How on earth did we get from a South Park cartoon being censored to the Lahore High Court banning Facebook?
As I wrote here a few weeks ago, Comedy Central censored the oft-controversial South Park after the show depicted the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit, leading a fringe Islamist group Revolution Muslim to make an alleged incitement for violence against creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. This then led fellow cartoonist Molly Norris to create the posterlike illustration “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” to voice her support for Parker and Stone, saying in an interview, “As a cartoonist, I just felt so much passion about what had happened.. it’s a cartoonist’s job to be non-PC.”
Her illustration against Revolution Muslim’s response and the subsequent censorship of South Park was meant to be a one-off protest. However, Jon Wellington was inspired to create a Facebook page, “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!” which called for artists around the world to create their own depictions of Prophet Muhammad on May 20. The group claims that it is not trying to “slander the average Muslim,” adding, “We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Muhammad depictions that we’re not afraid of them.”
Norris, the cartoonist the group claimed to be the inspiration behind the event, has distanced herself from the controversy, writing on her website,
I did NOT ‘declare’ May 20 to be “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”…At any rate…my cartoon-poster, with a fake ‘group’ behind it…went viral and was taken seriously. I never started a Facebook page (I see that the two men who started the different FB pages names have now been made public). The vitriol this ‘day’ has brought out, of people who only want to draw obscene images, is offensive to Muslims who did nothing to endanger our right to expression in the first place. Only Viacom and Revolution Muslim are to blame, so…draw them instead!
On Wednesday, in response to the Facebook group and the increasing number of images (many that do, in fact, aim to insult the religion), as well as protests on university campuses across the country, Pakistan’s Lahore High Court ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to block Facebook across Pakistan until May 31. According to BBC News, “The lawyers’ group [that brought the petition] says Pakistan is an Islamic country and its laws do not allow activities that are ‘un-Islamic’ or ‘blasphemous.’ The judge also directed Pakistan’s foreign ministry to raise the issue at international level.”
So it seems that Comedy Central’s censorship has ultimately led to more censorship. Does anyone else sense the irony here?
It is not that I don’t think “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!” isn’t purposefully offensive and hateful – looking at the Facebook page, the wall is littered with derogatory and ignorant statements against not just the Prophet but against all Muslims. Even if the group claims to not “slander the average Muslim,” the problem with any movement that goes viral is that the intended aim eventually becomes irrelevant, an after-thought. Wannabe “artists” are no longer concerned with the reason behind the South Park censorship, but instead use this platform to lob insults at the religion as a whole. Any sane person would tell you that’s ingredient for disaster.
But a sane person would also tell you the answer is not blocking the platform all together. First, blocking Facebook doesn’t mean the group went away, or that “Draw Muhammad Day!” was stopped altogether. Second, why does the state get to weigh in on a viral movement and subsequently make arbitrary decisions that don’t just blind Pakistan to the event but also cuts citizens off from the entire social networking website? If Pakistan reportedly has 2.5 million active Facebook users, that essentially means 2.5 million people were not given the opportunity to make the choice themselves. It essentially sends the message that the state knows what’s best for you, even if you know better. To me, that’s just as unproductive.
Freedom of speech is a tricky issue, there is no doubt about that. An anonymous blogger quoted on Norris’ website emphasized, “Fight for the right to draw Muhammad, but then decline doing so.” This is a significant (albeit still controversial) statement. Yes, people have a right to voice their opinion – getting death threats as a result just fuels the root causes behind that opinion in the first place. But to use this as an opportunity to incite and marginalize a community already on edge? That’s another thing all together. As for the Pakistani government, concentrate on the big picture. Because the LHC decision may have only exacerbated the situation further.