THEIR TURN: 12 top cartoonists offer their take on 'Draw Muhammad Day'
"Shock for shock's sake." "Choreographed punditry." And "wrong, childish and needlessly provocative."
That's what some critics think of today's Facebook-ignited campaign titled "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day." But those aren't Islamic extremists speaking. Those are the words of pro-free-speech political cartoonists.
Some people are drawing Muhammad today as part of a socially networked protest to caricature the Islamic prophet. Just don't expect most professional political cartoonists to join in.
"I don't think it's kowtowing to be respectful of another's belief system," says San Diego Union-Tribune cartoonist Steve Breen. "I seldom participate in staged editorial events," says Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoonist David Horsey. And "the 'Draw Muhammad Day' is a demonstration in the worst impulse for some editorial cartoonists," says Chicago Tribune cartoonist Scott Stantis.
Those sentiments reflect the official stance of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. The group's president, Sacramento Bee cartoonist Rex Babin, says: "I would be opposed to our organization getting behind such an 'event' because ... something like that can be too easily co-opted by interest groups [whose agenda can go] beyond a simple defense of free expression." Past AAEC president Ted Rall also says he won't draw Muhammad on Thursday, either.
As a protest, "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" was planned after the creators of TV's "South Park" complained last month that Comedy Central edited their attempts to render Muhammad. Some Muslims consider any depiction of Muhammad to be blasphemous, though Islamic scholar Babak Rahimi, who teaches at the University of California San Diego, says: "It is a well-known fact that aesthetic depictions of the prophet have been and remain a major cultural feature of Muslim societies around the world."
On Thursday, Pakistan -- citing "derogatory" and "blasphemous" online references to Muhammad -- expanded its temporary Internet ban to include YouTube as well as Facebook.
Breen and Horsey are among 19 Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonists who signed a petition to support "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. But they, as well as such other signees as Clay Bennett, Matt Davies, Mike Peters and Ann Telnaes, say they do not plan to publish a Muhammad cartoon Thursday. (Note: In recent days, The Post's Telnaes depicted Muhammad wearing a bomb-wicked turban, and Stantis republished one of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks's controversial Muhammad-as-a-dog images on his Chicago Tribune blog.)
Also not a participant in today's "Draw Muhammad" protest: Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris, whose illustration last month spawned the campaign. "Fight for the right to draw Muhammad, then decline doing so," she says.
Norris's cartoon inspired Facebook pages, including one that has drawn more than 80,000 supporters who "like" the page. She says she has joined a Facebook page that decries the "Draw Muhammad" campaign -- "AGAINST Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" has attracted nearly 100,000 supporters.
But petition signee Mark Fiore, whose clients include SFGate.com, says his political animation Thursday will incorporate Muhammad.
And noted Islamic critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose book "Nomad: From Islam to America" was published this week, says the protest "is a positive campaign" that can "promote self-reflection among Muslims."
Still, Toronto-based political cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar, a once-jailed Iranian artist who describes his faith as "Muslim Lite," says: "I believe we have the right to offend, but when offense is seen as 'insult,' it might be a bad time to draw an offensive cartoon."
HERE ARE THE EXPANDED COMMENTS FROM ALL THE CARTOONISTS:
President, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists
I do not plan to draw Muhammad this week. Nor is the AAEC involved in plans to participate in any such "event." If there are individual cartoonists participating, I am unaware of it and as far as I tell there has been relatively little discussion.
Personally, I would be opposed to our organization getting behind such an "event" because as we have already seen, something like that can be too easily co-opted by interest groups who, I suspect, have an agenda that goes beyond a simple defense of free expression.
The AAEC has repeatedly stated for the record its unequivocal support for the right of free expression and categorically condemns any suggestions of violence that would lead to an erosion of that right.
Chattanooga Times Free Press
Do I plan to draw Muhammad this week? Well, yes and no. Let me explain. ...
No laws should infringe on the free speech of any person or the free expression of any artist, especially a religious law imposed through coercion and threats of violence. And while I support the civil disobedience being promoted ... I will not be be publishing a cartoon depicting the prophet. When a cartoonist is told, "You can't draw something," it only makes the desire to draw it that much stronger. But likewise, when a cartoonist is told, "You should draw something," the instinct to resist is just as strong.
Credibility is based on independence and objectivity. That credibility is paramount to any journalist who routinely express his or her opinions on the issues of the day. As an editorial cartoonist, it's up to me and me alone, to choose the subject matter for my work. ... With that independence in mind, I've always tried to avoid participating in any orchestrated campaigns to promote a specific topic or issue. So, as vehemently as I may defend the rights of the "South Park" creators who drew the prophet Muhammad, and while I universally condemn any attempt to intimidate other cartoonists from doing the same, I will not be participating in the "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day."
At least not officially.
Sharia Law forbids any depiction of the prophet Muhammad. ... Any drawing, even one rendered in private and never shared with another soul, is a violation of that law. So, that's how I intend to honor the protest. In the privacy of my office, I will draw a caricature of the prophet. To avoid any appearance of an orchestrated effort to sway public opinion, however, I will not publish what I draw.
San Diego Union-Tribune
No, I'm not going to draw Muhammad this week. I signed the petition because I'm against violence and intimidation by any group. That said, it is my understanding that any depiction of Muhammad, drawn, painted, sculpted, etc. is forbidden according to the Islamic faith and thereby offensive to Muslims. I don't think it's kowtowing to be respectful of another's belief system. I feel that "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" is wrong, childish and needlessly provocative.
The Journal News (N.Y.)
Unless he was ousted in a primary upset, concocted then shorted his own derivative or is accepting responsibility for the oil slick in the Gulf, I was not planning to draw Mohammad this week, no.
As a political cartoonist I don't really see the point in group actions poking at others' religious beliefs for sport alone. I signed the petition simply because I strongly support the right of anyone to draw whatever they want without fear of threats of violence. There are already some not-very-clever Mohammad cartoons in existence. I don't see any genuinely intelligent reason why I should add one more to the stack -- especially when there are so many matters of consequence piling up on our drawing boards these days.
SFGate.com et al.
I think every day should be draw Muhammad day, or draw Jesus day or draw Moses day. These prophet and messiah types can handle themselves -- I really don't think they're concerned about what cartoonists draw. Funny thing is, I didn't even know until [the other day that this is] "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day," but was already planning to do an animation dealing with the latest "South Park" issue and other recent attacks. Turns out my animation will be published on "EDMD," even though that wasn't my initial intent.
I'm a little squeamish about an organized day when everybody is supposed to draw Muhammad, mainly because it could easily cross the line into an organized effort to poke fun at a particular religion. In my mind, it really comes down to how a particular cartoon handles Muhammad specifically and Islam in general.I've drawn Muhammad before and will draw him again, although I'll leave Thursday's cartoon up to the viewer.
Obviously -- having signed the petition condemning the threats against the "South Park" creators -- I believe threats or acts of violence against any artists who are exercising their right of free expression are utterly wrong and unjustifiable, no matter whose beliefs or feelings or culture have been lampooned. Muhammad is a pivotal historical figure. Commenting about his influence on our world today is not something for which anyone should suffer retribution.
I'm not going to be drawing Muhammad this week, though, for two reasons. First, I seldom participate in staged editorial events, whether it is Earth Day or any other worthy cause. Something about these coordinated efforts makes me uneasy as a journalist and as an independent commentator. Second, I see no reason to purposely offend non-radical Muslims who take their beliefs seriously. When the right time to portray Muhammad arises, I will exercise my right to do it, but it will be my call. I'm not big on choreographed punditry.
New York Times Syndicate et al.
Actually I won't draw the prophet for many reasons. One is that it's not the best time to do so. Many people in the Islamic community have nothing negative with seeing a cartoon of the prophet, but a big majority cannot handle this matter. And if a Muslim does this, there will be a Fatwa issued against him.
The other thing is that I just started drawing Grand Ayatollahs a few months ago. I wasn't sure to do so, but I asked one of them if he thought it was the time to break the taboo. He said it was okay.
The problem is I believe we have the right to offend, but when offense is see as "insult" it might be a bad time to draw and offensive cartoon.
In this instance,I'm not going to draw Muhammad. I wouldn't insult any religion's prophet to make a point about free speech. if an issue arises and depicting Muhammad in a cartoon about that issue makes sense, I will. However, when putting a religious icon in a cartoon, you risk overwhelming the idea you're trying to get across in the cartoon, because readers can't get past the icon's depiction. I've done numerous cartoons on the catholic pedophilia scandal, but I've never used Jesus in one of those cartoons, because it would overwhelm my message. That said, I condemn those who threaten violence.
(original illustration by Molly Norris)
Seattle's City Arts et al.
If I had wanted my one-off cartoon to be the basis for a worldwide movement to draw Mohammed, then at this moment I should be thrilled. But instead I am horrified!
My one-off cartoon that was specifically about Comedy Central's behavior vs. Revolution Muslim's threat leading to a slippery slope of censorship in America is not good for a long-term plan. The results have shown to be 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.
I attended a local Seerah Conference that was started by a local mosque four years ago after the Danish cartoon debacle. The folks there had to babysit me because I was so upset by this whole viral phenomenon. ... I have spoken with some women at that mosque about possibly making short documentaries about areas where they see there may be a need to help non-Muslims understand their culture. These could be both entertaining and informative -- I hope it happens!
Also: the nicest emails I have gotten during these weeks since my cartoon went viral are from Muslims. I joined "Against Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" and folks from there write to me.
Dayton Daily News
It's really amazing when the Danish cartoon thing happened. One of the editorial writers at my paper said that he thought we journalist should respect other peoples' religious beliefs. I told him that was B.S. Free speech and religious views have nothing in common.
I grew up Catholic. I've been condemned many times by certain priests when I would draw the pope in a bad light. Or when I would criticize the church over their horrendous views on women. I've drawn Jesus many times to make a political point about the hypocrisy of the religious right. I've never drawn Jesus in a bad way. Jesus has never been bad in my mind, Muhammad has never been bad.
When the Danish cartoon thing happened, I said to my wife: "Maybe I should do a picture of Muhammad in one of my cartoons." She said: "Have you ever done a Muhammad cartoon in the 45 years of drawing?" I said, "No." She said, "So why do one now?" I said: "Because they tell me I can't." And I realized that that was no reason to do it. Or to do a picture of Muhammad just to get people mad. But to do a picture of Muhammad to get a point across on the hypocrisy of the radical Muslims I believe could be legitimate reason. And I may do one -- but not today ,
Universal Press Syndicate
If there is support within the AAEC for "Everybody Draw Muhammed Day," it is statistically insignificant. While most AAEC members vigorously support free speech, many are uncomfortable with the idea of provoking the anger of devout Muslims with no other intent than to provoke anger. When there is a legitimate satirical and/or political case to make, few of us shy away from controversy -- but this seems more like a frat prank than standing up for free expression. It also doesn't help that the person who thought of the idea didn't approach other cartoonists about it and indeed disavowed it herself.
I suspect I will be among the overwhelming majority of editorial cartoonists in letting this week pass without a Mohammed drawing.
For the record, I did do a Mohammed cartoon a few years back--as a critique of the newspapers who thought that reprinting them was brave--but my syndicate censored it. They rarely do that, but this was one of those times.
I am not much of a joiner. The "Draw Muhammad Day" was an interesting idea and I was disappointed that the woman organizing it felt compelled to drop it. ... As an exercise and example in free speech it has some merit and I totally understand the underlying motivation behind it.
As a practicing Catholic I have been deeply offended by innumerable despicable renderings of Jesus Christ [and] the Virgin Mary. I can say that at no time did I wish harm to the artist. I could protest or draw a cartoon about it. Even boycott the sponsor of the offending art.
The "Draw Muhammad" Day is a demonstration in the worst impulse for some editorial cartoonists. Shock for shock's sake. I try and make my work have more depth then that. All of that being said I reserve the right to draw the prophet Muhammad at any time I feel it is warranted. Any jihadist with a problem with that can shove it up their fatwa.
| May 20, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Categories: General, Interviews With Cartoonists, The Political Cartoon | Tags: Ann Telnaes, Clay Bennett, David Horsey, Mark Fiore, Matt Davies, Mike Luckovich, Mike Peters, Molly Norris, Nikahang Kowsar, Rex Babin, Scott Stantis, Steve Breen, Ted Rall
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