I didn't draw a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed on May 20 -- I couldn't get the knobs to work on my Etch-A-Sketch -- but I was there, poised thoughtfully over a drawing board, in spirit. I did, however, log onto Facebook and "liked" Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, apparently just before the website was hacked and the proprietor's name and address stolen by social media terrorists, at which point the proprietor panicked and shut down the page, causing many of us to mistakenly think evil thoughts about the corporate weasels at Facebook.
I confess I was ambivalent about Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. A lot of people whose opinions I respect (a short list, it's true) said EDMD was no more than an infantile provocation. They said participants would likely offend millions of Muslims who never did anything to anyone.
That's been Comedy Central's philosophy, with regard to Muslims, if not Christians and Jews. (The impetus for EDMD was Comedy Central's repeated censoring of cartoon images of Mohammed.) Of course, this isn't how things normally work in a free society. Normally, we get offended. We get over it. We move on.
But if you accept what the Infantile Provocation crowd says, Muslims are incapable of moving on. Some of them simply cannot handle being offended, and because some of them cannot handle it, we mustn't risk offending any of them.
The same doesn't hold for the world's other great religions. You can mock Buddhists till the cows come home (at least until Tibetan monks start threatening to gut cable television executives). You can offend Christians by submerging a crucifix in urine and that's not infantile provocation, it's a sophisticated artistic statement. You can portray Jesus defecating on the Stars and Stripes, but that's not infantile provocation, it's a profound illustration by South Park's creators of their own network's ridiculous double standards.
Anyway, the Infantile Provocation crowd is just plain wrong. The only issue here is whether my right to free speech is worth less than your non-existent right not to be offended. Where you come down on that depends largely on where you live.
Americans generally accept that everyone and everything is critical or satirical fair game. That's why riotous mobs of torch-wielding Christians haven't burned down the offices of Comedy Central. We accept that being offended is the price we pay for free speech.
But a lot of Muslims cannot accept this. Free speech is simply not that important to them. With the exception of those who live in the West and have adopted Western values, most Muslims have never lived in a country where free speech is even an option.
HOW WOULD ONE even go about explaining this to a child? "It's our right to offend people, but nice people don't do it. Unless bad people threaten to kill us if we do."
"I don't understand."
"Tell me about it."
The irony is that free speech is Comedy Central's bread and butter. Take away their offensive potty humor and the writers and suits would have to find meaningful work, like ushering at baseball games or cleaning horse stables.
Comedy Central can exist only in a radically free society and yet when it comes to quashing free speech, they make the government look like bushers.
Sadly, what started out as a brave, spirited defense of free speech has become just another forum for hateful, clueless dolts. The last time I looked at the EDMD page it was loaded with offensive religious comments. Naturally, the Infantile Provocation crowd is crowing: "See? Didn't we tell you this would be nothing more than a spectacle for bigoted Islamophobes?"
As my mother used to say to us kids, "This is why we can't have anything nice."
Perhaps the real news was that in the end nothing much happened. There were no bloody riots, no embassies were torched, nobody was murdered. Sure Pakistan censored a few websites and a few Muslims spent their lunch hour toasting a U.S. flag purchased from Mahmood, the local American flag peddler -- "For all your raging-at-America needs, George Bush effigies 75 percent off" -- and shouting "Death to Facebook," but what's new? In the end EDMD came and went and things are pretty much the same between Islam and The West.
I guess you could say EDMD was a draw.
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