My contribution to Draw Muhammad Day (http://www.drawmuhammadday.com/):
Initially, I was very excited to hear of this project, partly because I love blasphemy (more on that later) but also because I love drawing.
As you can see from my contribution, it’s ambiguous enough that it could be anyone. Like Marcel Duchamp, I label it and thus it becomes its definition. A couple of points that I’ve been thinking about then:
1) Is it blasphemous? If I was to draw a picture of a steaming pile of poo with an arrow pointing to it saying “This is God”, then yeah, that would be blasphemous (I think). This is a picture of a superhero. A SUPERHERO. Actually, technically, if God is everywhere (as many Christians would assert), then a steaming pile of poo would theoretically be a fairly churlish but otherwise accurate depiction of the Lord. Nobody said omnipresence was nice.
Besides, this is a picture of a prophet, not God. As far as I was aware, prophets are just humans with a direct hotline to God. This prophet was pretty impressive, writing the holy book and all that. If he’d written it in our time, then I’m sure Harper Collins would have given him a book deal and his photo would be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine or something. If only they’d had Photoshop in his day, eh?
2) Is it offensive? If someone gets offended by it, then… well… yeah it’s offensive, right? As far as I know, the argument goes “Muhammad is so holy that he cannot be drawn accurately, therefore please don’t try because it’s offensive”. This is more about the nature of offense though, isn’t it? If someone made a racist comment about me, it is my decision to either get upset or rise above it. In an ideal world, every time someone made an offensive statement, the rest of us would just dismiss it as being childish, immature, ill conceived, plain stupid etc. In real life, this is not the case though.
If I was to wear a swastika into work, that would be celebrating the horrific atrocities of WW2 under Hitler and I wouldn’t just be offending those of Jewish extraction but probably a lot more people with ties to WW2 (maybe with parents and grandparents who fought, and people who just identify with not murdering others for no good reason). Seeing the words “Pakis go home” scrawled on a wall in Croydon a few years back wasn’t just offensive to me, but also to my white friends who stand against all forms of racism. The difference, I believe, between these examples and a drawing of a religious figure is the notion of there being a victim.
Drawing a religious figure in a derogative way leaves the ball in the court of the religious: Get offended or just dismiss me as a moron who won’t be going to heaven. Please note that there is a difference between getting offended by blasphemy and threatening to kill someone for their blasphemy:http://www.thelocal.se/26664/20100516/
It would be silly to blame all Muslims for the actions of a small minority, and this article does not state whether the perpetrators of this particular attack were even Muslims, but this artist has a £100,000 bounty on his head issued by Al-Quaida for his blasphemous but otherwise dull depictions of the prophet Muhammed.
3) If it is blasphemous, blasphemy is fun.
Well… it is. It was fun as a child in Catholic school morning assembly changing the lyrics to: “Then sings my soul, my saviour God to thee… How great thou FART. How great thou FART”, and discovering Monty Python’s “All things dull and ugly” in a children’s poetry book my godmother bought me. The best thing about blasphemy is that it doesn’t have a victim. If God was so pissed off at us taking his name in vain, surely he’d have produced some kind of sign, a punishment, a plague of Geography exams, something, anything to indicate that it was generally not a good idea. Perhaps it will all go on file when I die, and I’ll really regret it. Perhaps all the good stuff I do as an adult will cancel it out. If the Catholic system of penance is anything to go by, a few Hail Mary’s and an Our Father would probably do the trick.
My deeply religious granddad once said that it’s pointless to punish people for blasphemy here on earth because God is big enough to not be bothered by something banal that a tiny little man might say. I think my granddad imagines God as some kind of giant and we’re like ants screaming for his attention. When I started questioning my faith as a teenager, I genuinely believed that it would make that faith stronger, but it didn’t. If faith is weak enough to be destroyed by childlike inquisition and the loudest reaction to that inquisition is the threat of possible eternal damnation (which cannot even be verified), and a death threat, then maybe it would do us all good to examine exactly why we have such faith in the first place.