Announcement of the Muhammed Exhibit
Wednesday night, Comedy Central’s “South Park,” which is noted for nothing if not its irreverent humor and fearlessness in hurting the feelings of just about everyone, was aired with a black square over the character Muhammad, the prophet of Allah, as depicted by the show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. This was the third episode wherein Muhammad was censored, and the first in which the name “Muhammad” was censored out in every utterance.
Islam finds depictions of this man to be blasphemous. Many Muslims in the fall of 2005 issued death threats to those affiliated with the Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that printed cartoons depicting him. Similarly, the New York-based group Revolution Muslim posted on its website ghastly pictures of a dead Theo van Gogh (the Dutch film maker who was killed for planning a film that criticized Islam’s treatment of women a year before the Danish cartoon ordeal), warning that Comedy Central producers would “probably wind up like” the slain film-maker.
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The Busy Signal’s editorial staff recognizes the right of anyone not to depict Muhammed (or any other person), for fear of divine punishment. On the other hand, we have nothing but contempt for the censorship of art for fear of offending people who demand that their beliefs be respected.
What right has anyone not to be offended? We are offended by a great many things on a daily basis but demand their cessation, if we demand it, on better grounds than that offense. We are offended by the denial of equal rights to some citizens, but we don’t insist it be changed because it offends us. Our offense is not reason enough for others to alter their behavior.
In the same way, we reserve the right to withhold respect for any belief or set of beliefs, or to mete out disrespect for beliefs, if we are so moved. We would not respect the belief that elephants speak Italian nor that crayons predate the solar system, and we would disrespect the belief that one race has the right to enslave another. Beliefs have no inherent right to be respected. Some beliefs (like in the equality of the sexes or that child rape is bad) have earned our respect, but not on the grounds that they simply are believed at all.
Moreover, we object to a society in which artists feel that they will incur threats of death by exploring certain subjects, even tastefully, in their art. Whatever encouragement our small outfit can offer artists who are fearful of the type of backlash their work, when it is created honestly and skillfully, will encounter, we are committed to offering.
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It is in this spirit that we hereby announce the Muhammad Exhibit. We are asking artists – painters, photographers, graphic designers, sculptors, doodlers, iPhone Brushes users, &c. – to submit .jpg images of their depictions of Muhammad to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions are due by May 23, a month from today. The pieces we select as the most moving, meaningful and skillful will be exhibited at The Busy Signal as a celebration of freedom of expression and as a public announcement of solidarity with all those like Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who avail themselves of that freedom under constant threats to their welfare.
The point of the exhibit is not to shock and insult; it is to encourage artists to be boundless in the topics they wish to explore and the methods by which they wish to explore them. If people feel shocked an insulted, that is their right, just as it is the right of those who create to do so in an environment free from the fear of violence. We do not set out to offend, but we refuse to subordinate freedom of expression in order to accommodate people’s beliefs.
Artists, get busy.