Top 5 Reasons Why People Draw Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad

During the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy, I remember meeting with the Norwegian and Danish ambassadors to the United States here on Embassy Row in Washington DC after the global uproar caused violent protests and mass riots all over the world. Since that time, we have seen several other high-profile global political firestorms which have revolved around some disrespectful cartoon depictions of Islam’s prophet.

In April 2010, many of us remember international media stories after the famous American cartoon show called “South Park” decided to air an episode depicting Islam’s prophet in a teddy bear suit. Similarly, in September 2012, a French satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo decided to “print cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, less than one year after being firebombed for running similar caricatures” which led to “riot police guarding the Paris offices of the weekly publication” and the French government eventually closing 20 embassies around the world as a precautionary measure against retaliatory action.

So after nearly ten years of these trends, what is the moral of this story?

The moral of the story is that people will continue to draw cartoons of our beloved Prophet in the future whether we like it or not.

For these reasons, it is important for global Muslims to understand the some of the top reasons that people decide to publish these inflammatory cartoons.

Some of these “Top Five” reasons include:

1) When people continue to draw cartoons of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), they are doing so in order to generate irrational violent responses from some elements of the Muslim world to help perpetuate the notion that Muslims only resort to violence to address political grievances;

2) By publishing cartoons of Islam’s prophet, they are trying to disingenuously illustrate to Western audiences that Muslims are somehow opposed to the concepts of “free speech” and a “free press”;

3) Without trying to understand the religio-cultural nuances of why people might be offended by such depictions, these people are simply trying to show the rest of the world that Muslims have “no sense of humor”;

4) The ‘clash of civilizations’ right-wing mantra is perpetuated by these false cartoon controversies, since it gives the average Western person the impression that somehow “Islam” and the “West” are inherently at odds with one another;

5) Finally, as I stated in the beginning and I cannot reiterate enough, when people draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, they are trying to lure and incite Muslims to respond violently which will only help to fuel further Islamophobia around the world.

For these reasons, since our global community will surely continue to see more cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad as we move into the future, it is important for Muslims around the world to react peacefully and not provide haters of Islam with the irrational reactions that they so devilishly desire.  

Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, author of the book Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era and contributing editor for The Islamic Monthly in Washington, D.C.

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    Arsalan Iftikhar

    Arsalan Iftikhar is Senior Editor of The Islamic Monthly magazine

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    • Bubbles

      I’ve read in many places that the Muslim peoples of the Middle East are a bit beguiled by Western systems of politics, specifically the Western habit of peaceful changes in power.

      A big part of Western politics, is that politicians and the like must be subject to being lampooned. This plays a huge part in Western politics. It underscores the whole notion of freedom of speech and freedom of the press and so on.

      The founders of religions are subject to principles, but generally speaking the founders of all major religions are generally revered in the west, and seldom lampooned. I’ve cannot recall the Buddha or Lao Tze ever being lampooned.

      Nevertheless important religious figures, such as the Pope or some preacher occasionally lampooned in a cartoon.

      The difference is the proximity to politics that these figures have.

      That brings us to Islam. Mohammed founded a religion, but also a political ideology and legal system and a political states.

      As a founder of a religion he would normally be revered but as a founder of a political ideology that still is a force in the world he is subject to lampooning as much as a political cartoon of Marx might be lampooned the same way to make a point for or against his ideology. This is not something that is optional – it is mandatory, political figures must be subject to lampooning in the west. There is no escape from that, and still have a democratic culture.

      Various religions come up with various strategies for survival. With Hinduism and Judaism, although anyone can convert to them, the religion is generally grafted to ethnicity. Roman Emperors, beginning with Constantine attempted to graft the Christian religious movement to Roman Civics and attempt to achieve social cohesion that way, but with mixed results. Islam is an example of an intertwining of religion and politics and political ideology.

      Quite often Muslims attempt to advance the religions by stressing it as a political movement, and advance the political movement by stressing it as a religious movement. We call this “the ol’ bate and switch. I’m not sure that Muslims are aware that they do this, but I’ve notice they do this all the time.

      This appears to go back all the way to Mohammed himself. In the PBS documentary on the life of Mohammed and the founding of Islam, the narrator points to an incident where the elite in Mecca tried to buy Mohammed off. The narrator says, point blank, that Meccans that he did not come to be their king (nor, if I recall correctly, material gain, but this I’m less sure) but simply a messenger to you of your God. Nevertheless, we all know how the story ends up, with Mohammed, effectively being their king, or head of a political state. No other founder of a major religion is noted for any major political achievements, as such, they are much less likely to be lampooned.

      Muslims want to claim cover for Mohammed from lampooning because he is a founder of a great religion and so should be revered as such, while advancing it as a political movement. Ultimately this can’t fly in the west. As we all can testify to current events, democracy is a fragile cultural achievement of which freedom of speech and press, and the ability to lampoon almost anything is necessary function of it. Westerners lampoon the Pope or some evangelical preacher routinely, and it is possible that they might do the same to Confucius or even Buddha. This has a function in western society. While it is possible that some might be offended, it is highly unlikely to provoke any notable reaction – people know its necessary function of a democratic society.

      Speaking theistically, I find it curious how Muslim claim Mohammed to be a man and treat him as if he were otherwise.

      Likewise Islam has a strongly stated aversion to idol worship, but to a casual observer, they do something that appears very close to what appears to be idol worship in how they regard both Mohammed and the Koran. Just because neither Mohammed nor the Koran are ‘statues or graven figures’ doesn’t mean they aren’t being revered in a manner similar to idol worship. I’m not saying all Muslims do this, but quite a few appear that they do. Again, I’m not even sure Muslims are aware of this dichotomy that they practice.

      This is an attempt at presenting a point of view that the Westerner holds. I realize that many Muslims might find this offensive. I pray they recover from the offense enough to ponder the substance of the message to better understand the western perspective on this topic and appreciate the differences. We separate religion from politics, and we often revere religious founders, but politicians are subject to severe lampooning and those figures that breach both spheres are going to be subject to lampooning to the extent they are political figures. This is necessary in the western system. If you aspire to democracy then you should know this comes with the territory.

      I spend a lot of time in non-western countries, and I notice that quite often, people who view the same things, believe other people view the same thing in the same way. As an example, take marriage. In the west marriage is viewed as highly romantic. In many East Asian and South Asian societies marriage is viewed as a merger of families, in other societies marriage has more to do with property rights. Yet every country has the institution of marriage, and quite often East Asians think that when westerners talk of marriage they are talking about the same concept when in fact they are talking about very different things – and quite often this does not become apparent until after a marriage has occurred.

    • Scott Fredericks

      Hopefully THIS mag is next

      • Jim Prindle

        You mean to say….THIS RAG. !!!!!……

    • Jim Prindle

      You are so full of it !!!! Islam is completely against a free press and free speech !!! You people constantly whine about how bad we beat up your false, child molesting prophet Muhammed, piss be on him, and depict all muslims as violent, stupid terrorist.