Is drawing a stick figure on the ground of a college campus and writing “Muhammed” next to it an expression of free speech? That’s certainly what people around the United States and likely further afield seem to think. Incitement to do so came from the drawmuhammedday website (which is offline at writing–that’s a google cache copy)[Link updated--here's a you-tube video discussing it] itself a response to some misplaced censorship of a South Park episode.
I haven’t had the pleasure to see any of these free-speech-motivated religious insults myself but I have been surprised at how vigorously people have defended it as justified behavior. Of course it’s your free speech right in the United States and elsewhere to be rude. Indeed, sometimes hearing what is necessary is painful for people. Would the enthusiastic chalk artists enjoy the comparison with the folks at Westboro Baptist Church? As far as they’re concerned, when they wave their “God Hates Fags” banners and U.S. military funerals—it’s their free speech right.
We have the right to say what’s on our mind, but it’s patently childish to do so when our words and actions have little further purpose than to offend a belief we do not share. Most U.S. Americans can’t understand why it’s wrong to label a stick figure Muhammed. Most Chinese are probably equally at a loss why Americans gather around a dead tree they brought into the house for a few weeks in December. Because we don’t understand why American muslims might be offended by something doesn’t justify shoving their faces in a mockery of their beliefs.
Mockery should be protected, even when it’s offensive. Art and music are often at their best when expressing opinions opposed to what other’s find sacred. Not for a moment am I suggesting that these protesters should be limited in their actions, any more than Piss Christ should be attacked because many find it offensive, or misunderstood.
Those participating in this prank claim a wide range of justifications such as protecting the rights of artists; and maybe they have a point, but one can’t help but wonder if they couldn’t have signed up to a more effective protest. We might even accept the offense as collateral damage in the battle to protect human rights if this response were a more than giant “so there!”