Two days ago was Draw Muhammad Day. Patheos blogger Wendy Thomas Russell held a discussion with her fellow network bloggers on how to talk to kids about this topic and I feel like weighting in:
It should be noted that some writers emphasized sensitivity and respect, while others emphasized free speech — but all of them, without exception, indicated that the real question isn’t whether children can draw Muhammad, but whether they should — and why they would want to.
Let’s get this out of the way: in my opinion, you should tell your kid he can draw Muhammad and that he should… if he feels like it — regardless of everything else. That’s what having a right means.
Wendy’s post is then summed up in a step-by-step kinda way on how to talk to children about this topic, so I’ll address those steps.
• Step 1: Tell kids that Muslims have a “rule” not to draw Muhammad — and then tell them why the rule exists
I understand we’re talking to kids, but I think this first step is quite misleading. To me, this argument, presented in this way panders to some degree to religious privilege: we shouldn’t be promoting religious authority at all. Saying that all Muslims have this rule plays into the hands of bullies, who think those of their fellow Muslims that don’t comply can and should be persecuted by Muslim authorities, a notion that runs against the Human Right of it being entirely up to them if they want to follow such a rule or not — put another way: while you’re making it clear that non-Muslims are under no obligation to abide said rule, you’re denying agency to all the Muslims who happen to believe in Islam but won’t take that rule seriously.
I’d advise to change this first step to this: Tell kids that some Muslims believe it is wrong to draw Muhammad, but this rule isn’t compulsory for any human being.
• Step 2: Explain that this rule may seem strange, but that it’s important to a lot of people.
Depending on the kids’ ages, I’d make an argument like the following in a more or less complex fashion: in some areas of the world where Human Rights and democracy are not taken seriously, some bullies think their beliefs are beyond criticism and have forced their views onto whole societies where you can and will be punished were you to exercise some of your most basic human rights and civil liberties.
• Step 3: Remind children of how important it is to be kind, and ask them whether drawing Muhammad is a kind thing to do.
I couldn’t disagree more. Kindness shouldn’t factor in when it comes to exercising your rights. You can sit next to women in the classroom, you will be legally allowed to vote (when time comes), you can go to the movies and you shouldn’t care whether someone likes it or not on how you choose to exercise these rights — it is no different with free speech.
You are not responsible for the feelings of others — whether you’re asking a girl for coffee
in an elevator, cheering for your favorite team, debunking creationism or just drawing something, the feelings of other people are their responsibility, not yours. If they can’t cope with people disagreeing with them and the world not accomdating to their beliefs, that’s on them, but it shouldn’t curtail the scope of your rights.
And, actually, drawing Muhammad is the kind thing to do because it questions religious authority, and questioning authority, any authority, is the first step to challenge injustice. Are you so uncommitted to ending injustice that you’d rather let some teeny-tiny feelings get in the way of achieving such an end?
• Step 4: Tell kids about free speech — and the vital importance of it.
I agree with this statement (surprise!) but the way it was touched on by Ryan Bell puzzles me (I’m not a fan of him). He says sometimes people have ‘valid reasons’ to draw Muhammad which is a bit odd: it is your right, you don’t need any other reason and how valid other people think that reason is — that’s the whole point of making it a right: you needn’t justify yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing; you’re entitled to and that’s enough a valid reason.
Second-guessing yourself whether you have a valid reason or not to enjoy any right is kind of self-defeating. You feel like doing it? Go ahead, do it! That’s how rights work!
• Step 5: Tell kids that some people have been threatened, harassed and even killed for drawing Muhammad — but that most Muslims would never do that. And then remind them that all bullying is wrong.
I’m not sure most Muslims would never do that (do you have any statistics on that?), but I do know not all of them would kill over a drawing and I would make sure kids understand that.
(image: Bosch Fawstin)