It’s Just a Muhammad Drawing. Relax. May 11, 2010

It’s Just a Muhammad Drawing. Relax.

Lars Vilks is a Swedish artist who was at the center of controversy in 2007 because he drew the Islamic prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body.

Yeah… I’m not impressed by it even as a work of art. But it still managed to piss off Muslims.

Vilks said a couple months ago that he “had secured his property with a homemade panic room and booby-trapped artwork.”

He got a weapon, too.

He said he also has an ax “to chop down” anyone trying to climb through the windows of his home in southern Sweden.

This man is hardcore.

But I guess it’s for a reason. Today, he was attacked at a public lecture.

Lars Vilks told The Associated Press a man in the front row ran up to him and head-butted him during the lecture at Uppsala University. Vilks says his glasses were broken but he was not injured. It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to the attack

There’s video of the attack:

All this over some drawings.

(Not even good ones, says me.)

What about stick figure Muhammads like the kind drawn by the Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics group at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the Secular Humanists for Inquiry and Free Thought (SHIFT) group at Northwestern University and the Atheists, Agnostics & Freethinkers group at the University of Illinois?

Now, one of the champions of the interfaith movement, Eboo Patel, has come down against the atheist students. He says they’re part of the problem:

It’s always interesting to see which items get labeled sacred cows and therefore invite attack.

Is a sick grandmother a sacred cow? If you staple pictures of that image on bulletin boards and write, “Isn’t cancer hilarious?” are you defending free speech, or are you just being a jerk?

Is the ‘N’ word a sacred cow? If you walk into the middle of Harlem and scream that slur at the top of your lungs, are you a First Amendment hero, or just a bigot?

Ed Clint of the University of Illinois group has a response for him:

… none of the things from his list are actually sacred cows of any kind. Is he asking (suggesting) that the N-word a sacred cow? Are “mothers”? How ’bout cancer? The answer, Mr. Patel, is no. All of these things have been fodder for many satirists and comedians. Denis Leary even named one of his specials “No Cure for Cancer,” which has quite a few cancer jokes. There are so many “yo mamma” jokes entire books are dedicated to them. The “N word” has been trotted out regularly for comedy by the likes of Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and Joe Rogan. You know why those aren’t sacred cows? Because no one ever threatened to kill Leary or Chappelle. In fact no one even suggested it was somehow an affront to diversity that they used those jokes.

Patel argues:

The key issue here isn’t free speech — it’s actions that intentionally and effectively marginalize a community.

It seems to me that there’s another dangerous sleight of hand going on here — a pretense that by chalking Muhammad you are bravely taking on the Dragon Threatening Civilization when in fact you are just hurting your Muslim classmates. It’s a little like sticking your chest out and claiming you beat up the school bully, when all you really did was pick on the little kid on the playground. The former may make you a hero. The latter makes you a jerk. Doing the latter while claiming the former, that just makes you a joke.

No one is picking on the moderate Muslim students on campus — though it would nice to hear them say they stand up for the atheists’ rights to draw these images. Which they’re not.

This is all part of a much larger grassroots campaign against the notion that Muhammad should be spared from any sort of criticism. That idea has been floated around the world with very dangerous consequences for anyone going against it. The people who are getting worked up over this are not about to change their minds through dialogue.

This isn’t about disrespect. You don’t see atheists drawing Hindu deities Shiva and Vishnu in a compromising way. Why not? Because Hindus aren’t going around threatening to kill anyone who does so.

But radical Muslims are threatening to kill anyone who draws (even in a positive way) Muhammad. That deserves a response.

These college students are not drawing purposely offensive Muhammads.

They’re drawing fucking stick figures.

They’re drawing fucking stick figures with smiley faces on them.

That’s the “disturbing” image this controversy is all about!

THAT! Are you kidding me?!

And even the King of Moderate Islam is going after them for it.

Let’s see him speaking out against Muslims who condemn such drawings. They’re the problem here, not the college students drawing stick figures.

(Thanks to Triobios for the link)

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  • vivian

    I just saw the video where the artist was attacked during a protest. It was sad to see one of the protesters screaming and yelling and then picking up his scared and crying child. I don’t even know how to respond to this circle of intolerance.

  • I wish everyone had thick skins. THen the odd accident of real offence, or a joke misinterpreted would not go wild and cause mayhem and disaster.

    But, it would seem, some people don’t just lack a thick skin, but lack any skin at all, and take offence at the slightest thing.

    Now, we know how a thick skin is built up – by use. If you are never criticized on your beliefs, you never develop the thick skin to defend them and not accuse “offence” at the slightest thing.

    I think on general, Atheists have pretty thick skins about their atheism. Muslims seem to have no skin at all. Surely the answer is for them to grow a skin, not to live in the protective bubble of appeasement.

  • Parse

    Behold the power of the Devo Muhammad Puppy.

    (What? It’s what it looks like to me!)

  • Claudia

    The day drawing a bloody stick figure isn’t something you have to do while looking over your shoulder. The day cartoonists don’t have to build panic rooms in their homes (!!) for a rough picture of a dog with a mans head. The day dozens of people don’t die (again !!) because of some cartoons. On that day, I will agree with Patel that the secular group is just being immature and hurtful.

    Strike that. The day I see “moderate muslim” groups react with half, just half, as much rage about acid being thrown in the faces of little girls for going to school in the name of their religion, I’ll take Patel’s side. Until then, they have a serious case of misplaced priorities and they better start growing thicker skins, because this isn’t stopping anytime soon.

  • Harknights

    I just don’t see how this isn’t like a 8 year old girl crying because she doesn’t get her way.

    I get it. You believe you can’t draw Muhammad. I get it…but what you don’t seem to get is that I can. It’s your belief, not mine. I should not be bound by your beliefs…and that’s what you want. We aren’t making you take an art class called Muhammad in drawings.

    I believe that in order to be equal you have to be able to made fun of just like everyone else. Until then you will never be treated like equals.

  • Alycia

    Not to mention that people CHOOSE to make Muhammad sacred. People don’t CHOOSE to be black or have cancer, so the “marginalized communities” aren’t comparable.

  • JulietEcho

    Good response, Hemant. I’m with you pretty much 100% on this one, and I hope the chalkings continue. They’re important.

  • “This is all part of a much larger grassroots campaign against the notion that Muhammad should be spared from any sort of criticism.”

    It’s about that… and more.

    It’s about sending a message to Muslim extremists — and other religious extremists — that their terror tactics will not work.

    It’s about rejecting out of hand the attempt to make criticism of Islam — or of any other religion — off-limits, simply out of fear of violence.

    It’s about the fact that many people feel comfortable critiquing, or poking fun of, or indeed commenting on, any religion other than Islam, for fear of violent retribution — and it’s about refusing to allow ourselves to be extorted in that way.

    And it’s about spreading the target around… so there are so many people drawing Muhammad, the terrorists can’t possibly go after all of us.

    (Ideas which are not original with me, btw. Here’s what Ayaan Hirsi Ali had to say about it when Comedy Central pulled the South Park Muhammad episode out of fear of retribution.)

    I second what Claudia said. The day that drawing silly cartoons of Muhammad ceases to be valid political commentary and starts just being childish name-calling will be the day that people can draw silly cartoons of Muhammad without fearing for their lives.

  • Religion of peace.

    …of peace.


    Clearly the actions of a peaceful people.

  • Casimir

    Is a sick grandmother a sacred cow? If you staple pictures of that image on bulletin boards and write, “Isn’t cancer hilarious?” are you defending free speech, or are you just being a jerk?

    Yeah, they’re kinda being a jerk. Not remotely a big a jerk as someone who would murder another human being for an offensive joke.

    Personally I think someone holding a “BEHEAD THOSE WHO INSULT GRANMAMA” sign goes beyond “jerk” and into “dangerous lunatic”.

  • I get sick and tired of running into other Arabs and have them ask me if I am Muslim and then hear them respond to my declaration of non-belief by saying, “No!!! Once a Muslim, always a Muslim! You can NEVER go back! Never say that!”
    I had to fake I was a believer at a cousin’s funeral when I was in southern Lebanon last month. How humiliating. It just wears you down emotionally after awhile. The entire culture and religion is obsessed with compliance and subordination and woe be to those who rock the boat or betray their own kind as I have. You former Christians and Jews have no idea how lucky you are.

  • HP

    De gustibus non est disputandum, I guess. That style of line drawing, regardless of what anyone thinks of it, has a long history in art and cartooning, especially in Europe. I realize you were just making an aside, but you made it twice for some reason.

    I think they’re quite nice.

    The funny part about the Mohammed stickmen, and all Mohammed cartoons for that matter, is that, because of the Islamic ban on images of Mohammed, there’s no particular iconography of what Mohammed is supposed to look like, anyway. So whether you draw him as a stickman, or as beautiful, representational oil painting, or as a line drawing of a dog with a human head, the only way anyone can distinguish between a picture of Mohammed and a picture of a generic man in traditional Arab clothing is to put a fucking label on it.

    Most of the Mohammed cartoons I’ve seen reference Persian art to a greater or lesser degree — the black turban, the full, pointed beard. Persian Sunnis have always been pretty relaxed about the whole “depictions of Mohammed” thing, at least until recently.

  • lynn

    The basic fact of the matter is that you lose the rights you don’t use.

    I don’t think much else needs to be said.

  • Let’s go one step further and draw muhammad as a squiggly line. I’m totally down with increasing the insanity of this. Also, taking the stick man above and making him my picture on fb, etc for awhile. I have one or two muslim friends, whom I believe are moderate. We’ll see. I’ll report back

  • JD

    The biggest thing is standing up and showing that no other group that has the same degree of fanaticism for their beliefs to a degree that hasn’t been seen in any other contemporary group. There are plenty of fanatical believers out there about many things, but the extremes of Islam are willing to murder other people for not following their beliefs. The thing that moderate Muslims must do is pick a side. Is burning girls with acid the way of Allah, the way of the religion of peace? How about beheading people? Or killing daughters for being a victim of rape when the perpetrator is allowed to live? How about sending your women and children to die with suicide bombs? The extremists can’t win through persuasion so they’ll win by fear and the moderates cower in fear if anything. The silence so far has been deafening. The West should not have to be the ones to stop this madness, the moderates are letting the extremists get the headlines and set the agenda.

  • There are several depictions of Muhammad that have been made by Muslim artists. This entire idea is just ridiculous. There was never historically a prohibition against depicting Muhammad. This is almost entirely new.

    Just look at the pictures on WIKIPEDIA:

  • @MikeTheInfidel,
    You are correct! Thanks for pointing this very important fact out. BTW, here is a link to a wonderful site that describes Islamic art through the ages:

  • In fact, here’s an archive of images of Muhammad, including many from Muslim artists:

  • BobtheRobot

    The problem for me is that this isn’t a silly issue about drawing stick figures.

    This is about people trying to force religious law on others and deeming the punishment of death fitting for those who do not comply.

    Christianity, Islam, etc, none of them have the right to govern a free man’s life. What if it wasn’t drawing stick figures? What if it was sex before marriage or the right to be gay? To me it is exactly the same as if they were killing people for pre-marital sex or homosexuality.

    Not only do I not believe in your religion, your religion isn’t law and I do not have to abide by religion under any circumstances.

    I don’t oppose Islam or Muslims who practice it, nor just radical Muslims; I oppose every single religious man out there who believes he can force his beliefs on others.

    Every man is equal in civil and political rights, and more importantly every man is free, but that freedom ends when a man’s actions undermine the freedom and rights of another man. The moment that one debilitates or violates another man’s freedom or rights is the moment that one becomes a criminal.

    And that is exactly what anyone who tries to force religion on another man is, a criminal. Did these people receive some kind of right to religion and belief that I did not? That you didn’t?

    I think not.

    This isn’t about the “N” word or cancer or grandmothers. This isn’t about tangible things that we can define; this is about belief which is exactly why it remains in the realm of a man’s freedom and exactly why we cannot allow, to any degree, our right to believe whatever the hell we want to be undermined, including believing in flying spaghetti monsters or that there is no god.

    Especially our right to believe that stick figure drawings of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed are not sacred.

  • dartigen

    I will totally respect people’s right to call other people a jerk/[insert insult of your choice here] for drawing a religious figure important to them in an insulting manner. That’s okay. They’re totally within their rights to do that.

    What they don’t have is the right to threaten an artist, injure an artist or kill an artist – or anyone, for that matter. Nobody has the right to cause harm to another person or to take another person’s life. Everyone has the right to personal safety and everyone has the right to live.

    The Muslims could have done much better if they all got together and wrote a letter telling Lars Vilks that they are very insulted and they don’t like the drawing and can he please get rid of it and not do that again. Much more constructive than this.

  • Sam

    Gah, I feel sorry for the guy in blue who made the unfortunate decision to sit up in front. Looks like he was collateral damage from the pepper spray 🙁

  • Triobios Outside the school, protesters yelling “Release him” and things along that line.
    An announcement is made that the lecture has been canceled. Police officers evacuates the room and the officer at the podium also adds that they are free to continue their protests outside the building.

  • ihedenius

    Footage of demonstration outside (Vilks lecture).

  • I really don’t get this whole “chanting Allahu Akbar” thing. What do they think they’re accomplishing?

  • @MikeTheInfidel,
    It’s basically screaming “F*ck you!” without being literally “crude”. It also gets your blood going when chanted repeatedly, basically preparing your body for action by getting your adrenaline up. Nice, huh?
    Most of the time it’s said quietly in a devout manner, like at the mosque after prayer. Others, like in this case, or during videotaped beheadings, hurl it like an f-bomb weapon.

  • Claudia

    @The Godless Monster

    I just had an odd vision of a bunch of Catholics psyching themselves up by screaming “AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!”.

    Somehow doesn’t have the same thrust lol.

  • Brian Macker

    The Muslims who defaced these stick drawings are obviously not moderate. They are already extreme for expecting Muslims not to draw Mohammad since Islamic art has done so from the beginning. Going further they wish to enforce their taboos against depicting Mohammad on non-Muslims. The reason for the taboo is to prevent idol worship and I think there is very little danger of non-Muslims praying to stick figures of Mohammad.

    Furthermore being insulted by others drawing Mohammad is itself a form of idol worship. He’s merely a man, and a violent, greedy, sexual predator to boot.

    Patel’s article itself is advocating the suppression of free speech on spurious arguments that drawing a stick figure (of powerful warlord and pedophile) is the same as making fun of someones dying mother. No, drawing a stick figure and labeling it Hitler is equivalent.

  • Brian Macker


    It’s a war chant and threat. It really should be banned as assault, and incitement to violence.

  • @Brian Macker,
    I stopped short of calling it those things, because it can be something completely different (as I described above). I never once said it as a war cry/chant or a threat and neither did anyone else in my family or any of our friends or associates.
    Anyway, banning words runs counter to the constitutional principles we are defending.

  • Brian Macker

    No, actually it doesn’t run against those principles. There are long established exceptions to free speech. For instance you cannot defame someone, and you also cannot incite violence. If it becomes clear that one is using certain words to incite violence you can ban that use. For example, “Fuck them” isn’t criminal if you are expressing the suggestion that someone should be ignored. The same statement when used to express a command to rape a couple women is criminal.

    In this case Ala Akbar was being yelled to incite violence. Those in the audience doing so should have been arrested for attempting to stir up a riot. You aren’t banning a word but the use of words with certain intentions.

    Screaming Ala Akbar in certain circumstances is extremely threatening and can certainly be interpreted as assault and a threat, just as burning a cross can be.

  • @Brian Macker,

    “No, actually it doesn’t run against those principles.”

    The phrase “God is Great” is protected speech. The examples you gave are poor analogies and not relevant to the discussion at hand.
    Come up with a single relevant court precedent to prove your case and I’ll concede. Until then…

  • @Brian Macker,
    P.S. The Anglicized transliteration of “God is Great” is Allahu Akhbar, not “Ala Akbar”. If you’re going to ban a phrase, you might want to have a thorough understanding of what it is you want to ban, including how it’s spelled.
    P.P.S. Arabic speaking Christians use that phrase on occasion as well. Maybe we should just ban the Arabic language? Would that make you happy?

  • Pat

    Ill support Draw Muhammad Day, When Draw Jesus Getting Fucked in the Ass Day happens too. ALL Religion is Supressive, Yours isnt special.

  • Arjumand

    If anyone wants to criticize Islam let them do so with the aid of logic and reason and let them not take the help of decisive,cheap and derogatory methods like these.For if they are fair and use logic and reason they can never point any shortcoming in it

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