcranium.com/?p=486

  • http://www.cs.cornell.edu/home/sfa/Depictions.html stuart allen
  • Mark

    I have read the only description I could find of Mohammed, in the stories of the companions, and would think even an identikit image would be impossible to make from it. How then can any image be said to represent Mohammed?

    Also according to the quraan, making an image of Allah or Mohammed is not forbidden, but impossible, which I can understand as even defining an infinite being is a bit of a poser.


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