Political cartoonists split on usefulness of 'Everybody Draw Muhammad Day'

By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Shock for shock's sake." "Choreographed punditry." And "wrong, childish and needlessly provocative."

That's what some critics think of Thursday's Facebook-ignited campaign titled "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day." But those aren't Islamic extremists speaking. Those are the words of pro-free-speech political cartoonists.

Some people might draw Muhammad on Thursday as part of a socially networked protest to caricature the Islamic prophet. Just don't expect most professional political cartoonists to join in.

"I don't think it's kowtowing to be respectful of another's belief system," says San Diego Union-Tribune cartoonist Steve Breen. "I seldom participate in staged editorial events," says Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoonist David Horsey. And "the 'Draw Muhammad Day' is a demonstration in the worst impulse for some editorial cartoonists," says Chicago Tribune cartoonist Scott Stantis.

Those sentiments reflect the official stance of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. The group's president, Sacramento Bee cartoonist Rex Babin, says: "I would be opposed to our organization getting behind such an 'event' because . . . something like that can be too easily co-opted by interest groups [whose agenda can go] beyond a simple defense of free expression." Past AAEC president Ted Rall also says he won't draw Muhammad on Thursday, either.

As a protest, "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" was planned after the creators of TV's "South Park" complained last month that Comedy Central edited their attempts to render Muhammad. Some Muslims consider any depiction of Muhammad to be blasphemous, though Islamic scholar Babak Rahimi, who teaches at the University of California San Diego, says: "It is a well-known fact that aesthetic depictions of the prophet have been and remain a major cultural feature of Muslim societies around the world."

Breen and Horsey are among 19 Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonists who signed a petition to support "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. But they, as well as such other signees as Clay Bennett, Matt Davies and Mike Peters, say they do not plan to publish a Muhammad cartoon Thursday.

Also not a participant in the protest: Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris, whose illustration last month spawned the campaign. "Fight for the right to draw Muhammad, then decline doing so," she says.

Norris's cartoon inspired Facebook pages, including one that has drawn more than 60,000 supporters. She says she has joined a Facebook page that decries the "Draw Muhammad" campaign -- "AGAINST Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" has attracted more than 70,000 supporters.

But petition signee Mark Fiore, whose clients include SFGate.com, says his political animation Thursday will incorporate Muhammad. And noted Islamic critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose book "Nomad: From Islam to America" was published this week, says the protest "is a positive campaign" that can "promote self-reflection among Muslims."

Still, Toronto-based political cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar, who describes his faith as "Muslim Lite," says: "I believe we have the right to offend, but when offense is seen as 'insult,' it might be a bad time to draw an offensive cartoon."

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