South Africa: What is the big deal with drawing the Prophet?

“So What’s the Big Deal With Drawing the Prophet?,” asks South African blogger Muhammad Karim in reference to “Let’s Draw Muhammad” contest.


  • The point is precisely that you don’t get to punch in the gut of the offending perpetrator. That is the meaning of free speech. Clearly it is a value that not everyone believes in, but bloodshed only begets bloodshed.

  • I know that. The point being made was to understand the reaction. Not everyone is as well-educated or of mild temperament to be rational in that type of situation. I am not justifying the action, I’m asking for Understanding. Everyone needs to be intelligent in this situation. Violence certainly makes things worse, but disrespecting and ridiculing things people hold sacred should not be tolerated either.

  • I think that maybe we are mostly on the same page here, but I also think we are facing a problem that is still unresolved. Personally, I have no desire to provoke or outrage any believers, and I find disrespectful or degrading representations of the Prophet distasteful. We would all be better off if we began by using better manners.

    But while I “understand” that people are prone to violence, I cannot condone it. Words, no matter how offensive, do not justify it, with the exception of actual, imminent threats. Disrespect for the Prophet may be disgusting and wrong, but it is not a threat. Speech, however insulting, does not justify violence.

    And threats of violence themselves are provocations. Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie was instrumental in hardening Western prejudice against Muslims, and Americans, if anything, have a tendency to violently overreact to threats against them. Does any Muslim really think that by threatening America, he will make America back down and be more respectful of Islam? Both sides need to cool down and be more respectful, but what worries me is that there may in fact be a fundamental clash of values here. Though I may be wrong, I think that most Americans rate freedom of speech, even offensive speech, as a higher value than respect for religion. (Unfortunately, this value is also mixed with a lot of nasty prejudice against Islam.) I cannot really speak for Muslims, but my impression is that at least some of them would elevate respect for the Prophet and the Holy Koran above freedom of speech. At the margins, this disagreement over values seems hard to reconcile, hence our current deplorable situation. I appreciate your thoughtful column, but where do we go from here?

    (I hope you will forgive my generalizing from my own experience in the United States, since I cannot really speak to the South African situation in particular.)

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