Thursday, May 20, 2010

Facebook & Comedy Central Cave to Pressures on Depicting Muhammed

The Associated Press story above describes how the Pakistani government banned Facebook over the Everyone Draw Mohammad Day Campaign. The government has also answered by blocking YouTube (Guardian). This campaign came about after an artist from Seattle created a poster advertising the campaign. She did not expect it to be taken seriously, but it was. A Facebook group for the day soon formed and shot up to 100K followers. (CSM) Now, however, the group no longer comes up in searches. It appears Facebook has deleted the group. There is a replacement group that is still generating members (at around 1,000 at the time of this initial post). Similar groups have followed. Some members have changed their profile pictures to depict Muhammad. Numerous  groups have also formed to oppose Everyone Draw Mohammed Day.

However, Facebook retaliated against at least one user. It deleted his account after merely describing how science provided a better explanation for how the world worked than a deity (Interloper). This particular user lost four years of photos, messages, and contacts. A screenshot of the conversation shows the user didn't type any obscenities or slurs. A large number of users report Facebook deleting their accounts over Muhammed comments and postings. Users accuse Facebook of deleting many of their Muhammed pictures as well. (Examples of "offensive" pictures above. There are also harsher pictures that more forcefully try the issue.) The fact that Facebook has done all this is interesting considering its CEO Mark Zuckerberg identifies as atheist (WSJ).

If Facebook did remove the original group (not too improbable), it wouldn't be the first time pressure from Muslim groups was successful. But there may be some question to the cause of the page's removal. The author of the group, "Andy" did an interview with CNN and MSNBC (see above) using his Skype account for anonymity. The Jewish Business Magazine later did an interview with "Andy." He informed them that a man calling himself Ali Hassan hacked into his Skype account (likely the same one used for the news interviews). The hacker also claimed to know the author's home address though did not state what he would use the information for (JBM). It looks like the hacker also destroyed the creator's WordPress blog dedicated to the event (Blog).

The incident that pushed this recent movement was a South Park episode where the plot centered around presenting Muhammed in order to save their town. The episode satirized the censorship situation by hiding Muhammed in a mascot suit. This is despite a previous episode where  Muhammed was allowed to be shown. (See above left with Jesus cartoon) Interestingly, the episode sparking the controversy (above right) is also no longer available. See SouthPark website here. (See season 14 episode 5) Note that this is not a contract issue since more recent episodes do not have that warning.

The inconsistency is interesting. Because South Park did show Muhammed in a 2001 episode, but it refused to show him both in a 2006 episode (Cartoon Wars) and in the recent 2010 episode. The 2001 episode didn't follow with any protest and somehow slipped under the Muslim radar. (See summary of episodes in video above)

What makes the protests more serious is the death threats. These death threats refrain some from giving the support they would otherwise provide (See Simpsons intro screen caption from Squirt and Whale s21e19). And death threats were exactly what the creators Trey Park and Matt Stone received (Guardian). One website making a threat said they would be made to be like Van Gogh,  a Dutch film maker. Van Gogh was shot to death in retaliation after making a documentary on the abuse of women in Muslim countries. His attacker, Muhammed Bouyeri,  stuck a five page note into Van Gogh's chest with two knives (Ind). The note forced the documentary's script writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali into hiding by threatening her life (Ind). Ayaan had already fled Somalia to escape its subjugation against women and the stiff penalty for criticizing Islam (Guardian).

Part of the grounding for this controversy is from cartoons published in Danish newspapers during September 2005 (see above). Death threats and murder plots against the cartoonists followed after the publication (JP). Westergaard, the drawer of the Muhammed bomb cartoon, was attacked in January 2010 in his own home. The attacker had an ax and knife. He swore at Westergaard and chased him to his panic room. The attacker then went at police with the ax, but was shot down in the leg (Politiken).

Police arrested two individuals this month of May for firebombing the house of Mohammad cartoonist Lars Vilks (though unsuccessfully). Another man headbutted Vilks less than a week before this attack while Vilks was giving a controversial talk (NP, Video).

Republications months later incited vandals to set fire to Danish embassies in Iran, Lebanon and Syria. Not all Muslim leaders supported this reaction, however (DN). A mix of hostile and nonviolent protests also resulted in dozens of deaths (CNN, NYT--others besides these). One man attempted to murder editor Roger Köppel of a Berlin newspaper after reprinting the cartoons. Security within the building captured the assailant Amir Cheema with a large knife (Wiki ref to German Spiegel piece--family members claim German police killed Amir before trial rather than suicide).

There is a point of these drawings and of this article. One should never have to fear criticizing or satirizing any idea or religion. Indeed, the mythologies within religions are absurd and are fertile ground for such satire. (See a previous post on the absurdity of the geographic concentration of religions.) Religion is also often used to rationalize violent and abusive behavior. This last reason alone should justify keeping it within poking distance.


See End of Faith for a more critical look at religion by Sam Harris. See also Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography and her criticism of Islam:

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason     Infidel


  1. Great article! Very comprehensive study of the issue.

  2. The original facebook page is up again. They're claiming they were hacked.

  3. I've checked and did not see the original group back up. You may be mistaken in that one group has just been building members and is now the size of the original group. At this time, the existing groups are:

    - Everybody Draw Mohammed Day! /Visual Artist/109K members

    - Everybody Draw Mohammad Day - May 20th, 2010. /Nonprofit/18K members

    - Everybody draw muhammed day May 20th (back up). /Page/4K members

    Many other draw Muhammed Day groups have less than 1K members. There are also numerous anti-draw-day groups, some with over 10K members. Countless knock-off groups depicting other religious figures have also sprung up.

  4. Very informative article, and well-written


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