The artist formerly known as Molly Norris

Today’s guest blogger is Christopher Stedman, the Managing Director of State of Formation for The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue™ and … Continued

Today’s guest blogger is Christopher Stedman, the Managing Director of State of Formation for The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue™ and the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. He is the founder and author of NonProphet Status. Follow him on Twitter.

Last week the atheist blogosphere lit up with reports that Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist who inadvertently inspired “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” (EDMD), had been forced to change her identity and go into hiding due to death threats she received from extremists.

How did these same bloggers who promoted EDMD respond to this news? They expressed sadness and frustration. And who wouldn’t? Poor Norris – imagine having to give up everything you knew because your life was in danger. They are right to condemn those who have targeted her.

However, many also used it as yet another opportunity to take broad swipes at Muslims.

For example, popular atheist writer P.Z. Myers addressed Islam as if it were a single entity, writing: “Come on, Islam. Targeting defenseless cartoonists is your latest adventure in bravery? That’s pathetic. It’s bad enough to be the religion of hate, but to be the religion of cowardice ought to leave you feeling ashamed.”

I’m disappointed at such assessments, and I have a feeling Norris would be too. After EDMD took off, she insisted that she did not wish for it to become a movement. In a post on her now defunct website, Norris asked people to try to find common ground with others instead, adding: “The vitriol this ‘day’ has brought out… is offensive to the Muslims who did nothing to endanger our right to expression in the first place. I apologize to people of Muslim faith and ask that this ‘day’ be called off.”

Unfortunately, Norris was ignored and the campaign continued. Around the time of EDMD, the Council of American-Islamic Relations issued a statement asking that, instead of reacting negatively, “American Muslims – and Muslims worldwide – should use that and every other day as an opportunity to reach out to people of other faiths and beliefs to build bridges of understanding and respect. The best and most productive response… is more communication, not less communication – including not restricting the free flow of ideas.”

I applaud them for taking the high road, and I am sorry that my fellow atheists did not do the same. Instead, prominent atheists like Hemant Mehta said: “If you get offended by [EDMD], no one should be taking you seriously.”

I’ve spoken with my friend and Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, a man whose beliefs I take seriously, many times about EDMD. He wrote a piece about EDMD that got him some flack from atheists because he took a strong position against it. And though like me he disagreed with EDMD, he has also publicly condemned the extremists who reacted to it with threats of violence. The extremists who forced Norris to go into hiding do not represent his faith, and he and other Muslims do not deserve to have their identities maligned – by those extremists or by people calling Islam “the religion of hate.”

We must bring an end to such generalizations. They serve no purpose but to advance a narrative that says all religions will inevitably come into conflict. Sure enough, Terry Jones cited EDMD as the inspiration for his infamous “Everybody Burn a Koran Day.” They really aren’t all that different, and they both infuriated extremists around the world. Yet few conflate Terry Jones with all Christians. Why do so many struggle to similarly distinguish the extremists who targeted Norris from all Muslims?

So often I hear from other atheists that Muslims aren’t speaking out against extremism, but they are. The problem is that they’re largely ignored because many would rather believe that Islam is inherently violent. By ignoring Muslim voices of peace and building up “Islam” as a malevolent straw man, we play right into the hands of those we aim to condemn. Extremists thrive on the narrative that the West hates Islam.

Let’s not give them any more ammunition. Want to make extremists irrelevant? Disprove their theory. Show that in America, we embrace diversity of thought. Do what Norris did in the wake of EDMD and visit a local mosque. Build coalitions to stand in solidarity against extremism and in favor of tolerance and pluralism. The first step to combating threats of violence is not to incite more. We must respond with our best selves; retaliate with threats of cooperation and kindness.

The Quran says that we ought to “support each other in kindness and piety and do not support each other in sin and in attacks” (5:2). Perhaps we could learn something from Islam instead of calling it the “religion of hate.” Let us do what the artist formerly known as Molly Norris asked and find common ground with one another – for her sake if not our own.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.

About

  • WmarkW

    The stricture against portraying Muhammed is a fundamental problem in Islam. The religion models many doctrines on imitating his life. If people were allowed to re-create his biography for literary or film as historical fiction, the awfulness of many Islamic doctrines would hit many observers too hard to ignore.The fact that is life is not examinable within Islamic society is the closest thing to totalitarian censorship in the religious world today.

  • AKafir

    Christopher, Let the Quran you quote speak for itself:Christopher, do you really want to sell the Americans right to free speech for the peace of a dhimmi? That is not peace.

  • AKafir

    Christopher:

  • AKafir

    Here is what Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs has to say about 5:13IS THIS THE PEACE THAT YOU ARE SELLING TO YOUR FELLOW AMERICANS?

  • amberjeanhjacker

    Well said Chris! Really proud of this piece and of you for taking a stand. Your voice is much needed in this climate of anti-religious bigotry, and articulate a compelling argument as someone who identifies as non-religious.

  • mbeck1

    Are Muslims speaking out against extremists?Perhaps they are, but they need to push back a little harder. Imams should issue fatwas against extremists. Muslims might want to draw cartoons of the prophet to show solidarity with Molly Norris, the Danish cartoonists, and others exercising their FREE speech. This is what it means to live in a liberal democracy.

  • Montedoro

    Speaking out against “extremists” in general is worthless, and it is a fraud designed to make the non-Moslem public think that at least some Moslems are against “extremism”. If those Moslems like Eboo Patel and other want to be taken seriously, they need to speak out against specific verses in the Koran and the sayings of Muhammad and Sharia law. Then, and only then, will their condemnations of “extremism” have any meaning. They need to speak out also against the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam which ALL 57 Moslem countries have subscribed to. This Cairo Declaration is Islam’s answer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Cairo Declaration declares the Islam is superior to everything else, and it makes ALL human rights subject to Sharia law. This is what all those “peaceful” Moslems need to condemn. And, they need to condemn Hezbolla and Hamas by name, too.

  • Montedoro

    Flushing out the Islamists For those who wonder how to distinguish between ‘moderate’ Muslims and Islamists, here’s a ‘quiz’ developed by Dr. Tawfik Hamid, an Egyptian-American who once belonged to a radical group and is now an outspoken opponent of Islamism. Dubbed the Radical Islam Support Test, it’s presented in his excellent book, Inside Jihad (pp. 114-15):Apostates: Do you support killing them? Should leaving the faith of Islam be punishable by death?Beating women: Is beating women ever acceptable and if not, do you reject those decrees of Islamic law that sanction the beating of women? Do you also accept stoning women to death for committing adultery?Calling Jews ‘pigs and monkeys’: Do you believe that Jews are in any way sub-human and if not, do you reject Quranic interpretations that claim they are?Declaring Holy War: Do you support declaring war against non-Muslims to subjugate them to Islam? Do you believe that it is fair and reasonable to offer non-Muslims three options: Conversion, Paying the Jizya (discriminatory poll tax), or Death?Enslavement: Do you support the enslavement of female war prisoners and having sex with them as concubines? If not, do you reject those interpreations in Islamic Law …. which justify such actions?Fighting Jews: Do you support perpetual war against Jews to exterminate them, and if not, should those Muslims who incite such war be punished?Gays being killed: Do you believe it is acceptable to kill Gays, and if not, do you reject those edicts in Sharia Law which claim it is?Hamid concludes: “If a Muslim or Islamic organization fails this quiz, they can safely be regarded as Salafists (Islamic fundamentalists) regardless of any title they use to describe themselves.”

  • AKafir

    amberjeanhjacker:”Well said Chris! Really proud of this piece and of you for taking a stand. Your voice is much needed in this climate of anti-religious bigotry,”Is showing verses of the Quran where Allah curses the jews and christians, presumably his own creation anti-religious bigotry? What has Chris shown except that he is an easy mark for the stealth jihad pusher like Eboo and can quote a snippet from the Quran and never bother to look it up or to understand what that verse really says. Read that verse (5:2) of the Quran that Chris wants you to learn from, and tell me if it even remotely applies to you if you are not a muslim and a follower of Muhammad. Then why quote it as if it does. Get it through your head: Allah absolutely hates the non-muslims, and the Sharia laws as written and applied even at present in the 21st century around the Globe discriminate and embed hate for the non-muslim in the written laws of all muslim countries. Why? You want to have interfaith Dialog? Why not get Eboo to talk honestly and truthfully?

  • Rieux1

    Excuse me, but Mr. Stedman has directly lied about one of his targets here, Mr. Mehta.Stedman asserts that Mehta wrote “If you get offended by [EDMD], no one should be taking you seriously.” But Stedman is lying, as anyone can see by clicking on the hyperlink in the sentence. The word Stedman has replaced with “[EDMD]” is “that,” and (as is obvious in the quoted material) Mehta’s “that” does not refer to Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Instead, he is referring to a specific chalking at the University of Illinois that is pictured in his blog entry. Mehta argued that anyone who was offended by that particular chalking should not be taken seriously. Stedman simply ignores, and fundamentally misrepresents, this.Depending upon the consequences visited upon Mehta as a consequence of the lie, Stedman has potentially engaged in actionable libel in his dishonest misrepresentation of Mehta’s remark–opening himself, the Washington Post Company, and possibly Eboo Patel to civil liability. At the very least, Stedman, Patel, and the Post owe Mehta a correction and apology.Less concretely, it’s notable that Stedman could not make his point–that atheists should be expected to obey archaic religious rules, regardless of how onerous a burden they place on our free speech–without lying about his opponents. Evidently there was no honest case to be made.

  • JamesCroft

    RIEUX1: It seems to me from carefully reading the article by Mr. Mehta that Stedman’s reading is entirely defensible.

  • Rieux1

    Jamescroft: Then where’s the defense? If you’ve read Mehta’s post, you’re aware that he never even USED the phrase “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”–because that post has nothing to do with Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Mehta was writing about an entirely separate event at the University of Illinois that the University’s atheist student group, the Illini Secular Student Alliance, called “Chalking it Up to Free Speech.” The connection between Mehta’s post and “EDMD”–not to mention between *that single sentence* in the post and “EDMD”–is entirely a figment of Stedman’s imagination. He pretends that Mehta was directly commenting on “EDMD,” and critics of “EDMD,” in a post that had nothing to do with “EDMD.” In short, Stedman’s representation is a full-blown lie. What in the world leads you to believe that it is “defensible”?

  • WmarkW

    We seem to have a disagreement about whether Islam prohibits fictionalized depictions of Muhammed, and by extension whether his actions or beliefs are often examined from different perspectives.Perhaps the participants from an Islamic background can discuss more how much critical examination of Muhammed’s life takes place in their culture.

  • curt2

    Of course Islam is not “a single entity” in a monolithic sense. But it is possible to make informed and well-reasoned generalizations.How many cartoonists are in hiding right now because they have offended Buddhism or Hinduism?How many people have been killed by rioting Catholics who are upset by the protests against the Pope’s visit to the UK, or by Kathy Griffin’s lampooning of pedophile priests?There have been multiple incidents of opposition to building or expanding Hindu Temples in the US — how many Hindu leaders have threatened that such protests will lead to a violent backlash?Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf likes to point out that the US bears a certain amount of the responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and he is right about that. But if America shares some of the blame how is that Islam is blameless? Fareed Zakaria (a strong supporter of the Ground Zero Mosque) pointed out soon after 9/11 that “The problem is not that Osama bin Laden believes that this is a religious war against America. It’s that millions of people across the Islamic world seem to agree.”

  • AKafir

    JamesCroft: “it seems to me from carefully reading the article by Mr. Mehta that Stedman’s reading is entirely defensible”Please elaborate what you mean. RIEUX1 is absolutely correct that Mehta is not talking about EBMD at all. Not only that Mehta makes that statement with regards to chalk drawing where Muhammad is represented as a stick figure with a smiley face and an arrow pointing to it stating “Muhammad”. Is that stick figure of Muhammad with a smiley face Offensive? Do you find it offensive? If yes, what is exactly offensive about it? Mr. JamesCroft, what do you find more offensive, that stick figure drawn by some young American kid, or the Saudi Official saying that it okay to marry a one year old infant because they follow the example of Muhammad who married a girl of six and had sex with her when she was nine? Looking forward to reading your reply.

  • robertchlala

    Thank you Chris for your much-needed call to action relevant to all people – atheists, agnostics, Christians, Buddhists. It seems so obvious — that we need to start spending our precious time working with each other and moving forward, especially in a time of political economic crisis – yet so many forgo this route. Instead, we turn to ignorant stereotypes, dehumanizing each other. We actively antagonize each other for no particular purpose. Yes, working together is hard, it involves tough conversations, we will have to listen more than talk, and we will all have to put our egos aside, but it’s the only solution towards creating a better, more livable world.

  • Secular

    Akafir you wrote, “Looking forward to reading your reply”. Hope you are not holding your breathe for that reply. At least not for the question you asked. I saw that video clip and who is that imbecile talking like that. Do these perverted B$#&$@#s marry of their own daughters and grand daughters in the same fashion as they so callously suggest? I wonder if he is going to marry off his daughters before he goes on any trips. Yasser do you ever wonder if those animals are for real? Don’t you scorn them and feel like yelling at them enough already?

  • yasseryousufi

    “How many cartoonists are in hiding right now because they have offended Buddhism or Hinduism?”Actually there’s a man in India who was billed as Picasso of his age who had to go into hiding and eventually into exile after attempts on his life, acts of vandalism at his home and studio and a court sentence for the perceived offense he caused by sculpting Hindu Gods and Goddesses performing sexual acts as depicted in Kamasutra. His name is Muhammad Fida Hussain. You can look him up in wikipedia. “How many people have been killed by rioting Catholics who are upset by the protests against the Pope’s visit to the UK, or by Kathy Griffin’s lampooning of pedophile priests?”Exactly how many people died in the protests after Molly Norris’s EDMD or the despicable cartoons that appeared on Facebook? “There have been multiple incidents of opposition to building or expanding Hindu Temples in the US — how many Hindu leaders have threatened that such protests will lead to a violent backlash?”How many of those temples were denied only because people didn’t want Hindus around in their neighbourhood? How many Hindus have had their religion compared to Nazism by Presidential candidates in US?”Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf likes to point out that the US bears a certain amount of the responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and he is right about that. But if America shares some of the blame how is that Islam is blameless?”Neither Imam Rauf nor any sane person would say only US is responsible for 9/11. Of course the 19 hijackers who rammed those planes were muslims. But that doesn’t mean Islam attacked USA as Newt Gingrich would say. Infact by virtue of Islamic Law all those people (if indeed they are responsible) committed a grave sin and would burn in hell fire for their cowardly act. “Fareed Zakaria (a strong supporter of the Ground Zero Mosque) pointed out soon after 9/11 that “The problem is not that Osama bin Laden believes that this is a religious war against America. It’s that millions of people across the Islamic world seem to agree.”Yep if I am one of the millions from Iraq and Afghanistan having seen my country blown to smithereens by a coalition of White Christian former Cruasading Allies who brought 9 years death and destruction, Id probably think its a religious war. What does Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Tea Partiers think about this war? Aren’t they literally half of US Political Spectrum?

  • Secular

    Mr. Patel your sanctimonious writings are very grating. Did you and your fellow apologists ever ask your self what in Islam cause some of the muslims to take such actions or threaten to take action which drives critics into hiding. When MF Hussain depicted hindu gods and godesses in a denigrating manner, did have to give up his identity and go into hiding. When the Robert Mapplethrope put a cross in urine, there was a lot of hullabaloo, but was he forced go into hiding. Did it ever occur to you apologists what in Islamic teachings causes people to behave this way. Instead you have the temerity to complain that we atheists are painting you muslims with too broad a brush?I Challenge you to repudiate the at least some of the vile parts of Koran. More specifically will you repudiate Sura Al Masad, which is nothing but wishing someone to be afflicted with eternal fires. Will you say that such a sura should not be part of Koran? Until you self-anointed moderate muslims can repudiate such passages, we wish you rather shut up. All your claims about how you did not oppose EDMD are worthless. Don’t make a big deal about that, it is not your benediction to the rest of the world. In face of such opposition from your extremists, if you had come out in support of it, now that would have been something to crow about. Only you morons will shower yourselves with credit for non-action. I want you to, if you have balls, to repudiate Sura Al Masad in a prominent Islamic news paper in Middle East like AL Ahram, not here in some obscure column in a small town rag like Cincinnati Times or such. How dare you find fault with PZ Meyers, he has not singled out muslim for his scorn, he scorns all you delusionals.

  • yasseryousufi

    Kafir what was the name of your Madrassa, again?

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    There is nothing in Islam that forbids the depiction of Mohammed in a picture, painting, or drawing, and in fact, many Muslims have a picture of Mohammed in their homes. It is the same with women covering themselves with a veil. Islam only suggests modesty of dress but does not require a woman to be covered from head to toe. These are just cultural folk-beliefs that have become intangled in some Islamic cultures.

  • Rieux1

    Let me get this straight, Jamescroft: you quote me saying “[Mehta] never even USED the phrase ‘Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.’” Then you provide a passage from Mehta in which… he does NOT use the phrase “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” And somehow you think this makes me wrong?As I have specifically pointed out, Mehta’s post reported on, and was concerned with, an entirely different event at the University of Illinois. You have simply ignored this inconvenient fact, an omission which casts serious doubt on your interest in dealing with Stedman’s act honestly. As you unwittingly showed, at that point Mehta didn’t even know enough about “EVERYBODY Draw Muhammad Day” to have internalized the fact that its name–in Norris’ cartoon and the Facebook page Mehta was linking to, among numerous other places–included the word “Everybody.”So: Mehta posts about an Illinois event. He writes a sentence directly referring to a specific chalking that was part of said Illinois event, a chalking pictured in his blog entry. Stedman directly lies about that sentence, pretending that it had something to do with a different event that Mehta had to that point not even mentioned and clearly wasn’t even particularly familiar with. Instead of the reality–that Mehta was responding to (hypothetical) critics of THAT PARTICULAR CHALKING–Stedman lies and claims Mehta was attacking critics of AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT EVENT.You, presented with this reality, decide that honesty does not serve your purposes: “Mehta’s (a man I greatly respect) comments could easily have been read as applying to the whole DMD phenomenon.”"Could easily have been read”? No, not if one is the slightest bit interested in accuracy and integrity, they cannot. Moreover, this dispute is not about Mehta’s “comments”; that’s a poor attempt by you to change the subject. Instead, what is at issue here is ONE sentence that Stedman overtly misrepresented. It is NOT ambiguous what the “that” in Mehta’s quoted sentence refers to. No honest reviewer could read his sentence that way. You are simply not addressing this matter honestly.

  • yasseryousufi1

    It is indeed untrue that Prophet Muhammad married Ayesha when she was 6. My own uncle (Tayaji), who was an Islamic Scholar, wrote a voluminous thesis to prove that Ayesha’s age was indeed misquoted. This Hadith unlike most Ahadith that are considered reliable comes from a single source, Hisham bin Urwah. No other person from the time of Prophet Muhammad has verified his claims. These Ahadith were compiled 300 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad. By research done my most Islamic Scholars Ayesha’s age was around 16-19 at the time of her marriage.

  • yasseryousufi1

    Just to clarify, the article below is not by my Uncle but the genesis of this hadith described in this article is pretty close what I read in his book.~~Yasser~~

  • yasseryousufi1

    Kafir,You sound as if Child Marriages happen only in Pakistan, Saudi and Nigeria. They are wrong and they do not have any religious basis. Its a more of a cultural thing. The mainstream view in the Islamic world is that Child Marriage is not ok. Are their random examples of people for whatever reasons marrying their children at young age? Im sure there are. But its wrong and its not Islamic and we condemn it.

  • AKafir

    YassirYousufi:That is not true. If that is the mainstream view why are there millions of many child marriages? “But its wrong and its not Islamic and we condemn it.”It is good that you condemn it, but it is Islamic. Are you saying that the Pakistani judge who ruled the marriage of the 12 year old and the 10 year old abducted christian girls to the muslim kidnappers as legal was doing something unislamic in the land of the Pure? Why don’t you go and check the Federal Shariat Court rulings on the age of marriage in Pakistan before you start telling that it is unislamic. Is the pakistani shariat court ignorant about Sharia and Islam? Do you think lying about facts that can be easily checked will save your rotting Sharia?

  • yasseryousufi1

    Kafir,I actually work in the Highest Court of Sindh Province, the Sindh High Court so I can speak with considerably more authority than the quack sources you quote. It is absolutely illegal to marry 10 and 12 year old girls in Pakistan. The Indian Newspaper you quoted either made up that story or hid relevant details. Either way, its sums up all your sources of information. Its a always a hotch potch of half cooked theories and absolute fabrications.

  • yasseryousufi1

    “Why don’t you go and check the Federal Shariat Court rulings on the age of marriage in Pakistan before you start telling that it is unislamic.”I am all ears Kafir. Lets hear those Federal Shariat Court Rulings that allow 10 year old girls to be married.

  • yasseryousufi1

    “That is not true. If that is the mainstream view why are there millions of many child marriages?”You obviously dont give a damn about the credibility of the stuff you cite. Id like to see the actual proof of “millions of many child marriages”. Doesn’t India leads the way in actual number of Child Marriages?

  • EmilyLHauser

    Chris makes so many crucial points about our need to reach out to each other, to find that which can heal, not that which will continue to harm. It genuinely saddens me that so many of the commenters here can only see his wise words as an excuse to keep fighting.This is where fighting has gotten us. It’s time to try something else. We must respond with our best selves; retaliate with threats of cooperation and kindness.

  • JamesCroft

    RIEUX1 and AKAFIR:”RIEUX1 is absolutely correct that Mehta is not talking about EBMD at all.”"[Mehta] never even USED the phrase “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”–because that post has nothing to do with Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Mehta was writing about an entirely separate event at the University of Illinois that the University’s atheist student group, the Illini Secular Student Alliance, called “Chalking it Up to Free Speech.”"From the linked article:”That’s why I’m also a fan of the Facebook groups that are supporting a DRAW MUHAMMAD DAY. You don’t have to draw him in some evil way (though you’re more than welcome to). The point is that the rest of us don’t have to abide by Islamic law. We have the freedom to draw whatever we want, whenever we want, and if there are people out there who want to stop us, we can fight back by banding together and drawing the image and having them take notice.” [My Capitals for Clarity]It is clear to me that your reading of the article is profoundly deficient if you are unable to see a clear reference to the event you deny is mentioned.As for your other questions, Akafir, they are entirely irrelevant to the question at hand. I do not find any of the depictions of Muhammad offensive in any way whatever, nor would I support the idea, generally, that Muhammad should not be depicted. I was merely pointing our that Rieux1′s rather odd and overblown response was not, in my view, justified as Mehta’s (a man I greatly respect) comments could easily have been read as applying to the whole DMD phenomenon, and it does not strike me as a mischaracterization of his views.

  • AKafir

    JamesCroft:That is a lie and even a generous reading as you do, does not excuse the distortion that Stedman deliberately makes. That statement had nothing to do with EDMD. It was about a stick figure drawn in chalk.

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