Who could’ve known that one Facebook group, started by a bunch of college students in the US could cause such a furore, but that is exactly what happened when the group, ‘Draw Mohammed Day,’ was opened. Many have pointed to the initial aim behind ‘Draw Mohammed Day;’ a reaction to the intimadatory reaction (I know, ridiculous isn’t it) of certain groups to South Parks plan to depict the Prophet Muhammed in an episode (the episode was ultimately censored). I concede and agree that the motivation behind the original idea was wrong. To group everyday Muslims, our friends and neighbours, with the extremist fringe elements is patently wrong and has a displeasing odour of Islamophobia to it. However, as most things that go viral on the internet, the original idea was altered if not ultimately lost. In fact, in the vociferous debate that raged on Twitter this morning (which led me to write this post), I only saw one person arguing the same point that the originators of “Draw Mohammed Day” were making. For most, this became a question on Freedom of Speech, censorship, be it self-censorship or censorship by others. Ultimately, the question many debated was, what, if any limits, should be placed on freedom of expression.
Funny, it’s very rare, if ever that you’ll meet a single person who is a believer in democracy who’ll happily say, ‘oh freedom of expression, I only sorta kinda believe in it.’ Yet you talk to many people, many of whom would profess to be ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ and you take just one swipe at their support for it, and that is exactly what you’ll find, a wishy-washy half-arsed support for a cornerstone of democracy. From me, those are rather harsh words.
However as much as these views irk me I certainly understand them, mainly for the reason that I used to hold the very same opinion. The primary reasoning behind these views (particularly in the spectre of the “Draw Mohammed Day”) is why should we offend? Why should we not respect the views, opinions and sensibilities of others, let us live and let live. Those seem like very reasonable arguments, until you take them to their very possible conclusions. For the question must be asked, where do we draw the line? If we choose to or legislate against the drawing of the Prophet Muhammed, because it offends Muslims, perhaps the Catholics should call for commentary on the Pope or the numerous Roman-Catholic Church policies to be stopped because it offends their sensibilities.
But let’s bring this closer to home. Certain members of the ANC have called for there to be laws protecting the integrity of the President/Presidency (the two are one in the same for them) or some such malarkey. Well some of the comments directed at Jacob Zuma have been little more than nasty insults directed at him, a recent one that comes to mind is a comment that equated him to a ‘porn-star’ or of course the classic piece of gutter-journalism on Jacob Zuma, that Daily Mail piece. These comments are offensive not just to Zuma, but arguably many other South Africans who believe a man of his stature ought to afforded a certain modicum of respect. If these comments are offensive to so many, drawing from the original argument ought they not to be stopped? One would? I’d say yes. Sure, they may not be expressed in the most eloquent of manners but political views they still are, and if those offensive views are suppressed, why not those of Ferial Haffajee, Mondli Makhanya, Justice Malala, yours or mine.
Ultimately, the reason I support “Draw Mohammed Day” is not because I want to ‘teach those Muslims a lesson or two,’ but rather because to be against it, for me, would be taking a first step down a very slippery slope. I fear where such bans would lead us to, a state where there would be no debate, no discussion, no dissention. Why? Because we all decided that being offensive was wrong and should be stopped. Yes ‘Draw Mohammed Day,’ is offensive, but as far as I’m concerned, offend away. Offend me as much as you want, I will object to it to you, but I will never cry to the state to make you stop.
To quote comedian Steve Hughes: “When did sticks and stones stop being relevant? Isn’t that what you teach children for gods sakes? You’re offended? You’re an adult, grow up deal with it!”