On May 3rd, a contest to draw the best cartoon depiction of the Prophet Muhammad was held in Garland, Texas, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. It closed with a violent end.
Ironically, this attack, like the one earlier this year against Charlie Hebdo, was conducted by Islamic believers opposing depictions of Muhammad. However, had the Prophet revealed himself to them beforehand, demanding to know by what authority they justified their violence, they could have offered none— for none exists in the Quran.
The attack against attendees was timed to inflict maximum damage when they exited the building where the contest was held. A car drove up; two occupants emerged, and they immediately opened fire with automatic weapons.
Despite the element of surprise, they only succeeded in wounding an unarmed security guard before police quickly gunned them down.
The aftermath of the attack leaves critics in two camps.
One camp supports the contest as an exercise of free speech in a democracy.
The other does not, citing a contest offending all Muslims, not just extremists, as inappropriate. It believes the focus should be on isolating extremists without stirring up moderates as well.
The truth lies somewhere between.
Granted, it would have been more meaningful to have held an event to debate an issue such as: “Islam—A Peaceful Religion or Not,” rather than a contest mocking a religious figure whom those not riding their high jihadi horses worship as well. Such a debate would have provided the intellectual appeal a Muhammad cartoon drawing contest did not.
If these same terrorists had attacked attendees of such a debate, critics of the second camp would have been hard-pressed to make their case. After all, an open debate airing both sides of an issue is what free speech is about. A violent attack against it would have answered the question the debate posed.
That said, it should be kept in mind we are told no division exists between moderate and extremist Muslims. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear, “These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.”
Included in the second camp are Islamic clerics in Texas who denounced the attack, cautioning Muslims “not to be baited” into anger. They are joined by Muslim Americans who believe limits need be placed on free expression.
But what these same clerics and their followers also fail to address is that there is no basis, in fact, for their anger, as the ban angering them is non-existent. If a Muslim, therefore, is not banned from doing so, on what basis is a non-Muslim held accountable?
Muslims believe the words in the Quran are those coming directly from Allah and, as such, not open to interpretation by man. Thus, what Allah set forth in the Quran, no man can put asunder.
It stands to reason then, if the Quran is silent on an issue, it was of no import to Allah as he chose not to mention it.
In fact, for centuries after Muhammad’s death, he was depicted in artwork by Muslims and non-Muslims alike up through the 14th century.
Somewhere along the line, in an effort to prevent idolatry, “hadiths”—narrative teachings about Muhammad after his death—placed a ban on drawing images of any living creature.
From this, supposed Islamic scholars then issued “fatwas”—legal opinions—banning criticism or any mockery of Muhammad. Even though other hadiths convey stories along with the Prophet’s portrait, such mockery came to include his depiction in any form.
Thus, the evolution of the ban has been one from something to which Allah gave no importance to one to which man has given great import.
As a man-mandated ban, it therefore conflicts with Islam’s own teachings that man is not to interpret words—or silence—on Allah’s behalf.
Muslims enforcing the ban—such as the Charlie Hebdo killers—are thus false perceivers of Islam.
But Islamic clerics and adherents hard-pressed to understand this insist on imposing a ban upon non-believers not even subject to the Quran.
Interestingly, the winner of the Muhammad cartoon contest was a former Muslim, Bosch Fawstin. He said the contest was important to him because freedom of speech is “under siege.” He added, “We’re being threatened…as people who love freedom…we need to hit back. Not with violence, (but) with the truth, with our art, with our writing. Once free speech goes, it’s over.”
Fawstin’s concerns are valid. The same day he was protesting Islam’s overreach at the contest in Texas, the PEN almost relinquished its role as being “mightier than the sword” in New York.
International PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) is a group founded in 1922 that fancies itself as the world’s leading international literary and human rights organization. As its name suggest, members are mostly writers, editors and others valuing free speech.
Its U.S. branch, PEN American Center, sought to honor Charlie Hebdo survivors at its annual gala on May 3rd with a special “Freedom of Expression Courage” award. Sadly, over 200 PEN members objected on the basis it would recognize Charlie Hebdo’s Islamophobic effort to ridicule the religion. Despite such objections, the award was made.
If such free-thinkers as these 200 PEN members fail to understand—based on the teachings of Islam itself—the attack against Charlie Hebdo was Islamic overreach, how can we expect far less free-thinking Muslims to do so?
As enough intolerance for human rights exists within the body of Islam, do we really need to accept false perceptions of intolerance that exist outside of it as well?
Doing so will only have a chilling effect upon our own freedoms.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.