Lars Vilks Cartoon

Chronicles/analysis | 2010-03-13 | 18 comments
Critique Muhammad’s teachings on its own merits, avoide measures that only befit extremists. Sardar Anees Ahmad, Chairman of the Muslim Writer´s Guild of America, comments on the recent publication of Lars Vilks’ cartoon, depicting Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.

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In 1755, Dr. Samuel Johnson completed the first great English dictionary. A group of respectable women were among the various delegations who personally congratulated Johnson. The women expressed pleasure on discovering that Johnson’s dictionary contained no inappropriate words. Johnson quipped that it was interesting that the women had been searching for these words in the first place!

Individuals will always exist who, like the women visiting Johnson, consciously seek out offensive material. Cautiousness must, therefore, be observed when restricting free expression. The debate over the recent publication of Lars Vilks’ cartoon, depicting Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog, is a fitting example.

Extremists will react as, perhaps more, criminally as they did during the 2006 Danish cartoon controversy. Vilks emphasizes that extremists will not bully anyone into silence. Reliance on intimidation, however, is not as peculiar a trait as is extremists’ hypocritical nature. Oftentimes raising hell when a Westerner is involved, extremists behave strikingly different when the perpetrator is a Muslim. Suicide attacks between Sunni and Shia factions, misogynist behavior, desecration of Islamic holy sites, persecution of religious minorities, etc. all fail to raise any extremists’ eyebrow. Furthermore, which of these same extremists who believe Jesus is a prophet opposed the abhorrent Ecce Homo and Piss Christ exhibitions?

Criticism, even mockery, of what extremists hold dear would then seem justified. The problem is that Vilks’ cartoon erroneously conflates extremists’ beliefs with that of Muhammad’s.

Unlike extremists, Muhammad declared that intentionally killing oneself is tantamount to damnation (Bukhari); insisted Christians offer their prayer services in his mosque and protected other houses of worship (Seerat); declared that each person, irrespective of religious or philosophical view, can obtain salvation if they are righteous (Kanzul Ummal); prohibited abusing women, never even so much as tapping his wives (Riyadh); made education of every male and female mandatory (Baihiqi); permitted no punishment for apostasy, even allowing a Quranic scribe to change his faith (Fathul Bari); and observed a strict separation of church and state (Medina Charter). Lastly, Muhammad protected the freedom of speech. While Medina's ruler, Muhammad repeatedly tolerated the excesses of his opponents including Abdullah Ubay bin Salul, the same man who falsely alleged Muhammad's wife was an adulterer, and also led his funeral prayer (Bukhari).

But if Muhammad believed in these values, why do today’s clerics espouse the opposite? Muhammad himself referred to the Latter Days’ clerics as “the worst creatures under the firmament of heaven” (Mishkat). In fact, extremism stems not only from unruly clerics, but also from a belief in unrestricted expression.

Vilks, in the name of free expression, wanted to hurt Muhammad’s followers, not discredit extremists. But would free expression advocates such as Milton, Paine, and Mill agree? If so, then free expression is inherently vulgar and meaningless. Free expression should foster creativity, individuality, and brotherhood. Aside from fostering mistrust, inevitably leading to the restriction of rights, what truth has this cartoon unveiled? Jean-Pierre Olov Schori, former Swedish Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister, argues that Vilks’ cartoon inhibits, rather than helps, free speech activists in Muslim countries. For what leverage do they possess if extremists can cite Vilks’ cartoon as the fruits of free expression? Thus, observing some restraint can marginalize extremism, instead of, as some argue, afford Muslims any special privilege. Vilks’ actions are even more deplorable than anti-Semitic Muslims who, when drawing abusive cartoons of Jews, restrict their pens to Jews, never targeting any Israelite prophet. Such behavior, while repulsive, is still more civil than the anti-extremist cartoonists’!

Moreover, values govern speech in our daily lives – one behaves differently with one’s friend as opposed to the friend’s parents. Censorship, in the name of morality, need not jeopardize individuality or engender dogma. As the first people in the modern era to legally prohibit censorship and guarantee a free press, censorship to many Swedes is itself offensive. But Sweden has also repeatedly acknowledged that free expression is not altogether free. The Swedish Constitution (Ch.5, Art. 2), while recognizing a free press, requires that, “A periodical shall have a responsible editor”. Art has been censured – such as a poster in Linköping showing Satan defecating on Jesus (the poster’s publication resulted in the newspapers’ editor receiving death threats). The Statens biografbyrå prohibits theatres from showing any film “contrary to law or morality” or that which can brutalize or inflict mental harm on certain age groups.

Still, one may argue tolerance of Muslim sentiment requires that Muslim communities condemn extremism. As an example, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (Ahmadiyyat) has, since its inception in the 1800s, represented Islam's inherently moderate philosophy and the compatibility of jihad with the larger world. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Ahmadiyyat’s founder, drew support from the Qur'an and Muhammad’s sayings to condemn extremism and emphasize a jihad of the pen. He reasoned, “We should go forth with the kind of weapons with which they (Islam's critics) have come forth. That weapon is the pen.” Ahmadiyyat, under the leadership of its present Caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, disapproved of the 2006 Danish cartoons through writing while creating no societal unrest. This is one international Muslim community, numbering in the tens of millions across 190+ countries (including Gothenburg, Sweden) that answers the oft-asked, but not so often-answered question – where are the moderate Muslims?

So, I urge the reader to critique Muhammad’s teachings on its own merits, thereby preserving free expression while avoiding measures that only benefit an extremist.

Sardar Anees Ahmad
Chairman, Muslim Writer's Guild of America

Readers' comments

2010-09-01 22:32 Bobby wrote:
If the Ground Zero Mosque in NYC gets built, I plan to send money to the group that is planning to lease the buildings on either side of the Mosque in order to open a Gay Bar and a Danish cartoon art gallery. Sensitivity must cut both ways. The NYC iman, by his own admission, sought the closest space to Ground Zero and is poo-pooing the feelings of the victim´s families. Let´s see how his families feel about having that Gay Bar and Cartoon Studio on their doorstop.
2010-08-31 13:15 Jerry wrote:
An effort should be made by anyone to convince the supporters of the mosque to move the location for sensitivity reasons. My position is that the feelings of 70 percent of all Americans on the issue, and particularly the family members of those who died and the survivors of the catastrophe, should be considered by the Muslim supporters of the mosque. They oppose the mosque on that site, because the terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 were Muslims.
2010-08-28 14:16 Lawrence wrote:
As Americans debate the appropriateness of building a Muslim mosque near Ground Zero in New York City, similar discussions have been taking place in towns and cities across Europe, where the spread of Islam is far more advanced than it is in the United States. Although Muslims and their supporters in Europe usually frame the issue of mosque construction within the context of granting religious freedom to minorities, most, if not all, of the more controversial European mosque projects are motivat
2010-08-13 08:08 Gert wrote:
2."The Koranic verses that deal with fighting the infidels and conquering their countries say that they should convert to Islam, pay the jizya poll tax, or be killed. If the Muslims had implemented this, we would not have reached the humiliation in which we find ourselves today."
2010-08-13 08:06 Gert wrote:
Following are excerpts from an address by Saudi cleric Muhammad Al-Arifi, which aired on Egypt´s Al-Rahma TV on July 19, 2010. To view this clip on MEMRI TV, visit Muhammad Al-Arifi: "There is no doubt that a person whom Allah enables to sacrifice his soul, and to fight for the sake of Allah, has been graced with a great honor."Devotion to Jihad for the sake of Allah, and the desire to shed blood, to smash skulls, and to sever li
2010-08-06 06:09 Celine wrote:
Canadian Council of Muslim Women opposes addition of honor killings to Criminal Code Now wait a minute: the mainstream media has told us, whenever an honor killing has taken place in North America or Europe, that honor killing is a cultural practice that has nothing to do with Islam -- despite the fact that Muslims commit 91 percent of honor killings worldwide. What´s more, a manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University, the most respected author
2010-07-25 19:33 aferd wrote:
If a religion condones, even encourages violence, such as offering a reward to the murderer of anyone that insults their religion, then the Ku Klux Klan in not any different than that religion
2010-07-16 20:40 Alon wrote:
Robert,thanks for the news update regarding this subject.This is so stupid that they do not reveal their identity!If someone commits a crime then the "extra" human rights do not applies on him.
2010-07-15 20:17 Robert wrote:
A Swedish court convicted two brothers of trying to burn down the home of an artist whose Prophet Muhammad depiction infuriated some Muslims, and sentenced each of them to more than two years in prison. The attempted arson attack was motivated by a controversial 2007 sketch by artist Lars Vilks that depicted Muhammad as a dog, the Helsingborg District Court said. The defendants, aged 19 and 21, were not identified by name due to Swedish privacy rules. They should be deported!
2010-03-19 15:06 svend wrote:
The website The Religion of Peace tracks global Islamic terrorism. According to its detailed list for 2009, there were Islamist terror attacks in 38 countries around the world: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Chechnya, China, Dagestan, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ingushetia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, Turk
2010-03-17 22:51 John Hernandez wrote:
If someone choose to depict Vilk´s cartoon with the body of a donkey, will Vilk may consider this a freedom of expression? What if someone draws a similar cartoon of someone Vilk´s love and honor more than his life? If that´s okay with him that he need to re-define - love, honor, respect.. and eventually the word Freedom.
2010-03-16 04:39 Goldbaum wrote:
There are many movies, pieces of art, drawings, and cartoons making fun of Jesus. Cartoon TV shows like Family Guy and South Park in the West make fun of Jesus and no one has threatened to kill them. In Islam Muhammad was not only a prophet, but he was a mere man. But if you notice many Muslims today have made the image of Muhammad into a god like figure, and that goes against the teachings of Islam.
2010-03-15 21:32 Marie-Luise wrote:
>The objectives of Majlis Sultan-ul-Qalam, USA are two-fold: 1) To respond rapidly to media coverage of Islam through letters and editorials and 2) To respond systematically to critics of Islam through scholarly rejoinders. The group endeavors to defend the honor and sanctity of Islam by waging a "jihad of the pen."< That much to the Muslim Writer´s Guild of American. They cannot stand criticism of Islam.
2010-03-14 21:35 John Eddie wrote:
this is so true
2010-03-14 18:46 Andy wrote:
If the reaction to the cartoons were not as violent, then they would have been mostly ignored by most westerners as immature and unnecessary. The fact that the reaction was so extreme is the reason why they are regarded in such high esteem by some groups. If the extremist groups involved were to be more understanding of the freedom of speech principles, then the attention seeking people behind the cartoons etc would be very transitory indeed.
2010-03-14 18:10 Abdul H Tayyab wrote:
Love creates love and hatred creates hatred. One must stay within ethics irrespective of his belief but Prophet Muhammad (saw) the most honoured and most dear is loved by billions because of his love and respect for huminity must never be ignored. Vilk´s narrow minded expression can be threat to peace as the world is already under great risk of terror. All peace lovers must condemn such people who plays with sentiments.Well done Ahmad for your positive approach.
2010-03-14 11:20 QR wrote:
I think Mr. Ahmad brings up valuable points. So what if a person ´can´ express their freedom through vulgarity? Does that make it right, beneficial, or even worthwhile to do so? I think Vilks´ hatred is not only misplaced, but childish. In fact, I bet my dad can beat up Vilk´s dad.......Let us hope freedom of speech progresses us to intellectual enlightenment, not childish bickering.
2010-03-14 07:00 M.G. Rabbi wrote:
If such (Vilk´s) free expression only helps extremists then we are suppressing freedom in the name of freedom of expression -point well argued

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