Friday, May 21, 2010

“Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Will Never Hurt Me”

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!”


  1. Nice post. I agree with the point you're making. But, I do think some of your comparisons are a bit glib. Visual depictions of Muhammad - whether by muslims or non-muslims - are very deeply offensive to many people of Islamic faith... many law-abiding, non-fundamentalist, tolerant people.
    Freedom of speech is of course vital, but surely the question "to what end?" needs to come into play. That's why we have limitations on things such as hate speech. Not that I'm saying this is hate speech, but respect for another's rights must inarguably go both ways.

  2. Legislating is a whole other argument.

    I still maintain, DMD has done nothing for free speech. Self-censorship is maturity. There are many other ways we as human beings choose to restrict ourselves, not just in speech. To choose the appropriate moments to speak, and how much to say is far more adult than anything else.

  3. Zapiro was doing some attention seeking and had done nothing for highlighting press freedom.

  4. this is quiet an interesting point you take, lets look at this can freedom of speech them be classified as hate speech with reference to the "daily mail article" could that be classified as hate speech...

    could then Muslims be regarded as reasonable when they don't find drawings of Prophet Mohamed tasteful... could expressing on a drawing be regarded as speech? is it Muslim culture not to draw, one has to look at those first... in Muslim culture if it is wrong to Draw Prophet Mohammed then i would say then it is in bad taste and insulting

    this is the same thing about the kill the boer song... can then this be classified as hate speech not freedom of speech, if it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth would you then regard it as offensive? does one need to draw the line and say i am not going to say you are an a*se because i am afraid it will be labbled hate speech and get people up in arms?

  5. Your point is good, thanks for making it. But as good as it is, it doesn't finalise the discussion, there's a lot more to this than freedom of speech.
    Should one be able to draw whatever one wants to? - probably, within the framework of the law. But the letter of the law, the law of the land is not the only law, though it is valid for what it does.
    Another law, one that has common humanity at its base, "the golden rule" (do unto others...) for example might direct one not to draw Mohammed, not because it is illegal, or immoral, but because there is a valid "other" to which the exercise of our freedom will knowingly do harm. This is a noble idea, but it does require a level of affective empathy arising with us to accomplish.
    While we have no definites, no absolute "yes" and no clear-cut "no", even if there is a loss to freedom in not drawing Mohammed, isn't there more to profit from not doing it?
    I don't know, but I do ask the question

  6. I don't think hate speech should be censored. Yes, hate speech can incite, and yes people should be more mature. But freedom of speech exists to protect unpopular speech! Non-controversial speech doesn't need protecting. When speech becomes controversial that's when people begin to demand censorship.

  7. I would fight to death for the right to draw Muhammed. Then I would choose not to.

  8. why all the fuss - its really just about who has the best imaginary friend anyway!