Monday, April 26, 2010

In Defense Of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

Friend of this blog and Thunder from Down Under magpie of The Quiet Magpie has taken exception to my recent endorsement of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day in the comment section of that post. I was in the middle of writing a response when I decided that this issue is important enough that it should warrant its own post. First, magpie's rebuke:

I'm not totally with you on this one, JBW.

"Freedom of speech" is often a cosy refuge for those who seek simply to vilify, and then get away by calling themselves principled for doing it.
Like all our other freedoms, our conduct with regard to that freedom must be worthy of it.

It's not a catch-all get-out-of-jail for fucking people over. It's a political right to speak for truth.

"It's about fighting terrorism".... Not it's not. Destroying Al Qaeda training camps is fighting terrorism.
This has nothing to do with that. And if this were about sending up Jesus we wouldn't even be talking this linkage.

"Nobody in this world has a right not to be offended".

Whoa... reconsider what you're saying there.... Because the ancillary to that is that everyone has the right to go round verbally bullying people in any way they want.
Do you reckon the parents of teens who have killed themselves because of school bullying would be on board for your argument? I reckon not.

If someone called Obama (who - despite the paranoid imagination of the Right - is not even a religious figure) a "something@#$%something nasty" you'd be on their case faster than Republican going to a sex show with donor money.
And quite rightly so.
And if the difference there is that Obama is not a religious figure, but Mohammed is, then that's tacit acceptance that vilification is just fine as long as it's based on religion.
Have I just vilified Republicans? maybe... Depends whether you are a Republican.

In any case YOU are able to comfortably say "nobody has the right not to be offended" because you are a capable debater, have high self-esteem, are emotionally resilient, not in a minority, and are at all times up for verbal agro (confrontation) because you like it.
Not everyone is so well armored.

May 20th is my mum's birthday.
Anybody saying anything about her will meet my friend 'Pain' - to quote the great Mr T.
I understand your concerns magpie but I think you might be missing my larger point. My parenthetical mention of "similarly intolerant individuals" was to address the fact that some will use this occasion as an excuse to specifically bash Muslims and Islam out of religious intolerance rather than an exercise of free speech and they should rightfully be called out for it if they blatantly cross the line into bigotry or have a history of such behaviour in the past. My point is that my merely posting a picture of your prophet or god should not be off limits in a free society, no matter what your views are on the subject. You have every right not to depict your god in bodily form and you have every right to tell me that you think I am wrong for doing so but you never get the right to tell me that I cannot do so, much less threaten me with bodily harm for doing so. In fact, that is the very definition of terrorism.

"Destroying Al Qaeda training camps" is not fighting terrorism, it's fighting terrorists. Terrorism is an ideology and as such is much harder to kill than mere terrorists. That's why the moniker "War on Terror" is as useless as "War on Poverty" and "War on Drugs", because these are wars that can never be won. We will never rid ourselves of terror and thus we will never be rid of individuals who would use terror as a tool to get what they want from others. The best way to fight back against these individuals is to never give in to their demands and thus not allow ourselves to be terrorized. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone understand this better than anyone else at Viacom or Comedy Central (with the exception of Jon Stewart, who has publicly voiced his support for them on his show) and it's why they've created the various Mohammed episodes addressing the subject.

You are completely correct that if this were about "sending up Jesus" we wouldn't be having the conversation and that's pretty much the point. I don't want to sound all right-winger here but if this were about a depiction of Jesus the main difference would be that even if Parker and Stone were receiving death threats from Christians Comedy Central wouldn't have censored their work, just as they haven't when South Park has skewered several other major religions in the past despite loud protestations on their behalf. Islam is the only religion that gets a pass on being criticized by that corporation and it's because of credible threats of violence from Muslim organizations and religious fundamentalists that this is so. I'm not saying that there aren't violent adherents of those other faiths as well but certain branches of Islam do seem to embrace violence much more readily than do other religions (remember the murder of Theo van Gogh). If it's OK to poke fun at one religion then it should be OK to poke fun at every religion. Again, nobody in this world has a right not to be offended.

And I do not believe that "the ancillary to that is that everyone has the right to go round verbally bullying people in any way they want", it's that everyone has the right to say whatever they want unless that speech crosses specific lines that we as a society decide for ourselves and even then those lines are intentionally defined extraordinarily carefully in order to offer as much protection to our freedom of speech as possible. Now of course there are limits to that freedom and I'm not arguing that there shouldn't be: one isn't allowed to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre or aggressively bully another student at school, for example. These limits are specific to certain circumstances and are in place for the protection of individuals and the greater good of society but to suggest that they should also extend to constraining criticism of religious beliefs or institutions is a dangerous precedent to establish and quite frankly a direct violation of the First Amendment.

As I mentioned, last Easter I posted a picture of the Easter Bunny birthing (not "crapping out" as was criticized) bloody Jesus eggs. Many people took offense at the depiction and I was called all manner of foul names and was even threatened with being satirically portrayed as "goatseing" for doing so but to their credit the individuals who criticized me never threatened me with physical violence, nor did they insist that I should not be allowed to express myself in that manner, just that they disagreed with me for doing it. I have every right to say whatever I want about Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha or Santa Claus and you have every right to criticize me for it if you wish. Criticism is fine, censorship through intimidation is not.

You are quite right that I would be on someone's case if they (unfairly) criticized President Obama; to do so is my right as well as their's but I would never insist that they shouldn't have that right just because I disagree with what they are saying. And the only distinction I would make between Obama and those other individuals has nothing to do with religion but rather would be that he's an actual living person so slander/libel laws could apply, though even those legal limits on free speech are defined much more narrowly in the case of public figures.

And the fact that I am a capable debater (thanks, by the way), have high self-esteem, am emotionally resilient, not in a minority, and am at all times up for verbal confrontation because I like it may allow me to say "nobody has the right not to be offended" more comfortably than most but that doesn't make it any less true or applicable to all of us. Your or anybody else's comfort level should have nothing to do with determining what I am allowed or not allowed to say in a free society. The odds are fairly good that pretty much everyone will get offended or be made uncomfortable by something they hear at some point in their lives and my advice to them is to do what I do when that happens to me: change the channel. Insisting that the broadcast should be censored or taken off the air is politically correct overkill. Most of the time a remote control is the only armor one needs.

As to your momma's birthday magpie I will gladly wish her many happy returns come May 20th but I hardly think the choice of that date for this particular political protest had anything to do with her and I would of course never advocate attacking anyone's family members (something I learned from The Godfather) for any reason, especially mommas. I hope you don't mind that I turned my response to your comment into a post but again this issue is very important to me and (I think) to the American way of life. I didn't write it so much to convince you of my side of the argument but rather just to let you and everyone else reading this better understand why I am participating in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Everyone is of course free to disagree with me and I welcome all opposing opinions as always. That is one of my favorite things about living in a society that holds freedom of speech so dear and why I so vigorously defend it on this site.


JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

There's always more to this stuff. I'm offended when some idiot smears shit all over a picture of Jesus and calls it art. Evoking anger and disgust are not art forms because anyone can do that.

Is the image meant to provoke thought or good feelings? Or just to piss off a Muslim or Christian. Would a picture of famous atheist madeline Murry Ohare being pissed on by St. Peter at The Pearly gates offend you JBW?

Okay. Dumb question. I'd laugh my ass off at that so perhaps we're being too sensitive. My Jesus lives in my heart. Not on the wall. Your atheism lives in your sense of reason. As long as nobody pisses on my heart or your brain, what harm is there in nothing more than bad taste. I try not to let assholes rule my emotions. I've got better things to do.

JBW said...

I myself would argue that a shit-smeared picture of Jesus or anyone else is indeed art if that is the artist's intent, JT101. I'd say the distinction you're making is more one of taste. I also think that many things that evoke anger and disgust can be considered art as well. Evoking emotion is one of the most important aspects of such.

And while I find the artist's intent important as it pertains to art I think that it matters very little as it pertains to matters of free expression, and that's what I'm talking about here. Whether something is considered art or not should have no bearing on whether it should be allowed as free speech.

I'm glad you started joking around there because I was thinking that you had become uncharacteristically sensitive all of a sudden. Plenty of things offend me all the time yet I'm still able to go about my day just fine. It's the assholes (and especially the uptight assholes with lots of free time) who have turned us into this annoyingly sensitive politically correct society and that's why Viacom pussed out on this one.

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

Perhaps I should caveat what I said about shit smearing not being art. A more apt description would be lousy, unimaginative and unoriginal art. Nah. To give credit to a shit smearer who's only goal, in my opinion, is to offend and get publicity in the name of "art" is no different than Rush Limbaugh calling you or a commie to please backward thinking right wing fools.

Perhaps I'm too midwestern to appreciate shit for anything but a fertilizer JBW.

JBW said...

Again JT101, that's a matter of taste (and in the case of shit-smearing, smell as well). I'd even argue that what Limbaugh does is art in that it's entertainment. In fact, I've often described Ann Coulter's obstinate ranting as performance art because I suspect that she's just too smart to believe most of what she says. They both make a killing saying what they say and that's OK with me but we must never confuse what they do with serious analysis worthy of our respect. I should probably follow that piece of my own advice as it applies to Don as well.

As I always say, art is completely subjective. All that matters is what you like. I just try extra hard to keep an open mind about the art that I don't like, regardless of its fecal content.

repsac3 said...

I've been bouncing back and forth on this topic, thinkin' everyone I read has a good point...

As of now, I'm with Thundercock philosophically, but don't intend to participate because I don't wish to offend people. (There's a whole lotta things I wouldn't post on the grounds that I don't want to offend, including some of the stuff that appears here, and at American Nihilist, for that matter.) ((And then, contradictory somebitch that I am, I laugh my ass off when you folks post 'em. I just suck.))

If I was the kind of person who had no issue with posting things I knew might be offensive to other religions (or races, genders, sexual orientations, etc.), I'd like to think I'd offend muslims as well, in spite of the potentially increased risk of violence from extremist assholes... though I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't take that into account, too. (I don't know whether Comedy Central made the right decision in not airing the shows as created, but I'm not in agreement with those--mostly keyboard commandos on the right, I've noticed--who're calling them cowards for not being willing to put Matt, Trey, and themselves at risk. While I think it's admirable and heroic to stand up to threats of violence in the name of an important cause, I don't find fault with those who aren't willing to do so, either. Some of us are firefighters who'll run into the burning building that everyone else is running out of, but others of us just ain't physically or mentally built to do that kinda thing.

As I said elsewhere, it's an ethical choice between standing up for freedom of speech and against censorship on one side, and standing up for treating people who are different from you in some way--a religious belief, in this case--with respect, on the other. I think it's a question that each person has to answer for himself, and I can't fault anyone for making a different choice than I would, because they're both worthwhile goals.

And of course, I'm in no way influenced by the fact that I'm a really shitty visual artist... 8>)

JBW said...

Personally Reppy I think that it's important to push boundaries and sometimes intentionally make people uncomfortable, especially when there are important principles like freedom of speech involved. I would find the world quite dull if everything was safe and boring and inoffensive and I think most open-minded people would agree with me on that. Or maybe I just get off on conflict.

I understand your point as to Comedy Central and the safety of their employees but I still can't help considering them cowards on some level, particularly since the two men who are obviously the biggest targets in all of this were also willing to be the first ones to stand on the front lines of this fight. Parker and Stone have made millions for Viacom over the years but when it came time for that company to back them up it pussed out once again. It's my opinion that some things are more important than safety but I of course don't expect everyone to agree with me on that.

And I guess I consider free speech to be an inherent right while I consider respect something that must be earned, even and especially by religions. Contrary to what Don may claim I have respect for many things in this world but religious thuggery isn't one of them.

magpie said...

I was composing my reply to this post before there were any comments about crap-smeared pictures of Jesus so it's kind of ironic what my example was going to be...
I've also written so much that I need to split this into more than one comment:

Years ago there was a local controversy here because an ‘artist’ had created and displayed in a major gallery a piece called “Piss Christ”. It was a photo of Jesus on a cross in a bucket of urine. Needless to say.... it was not well received.

Now I understand that the image of Jesus on a cross is sacred to a lot of people, even as I may be indifferent to it.
And when I say sacred, I mean everything for them begins and ends with their faith in Jesus. Into that faith and that image they pour every thought they’ve ever had about everything and everyone they’ve ever loved. It was for them a highly offensive to see the image of Jesus defiled in that way.

This is what being “offended” can be: a moment of trauma. An attack on that person's dignity that goes to their core. For someone with intense faith that desecration is enough to make them physically ill. It is therefore totally irresponsible and insensitive to just brush off something being offensive as being of no consequence, and just say "deal with it". You're not feeling that person's pain and hurt.

One reason religion so often enters into these kinds of discussions is not so much the rationality or otherwise of faith per se, but that religion tends to mean MILLIONS of people, who are going to have every degree of reaction ranging from mild annoyance through to cardiac arrest.

The vast majority of religiously minded people are not terrorists.

I keep having this argument on various sites: militant atheism will NOT advance the cause of a free and secular society. It WILL hurt a lot of people we didn't have to hurt. Force them to take sides when they might not have otherwise done so.

magpie said...

A couple of specific disagreements:

“your or anybody else's comfort level should have nothing to do with determining what I am allowed or not allowed to say in a free society”

Then you’re not going to keep your free society for very long, JBW. A polemic as absolute as that will absolutely fail to deliver justice and humanity.
One of the dirty little bubbles of moral bankruptcy that have been coming to the surface of Right-wing thought in America recently is that 'emotion', or 'compassion' (and therefore ‘justice’) should have nothing to do with economics or political policy.
I say to hell with that. What things other than the best qualities of humanity can possibly be a better basis for political decision? These Right-wing shitheads ponce about accusing liberals of social Darwinism and promptly screech like jilted banshees for exactly that kind of paradigm - as long as it suits them.

Killing terrorists IS fighting terrorism. It is. Absolutely.The physical reality of it that does the actual killing - without which no-one would care what the ideology is anyway. I want our SAS and your Special Forces out there killing the fuckers who would gladly kill you or me and everyone we love without batting an eye.

I don’t agree, on the other hand, that supporting a pair of cartoonists has any efficacy in fighting terrorism. No bomb will be unbuilt, no would-be mass-murderer diverted by some “hell with you – isn’t this funny?” disrespect to one of the biggest religions on Earth by some goofball TV program.

All it is... is bravado. From a position of near absolute safety.

You’re saying no one should care how Mohammed is represented, and then simultaneously saying everyone SHOULD care enough to elevate it to the status of a ideological battlefield in one of the most serious and lethal challenges of our times. Do you not see the contradiction in that?

If no-one should care... then fine, no-one should care if we decide not to give nearly one point six BILLION people the middle finger either.

Why do it? Why mount a deliberate campaign of aggravation of religious larcency, just so you can sit back and see the impotence of their fury, knowing your own chances of being victim of terrorism are, on the odds, rather remote? That sad village of Christians or Muslims somewhere on an island in South East Asia, on the other hand, who will get slain down to every last man, woman and child on the back of this bullshit are not going to see it all so remotely. Try telling them they should not be intimidated.

Maybe I just see more grey than you do.

JBW said...

Again magpie, I feel that you might be missing my larger point. I wasn't there at the time but I assume that nobody was forced to go and view "Piss Christ". They had a choice whether or not to do so, and if many had been able to get their way at the time I assume that they would have been quite happy to have the exhibit removed and thus deny that same choice to others.

I understand what it is to be offended, I realize that often pain and hurt go along with that and I'm certainly not dismissing those feelings or saying that they are of no consequence. All I'm saying is that your propensity to be offended by my free speech should not trump my RIGHT to utter that speech and when we start declaring certain speech "illegal" because it's offensive that's an extremely slippery slope for me.

Obviously the vast amount of religious folks are not terrorists, just as the vast amount of liberals are not socialists and the vast amount of conservatives are not racists, but this is not about religion. It's about protecting free speech and making it clear that nobody gets special protection from being offended by that speech.

To use your Obama example, someone could create a picture of the man using every racist stereotype and smear they know and I would almost certainly be offended by it because I like Obama and I dislike racism. But what if I loved Obama? And when I say loved, I mean everything for me begins and ends with my love of Obama. Into that love and that politician I pour every thought I’ve ever had about every foreign and domestic policy I’ve ever loved. It would be for me highly offensive to see a picture of Obama defiled in that way.

Now suppose I insisted that because I was so offended by that depiction of Obama that nobody should be allowed to display it, and I even intimated that whoever did could find themselves in physical danger for doing so? Obama's not my god so this isn't about religion or any lack thereof. It's not about militant atheism either. It's about freedom of speech and intimidation tactics used to squelch that freedom.

I'm not religious yet I do understand what people's religion means to them but how is that any more important or special than what the things I find important mean to me? The fact that something does or does not pertain to religion is unimportant in this context. What's important is whether or not these important things are OK to make fun of.

And by "OK" I don't mean whether or not people will get offended or be made uncomfortable by it but rather whether or not it is legally allowed and safe to do so. A free society thrives on people saying uncomfortable or unpopular things; it's the silencing of those voices through intimidation that makes us less free.

Emotion, compassion, justice: these are all good things to be aware of and incorporate into economic and political policy because those policies directly affect people's lives and without those concepts we would be living in a heartless, soulless bureaucracy that cared little for the people it is meant to serve but truly free speech cannot be forced to include those concepts, nor should it be.

I'm sure there was plenty of emotion from some people when South Park showed Buddha doing lines of coke, it wasn't very compassionate when SP had Kyle stab Jesus in the neck so that he could be resurrected to escape from jail and I would hardly say that it was just when they intimated that Scientology was a big scam to trick believers out of money. If Buddhists, Christians and Scientologists claimed as much offense and trauma to the dignity of their faith as Muslims have over the depictions of Mohammed should CC similarly censor those episodes as well? And if so, where if anywhere should the line be drawn? Again, that's a dangerous and slippery slope for a free society. (continued below)

JBW said...

(continued from above) I'm with you on the SAS and Special Forces being deployed to take out dangerous individuals and organizations and I'll even concede that killing terrorists and dismantling bombs is fighting terrorism on a physical level but it's not the most important part of that fight. Terrorism is mainly the threat of those terrorists using those bombs in order to get us to change aspects of our society and our way of life as they see fit and one needs neither terrorist nor bomb one in order to do that.

Here's an extraordinarily unlikely example to prove a point: we've destroyed every bomb and killed every terrorist on the planet but right before the last terrorist died he activated a sophisticated AI program (I know you're a sci-fi buff like I am so use your imagination) that started systematically making threatening phone calls and emails to Comedy Central demanding that any images of Mohammed be censored or else people will die.

The sophistication of the program convinces Comedy Central that there are still terrorists willing to commit violence against them and they cave to the pressure in order to save lives. The terrorists' ideology (terrorism) lived on after their deaths and their goals were still achieved through the use of fear. If Comedy Central had stuck to their guns no additional bomb would have been unbuilt, no would-be mass-murderer would have been diverted by some “hell with you – isn’t this funny?” disrespect to one of the biggest religions on Earth by some goofball TV program yet supporting that pair of cartoonists would have had great efficacy in fighting the ideology of terrorism by supporting free speech rights. And I like to believe that I personally would retain the same ethics and principles I'm talking about here were I in a position of near absolute safety or not.

I'm not saying no one should care how Mohammed is represented. Obviously many people care a great deal or we wouldn't be having this discussion. What I'm saying is that regardless of whether people care or not no one group of people should get to decide for the rest of us which representations are acceptable and which are not, and they certainly shouldn't be able to do so by threatening the rest of us to get their way. I don't see a contradiction in insisting that free speech rights should apply equally to every person and topic under the sun.

I'm not suggesting mounting a deliberate campaign of aggravation of religious larceny, I'm suggesting replying to a threat of violence because someone didn't like what was said in some goofball TV program. As I said, these principles are important to me and I like to think that I'd do the same thing even if the odds of being attacked were much less remote. A free society can't exist with important rights like the freedom of speech being stifled under a threat of violence. Maybe I don't see enough grey as it pertains to this issue but I guess for me, some things in life are indeed mostly black or white.

magpie said...

As you know, I'm not religious.
I say I'm agnostic because the question of whether there is a God doesn't even make enough sense to me for a declaration of personal atheism. I'm just a realist.

I guess what I'm defending ultimately is the concept that something can be sacred to someone. Be it their God, their duty, their diary, their dog, I dunno.... and that these things being recklessly trashed on a rat culture level is not a good sign of the times. I think.

It may help people who live unchallenged lives to put big issues to bed for the night while they get fat on pizza and coke, but it's not helpful otherwise.

Do these people who make these cartoons ever ask themselves "who is going to bear the brunt of this? Will this cause outrage that will lead the murder of a village down the road in some fly-blown Third World backwater?" I don't think they do. I don't think they have that much of a sense of responsibility.

And my guess is also that they'd just joke that away too.

JBW said...

I'm not arguing that trashing what someone else finds sacred is necessarily a good thing magpie, I'm just saying that being able to do so without fear of violent reprisal is a right that I consider to be sacred (or whatever the atheistic equivalent of that word is).

If I hear you correctly you're saying that some things shouldn't be said because people might get hurt. My main problem with that is that it's exactly what the Islamists are saying. The difference is that your's takes the form of a warning whilst their's takes the form of a threat but the outcomes of both are the same. So I choose the outcome based on principles I believe in. I assume that's what you're doing too, and ultimately it's all we can do. I've enjoyed having this conversation with you, amigo.

Anonymous said...

What in the hell is going on over here? You guys need to come out of your closet and play with the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

I like what someone on another blog said -- "Fight like hell to keep the right to draw Mohammed, then refuse to do so."

There is more information on my fictional cartoon poster going viral on my site


At least it got people communicating about the subject.


JBW said...

Communication on this subject is key, Molly. We had an interesting if not completely productive debate on the subject here. Thanks for inspiring a respectful exchange of ideas.

GrooTheWanderer said...

It's too bad the conversation ended considering the flack South Park got for simply showing a teddy bear with you-know-who inside... when it was actually Santa Claus. Obviously the outrage never was about depicting Mr. M. It's the mere thought of doing so and that moves the conversation.

I would also add that some of the arguments mistakenly depict those who are offended in stark black and white terms. Offense can range from 0% to 100% and I think accepting that requires a slight rephrasing of some of the posts here. For example, a cartoon of Mr. M. and the outrage generated may in fact have persuaded someone at a low offense level of X% to see crazy for what it is, go on to question other aspects of their religion, modify those beliefs, become less extreme in their beliefs, thereby making the world a slightly better and safer place.