What Did You Say About Muhammad?!
by Raymond Ibrahim/Â Pajamas Media
Which is more likely to elicit an irate Muslim response: 1) public cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, or 2) public proclamations that Muhammad was a bisexual, sometime transvestite and necrophile, who enjoyed sucking on the tongues of children, commanded a woman to “breastfeed” an adult man, and advised believers to drink his urine for salutary health?
Based on the recentÂ South Park fiascoâ€”where an animated episode depicting Muhammad in a bear suit sparked outrage among various Muslim groups, culminating with the usualÂ death threatsâ€”the answer is clear: cartoons, once again, have proven to be the Muslim world’s premiere provocateur. Indeed, during a university lecture the other day, Swedish artistÂ Lars Vilks, whose life is in jeopardy due to his depiction of Muhammad as a dog, was violentlyÂ assaulted to ululations of “Allahu Akbar!” (Islam’s primordial war cry).
Yet how can cartoons rouse Muslim ire more than public assertions that Muhammad was a bisexual, a transvestite, a necrofile, et al? First, context:
The evangelical Arabic satellite station,Â al-Haya (Life TV), regularly takes the Muslim prophet to task, especially on two weekly programs:Â Hiwar al-Haq (Truth Talk), hosted by Coptic priestÂ Fr. Zakaria Botros, andÂ Su’al Jari’ (Daring Question), hosted by ex-MuslimÂ Rashid. Both shows revolve around asking uncomfortable questions about Islam and its founder in an effort to prompt Muslims to reconsider the legitimacy of their faith. (It is on these shows that the aforementioned, unflattering assertions of Muhammad originate; seeÂ here andÂ here for English summaries.)
These broadcasts are viewed by millions of Arabic-speaking Muslims around the world. That the satellite station strikes a Muslim nerve is evinced by the fact that it is formally banned in several Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia, and is regularly condemned by Islam’s demagogues on mainstream Arabic media, including al Jazeera.
When the programs first began airing, they certainly caused uproar in the Muslim world. Then, Muslims regularly called in cursing the hosts, promising them death and destruction (both here and in the hereafter). Al-Qaeda reportedly put aÂ $60 million bounty on Fr. Zakaria’s head; and the priest is onÂ CAIR’s radar. (See the father make his famous “ten demands” of IslamÂ here and explain his mission in thisÂ rare English interview.)
Far from being cowed by the daily death threats, however, Life TV and its unrepentant hosts have responded by upping the ante and providing even more anecdotes discrediting Muhammad. Rashid recently examined the theological implications ofMuhammad’s hatred for the gecko lizard, which the prophet accused of being “an infidel and enemy of the believers.” Muslims who kill it in the first strike receive 100 “heavenly-points,” whereas those who kill it in two strikes receive only 70. More graphically, Fr. ZakariaÂ recently examined canonical hadiths (authenticated Muslim accounts) that record Islam’s first believers eating Muhammad’s feces, marinating food in his sweat, drinking the water he gargled and spit out, and smearing his phlegm all over their facesâ€”all to his approval.
Needless to say, Life TV’s hostsâ€”especially the flamboyant Fr. Zakariaâ€”are hated by Muslims around the world. But to the careful observer, the outrage appears to be subsiding, ostensibly replaced by apathyâ€”that is, the default strategy when threats and displays of indignation fail. Most callers are now Muslim converts to Christianity, who encourage and thank Fr. Zakaria and Rashid (often in tears). Conversely, the diminishing angry callers usually spew a barrage of insults, culminating with a “may-you-burn-in-hell,” and quicklyâ€”almost as if ashamed of their impotent behaviorâ€”hang up.
Now, back to our original observation: how can Life TV get away with outlandish weekly disparagements concerning Muhammad, whereas Western cartoons spark widespread outrage? Considering that millions of more Muslims watch Life TV than have ever heard ofÂ South Park makes the question doubly puzzling.
The answer is simple: theÂ South Park incident is less a reflection of Muslim anger and more of Western appeasement. By constantly buckling in to the slightest Muslim displeasureâ€”whether byÂ altering films,Â removing museum art, orÂ canceling book launchesâ€”the West has perpetuated a vicious cycle wherein Muslim sensitivities are ever heightened and outraged at the slightest slight, and Western freedoms of expression are correspondingly diminished and trampled upon. What’s worse, such self-imposed censorship falls right into the hands of homegrown IslamistsÂ actively working to subvert Western civilization from within.
Conversely, by holding fast to onetime Western principles of free speech and open dialogue, Life TV has conditioned its Muslim viewers to accept that exposure and criticism of their prophet is here to stay. As Fr. Zakaria often points out, every religious figure is open to criticism: so why should Muhammad be sacrosanct? (Indeed, Comedy Central, which was quick to acquiesce to Muslim threats toÂ censorÂ South Park, is “brave” enough to run an entireÂ cartoon series mocking Jesus.)
Of course, one need not agree with Life TV’s tactics or evangelical mission to appreciate the lesson it imparts: Muslim outrageâ€”as with all human outrageâ€”is predicated on how well it is tolerated. Continuously appeased, it becomes engorged and insistent on more concessions; ignored, it deflates and, ashamed of itself, withers away. Put differently, if you voluntarily act like adhimmiâ€”a subjugated non-Muslim who must live in debased humilityâ€”you will be treated like a dhimmi (including by being killed for the slightest offense); conversely, if you assert yourself like a freeman, you will be perceived as a freemanâ€”even as you are still hated.
To be fair, there is one caveat: whereas Muslims have no choice but to interpretÂ South Park‘s and Lars Vilk’s caricatures of Muhammad as egregiously offensiveâ€”no known Muslim records depict Muhammad in the guise of a bear or dogâ€”the much more disturbing Life TV anecdotes all originate in Islam’s most authoritative sources (Koran, hadiths, tafsirs, fatwas, etc). In other words, perhaps the anger toward Life TV is subsiding as Muslims become reconciled to the fact that, no matter how heinous, the things being attributed to their prophet are, in fact, grounded in Muslim sources, and thus must be true.
Yet if that is the case, seems like silly cartoons of Muhammad are the least of Muslims’ problems.