Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Where's Muhammad?"

Where's Muhammad?

I've borrowed this "Black and White" image from my son's art blog because the Muslim prophet Muhammad is conspicuous in it by his utter absence from it. One might opine that there remains a Muhammad-shaped hole in every non-depiction of Muhammad's image.

Is non-depiction therefore also now forbidden?

The Washington Post thinks so, as Andrew Alexander has noted in his Ombudsman column for Sunday, October 10, 2010, "Where was the 'Where's Muhammad?' cartoon?" In that column, Alexander drew attention to a recent cartoon titled "Where's Muhammad?" by Non Sequitor artist Wiley Miller:
Miller is known for social satire. But at first glance, the single-panel cartoon he drew for last Sunday seems benign. It is a bucolic scene imitating the best-selling children's book "Where's Waldo?" A grassy park is jammed with activity. Animals frolic. Children buy ice cream. Adults stroll and sunbathe. A caption reads: "Where's Muhammad?"
Alexander notes the cleverness in Miller's cartoon:
What is clever about last Sunday's "Where's Muhammad?" comic is that the prophet does not appear in it.
Nor did the cartoon itself appear in the hard copy of the Washington Post for October 3, 2010, though that cartoon did inadvertently make the online version. What was the reasoning behind this laughably slipshod censorship? Alexander again explains:
Style editor Ned Martel said he decided to yank it, after conferring with others, including Executive Editor Marcus W. Brauchli, because "it seemed a deliberate provocation without a clear message." He added that "the point of the joke was not immediately clear" and that readers might think that Muhammad was somewhere in the drawing.
Well, Muhammad might also be obscurely present in my son's drawing above, too, but I dare anyone to find him, and double-dare anyone to take offense, though some fanatics, undoubtedly, will take my double-dare. Perhaps even earnestly rather than deceitfully. Would anyone question this, given our experiences of the past few years? Oh, I suppose that some readers might still be unaware of the controversies over images of Muhammad. Alexander also recognizes this possibility and therefore goes to the trouble of explaining the point:
Miller's cartoon is clearly a satirical reference to the global furor that ensued in 2006 after a Danish newspaper invited cartoonists to draw the prophet Muhammad as they see him. After the cartoons were published, Muslims in many countries demonstrated against what they viewed as the lampooning of Islam's holiest figure.

Miller's Sunday drawing also keyed on "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!," a free-speech protest this year by cartoonists responding to what was widely interpreted as a death threat from an Islamic cleric against two animators who depicted Muhammad wearing a bear suit in an episode of the "South Park" television show. If enough cartoonists drew Muhammad, protest organizers reasoned, it would be impractical to threaten all of them.
I agreed with the cartoonists who protested death threats against South Park's non-depiction of Muhammad, which is why I also at that time posted an image that was not Muhammad. Indeed, I stoutly hold that we must all stand up for our right not to draw Muhammad, else even that right will be taken from us!

With that in mind, I hereby declare Sunday, October 17, 2010, as "Everybody Not Draw Muhammad Day," and I expect an enormous number of participants since even Muslims will join in.

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At 5:03 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

Good! On 17th I will email you a drawing which not only does not portray M., but - while making it - I wasn't absolutely thinking to this issue. That's why I will choose a drawing I made in some past period before reading this post of yours, so as to avoid being influenced by it. If it must be not-something, be it!

I swear. Or my name is no more No-name.

At 5:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I look forward to your non-depiction of Muhammad.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:51 PM, Blogger John B said...

If the paper has already placed an editorial policy that they will not indulge in Mohammed-figure-play (which seems like its just low-hanging fruit -- people don't need to engage the issue anymore, simply choose to draw it or censor it) then publishing the cartoon raises the obvious complication that by suggesting Mohammed is depicted, all of the characters so depicted become suspiciously Mohammed-esque. Miller claims Mohammed is not depicted, and he is not depicted in an obvious manner, but to the viewer seeking Mohammed, every figure drawn in the image becomes a possible Mohammed, because how do you conclusively say that a figure does not represent Mohammed in some anachronistic representation? I would just say Miller's cartoon is too clever for his medium (which is a shame, because I was a fan of his work back when I received dead-tree journalism).

He works through a syndicate -- how many other papers/publishers carried/censored his work?

At 3:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The decision not to print seems to have been made by the editors mentioned, but no policy is noted by Andrew Alexander, who would be one to know of a policy since he writes the Ombudsman column.

(I saw that some paper in Denver also didn't print the cartoon.)

But your point is an interesting one. Any of the figures depicted -- or at least the male figures -- could be taken to be Muhammad if one is certain that Muhammad has been drawn.

In fact, the imams who made such a fuss back when the original cartoons were published in Denmark included images that were not even intended as depictions of Muhammad, so I suppose that paranoid believers can find a depiction almost anywhere.

Jeffery Hodges

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