Despite Molly Norris' intent, this has started a movement on college campuses of drawing Mohammed today in stick figures labeled "Mohammed" in chalk on the sidewalks, and launched some Facebook pages, "Draw Mohammed Day," and "Against Draw Mohammed Day," among others.
A number of thoughtful articles have been written about this. I want to point to a few from writers I particularly respect.
A well-reasoned article by Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain in the thick of things at Harvard, concludes:
As a Humanist, I hope I do not exist solely to advance the Humanist cause. I want to advance the human cause. In this case, the way to do it is to keep the chalk on the blackboard, where perhaps one day soon Humanist and Muslim college students will use it together in inner-city elementary schools, teaching understanding and cooperation between members of different religious and moral traditions.Over at the blog NonProphet Status, the blogger writes:
We secularists need to think long and hard about what lines we’re drawing — and who we’re boxing out in the process. We say we want “free speech;” now let’s recognize that with freedom comes responsibility and the need for respectful dialogue despite differences. In other words, as my mom might say: “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Chalk may wash away but the divides we build often don’t.
Let’s talk the talk, not chalk for shock.
The Interfaith Youth Core has put out a very good resource kit on this issue. It says:
This is not about Free Speech vs. fundamentalist Islam. Muslim Students Associations (MSA) on all three campuses where chalking has occured so far said they believed in free speech and were opposed to fringe groups who threaten violence. This is about Actions that Build an Inclusive Society vs. Actions that Marginalize a Minority Community.It also says:
Part of the responsibility of free speech is recognizing that speech has consequences. In this case, the consequences are pain and further marginalization of local Muslims who have never threatened anyone’s rights. There are better ways to support and defend free speech.That's the issue at the heart here. Absolutely we all believe in freedom of speech. Students have the right to draw these kinds of chalk images, and nobody should be threatened with violence because of drawing any image of Mohammed. On the other hand, what we should be focusing on is ways to increase interfaith cooperation and respect. The Muslims I know in my community would never condone violence against people for drawing Mohammed. They routinely and publicly denounce violence done in the name of Islam. They also work hard to build interfaith cooperation and work to educate the community about Islam. Doing something that is clearly disrespectful to their religious beliefs is not the way to show our mutual respect and desire to build a civil and interfaith society.
Today I will not be drawing Mohammed, nor will I be boycotting Facebook because it allows a page for people calling on people to draw Mohammed. Today I will be working for interfaith cooperation and respect.