Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Draw Muhammed Day

Those who know me by now realize that I have a tendency to follow Dr. Philip Mason's video blogs (thunderf00t and beautyintheuniverse on YouTube - both excellent channels deserving attention), and I generally tend to agree with his social and scientific arguments, even if I don't always grant his premise. However, there's one initiative he's supporting that I just categorically disagree with: the second (or is it third?) annual Draw Muhammed Day.

A little background. Muhammed is a popular name in the Arabic world for a very good reason: it is the name of the prophet that brought the world Islam. The Sharia (Islamic Law) expressly forbids visual depiction of the prophet in order to avoid the sin of idolatry. For that reason, depictions of the prophet in the visual arts often draw the ire of fundamentalist and moderate Muslims alike. This came to a head when Dutch satirists depicted him and were threatened and attacked shortly thereafter. Embassies and consulates were ransacked, causing millions of damage.

As a consequence of the atheist movement becoming increasingly militant, Draw Muhammed Day came about as a way to speak out against the Islamic world's lack of freedom of speech and freedom of thought. The goal, of course, has not been to insult, but to inoculate the world against the threats of violence that often follow such depictions. This is a good thing, I suppose. The bludgeon of the censor is his only tool, and those who no longer fear its blows may speak their mind freely.

My problem is the same problem I have with the entire militant wing of Atheism, or at least the most staunch. It is offensive on purpose. Granted, nobody has a magic right not to be offended, and a lot of us have thick enough skin to not really get fired up by barbs. Dr. Mason has admitted this point. In a video discussing DMD and the burning of Qurans, he answered a viewer question to the effect of why he chose the Quran over the bible, which given his living in America would have been a (hypothetically) more provocative act. His answer was simple - the majority of western Christendom wouldn't give a damn.

This is the act of an agent provocateur. A cheap act which a pearlist like Dr. Mason (who rather accurately refuted the term atheist) is above. By and large, his material is excellent. His papers, from what I can understand of them, are fantastic. His videos on travel and science are exquisite. And his coarseness makes him wonderfully entertaining to watch.

But he is bigger than this, and I feel that he cheapens his own name by being involved in DMD, however, ludicrously benign it has become.

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