Islamic Extremists vs. Cartoonists: A Brief, Recent History

Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 1:38 AM Bookmark and Share
Imagery is an effective vehicle for criticism, making it a natural target for anyone wishing to censor those who speak out against them.  Sadly some religious extremists use threats of violence to try and accomplish that censorship. This, by definition is terrorism and the effectiveness of those attempts at censorship depend in large part how the whole of society responds to those threats.
"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."
--Thomas Jefferson
As part of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, (which has unfortunately become for some more about just being offending Muslims, and less about protecting free speech)  I here wanted to just recap some of the events that motivated the day.

We begin with the most recent event -- the one that kicked off Everybody Draw Muhammad Day -- then back up a bit...

Earlier this year, the makers of South Park received death threats for their inclusion of Allah in an episode of the show.  I won't go into details as it's still pretty fresh in the news.  More on that story here, here, and plenty of other places on the web.  John Stewart gave this great response on the Daily Show (if anything, do watch the last couple of minutes):

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Backing up a bit, we head to northern Europe about 5 years ago...

In 2004, the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh (great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh's brother, Theo) created a 10 minute movie on violence against women in some muslim societies called Submission.  He received death threats when it aired (which he didn't take seriously) and a few months later he was murdered by an Islamic terrorist while cycling to work.  

In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons of Muhammad, in an attempt to stir debate about censorship and religious criticism.  Extremists took great offense to the cartoons, fomented the masses, and there was a big backlash against the newspaper and others elsewhere Europe. Over 100 people died in protests across the world... all over 12 cartoons.

Later, in 2008, Danish police arrested 3 men who allegedly send death threats to the cartoonist (Kurt Westergaard) over the cartoons. Today, Westergaard continues to be under police protection.

Recently, a rather controversial artist named Lars Vilks was attacked while giving a free speech presentation at Upsalla University, Sweden.  Vilks was attacked during the showing of a video he produced, entitled "Allah Ho Gaybar." In addition to it's religious antagonism, the video also contains male and female nudity and is almost certainly not safe for work. You can watch the video here or here

As for the response, most of the attack was caught on video. You can watch it here. Vilks received only minor injuries.  More footage from shortly after the attack can be seen here and also here, where upon hearing the police announce that the talk has been called off, the crowd cheers at their success in silencing Vilks. Some go on to spit on an audience member on their way out -- apparently a Vilks supporter.

Following the South Park events, a Seattle cartoonist initiated Everybody Draw Mohammad Day with a poster of her own, trying to highlight the absurdity of being so seriously offended by the South Park show. After the idea went viral, the movement also attracted individuals focused more on insulting Muslims and Islam than on freedom of expression.  As a result, she decided to back down, asking via her website "that this 'day' be called off" apparently because the idea has become too offensive and hateful to serve as responsible protest. Perhaps not ironically, even the cartoonist who initiated Everybody Draw Mohammad Day has been targeted by extremists.

As for Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, check out the facebook group --which as of May 19th has over 67,500 members. Sadly, there's some pretty hateful stuff floating around the group, though it seems to be coming from a small minority and receiving proper criticism for more level-headed folks.  There are also counter protest groups like Against "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day - May 20" (just over 37,000 members) which I'd recommend you also check out.  In particular, check out the wall posts and some of the discussions like "Defending the right of expression."

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