Draw Mohammed Day is approaching — the sixth anniversary of the first one, though the event hasn’t been widely held every year. This year, it’s expected to garner a great deal of attention, thanks to recent events, including the Charlie Hebdo murders and the murders in Texas over a Draw Mohammed event.
There was even discussion, after the Charlie Hebdo murders, of changing the date of Draw Mohammed Day to memorialize the event.
The eternal question is raised: is this free speech, or is it hate?
There’s little question that many Mohammed-drawers participate in the “art” of the day merely out of anti-Muslim hatred. It’s also quite clear that many don’t realize that the perpetrators of violence based on Islamic beliefs represent less than a percent of Muslims, with the vast majority being peaceful people who are also insulted by portrayals (especially some clearly offensive ones) of their prophet, but who would never commit murder over it.
How offensive are the drawings of Mohammed? You can check a Tumblr related to the event — but be warned, much of it isn’t work-safe or appropriate for children. The drawings range from a stick figure simply labeled with the name “Mohammed” to images that include nudity, to images that call out the prophet for his marriage to a child bride, to images of Mohammed’s face in a toilet.
Many of the images would be offensive if they were of anyone the viewer respected — Mohammed, Jesus, the viewer’s mother, or the viewer himself. Others are offensive only because Islam says that they are forbidden.
On the other hand, it’s also clear that in America, non-Muslims are not required to live by the rules of Islam, and are not subject to the death penalty for defying those rules. In America, we are allowed to draw Mohammed. In America, there cannot be a law against drawing Mohammed.
In America, to draw Mohammed is to practice free speech — but, as with other speech, the artist is protected only from government reactions. You can’t be arrested for drawing Mohammed. You can’t be denied a driver’s license or fined for it.
You can, however, face repercussions — it is not illegal for your employer to fire you for participating in Draw Mohammed Day, or for your friends to shun you, or for Facebook to delete the post with your drawings. Free speech doesn’t mean that you’re protected from consequences.
To rebel against a rule saying that one can’t draw or say a certain thing could certainly be argued as a battle for free speech. If the government ordered people not to draw Mohammed, then drawing him anyway would be a clear statement about First Amendment protections and an insistence that they remain.
However, the American government isn’t telling anyone not to draw Mohammed. There are plenty of things that people choose not to say on a daily basis, not out of fear, but out of the realization that words cause pain.
Most of us go through every day without using racial epithets, telling people they deserve to die, or calling people names. Most of us don’t make a point of insulting religions on a daily basis, though free speech protects blasphemy against any version of God.
So, is it really a free speech issue when people celebrate Draw Mohammed Day, or is it just a way to spread hate — or, perhaps, is it some of both?
[Photo by: Daniel Munoz / Getty Images]