Dear Muslims, about Muhammed cartoons

Islam star and crescentI am the sort of person who would draw a Mohammed cartoon, if I could draw, which I can’t, and if I was good at satirical cartoons, which I’m not. Yes, we do understand that you find cartoons depicting Muhammed offensive. We understand that you value the reputation of Muhammed more than that of your own family, and that Western cartoons about your prophet are, to you, utterly disrespectful and blasphemous. We are not drawing cartoons just for the sake of being insulting, nor because we hate you. We draw cartoons because we regard doing so as important for a free society.

Over human history many ideologies have been totalitarian. The Christian religion used to burn people at the stake for heresy. The Soviet Communists sent people to the Gulag for any dissent from communist ideology. The Nazis murdered millions to further their fascist ideology.

All totalitarian regimes control what people can say, and in particular they repress any questioning of themselves and their control of society. The right to question authority is among the most fundamental rights in a free society. Even the right to vote is predicated on the right to discuss and argue about the merits and demerits of the government. Where people cannot question their rulers, society is not free. And that means, overwhelmingly, that economic prosperity is lower, technological advance is hampered, cultural flourishing is restricted, and quality of life is lower. Across the world these things correlate with political freedom and thus with freedom of speech.

The Islamic world, sadly, is different. Political freedom is not accepted. Rather, the greatest good is held to be unquestioning acceptance of Islam. Where Islam dominates, Islam is totalitarian, controlling what people can do and say.

In Saudi Arabia the blogger Raif Badawi is flogged for asking for political freedom. In Egypt a student is jailed for being an atheist. In Mauritania the death sentence is imposed for the “crime” of apostasy. In Pakistan, dozens are killed or sentenced to death for the “crime” of blasphemy.


Questioning a totalitarian ideology is the highest heresy, the greatest outrage, to be punished to the fullest extent. That’s how totalitarian ideologies perpetuate themselves.

In Islam this means that the words of Muhammed may not be questioned, only accepted. The Quran is taken to be Allah’s unalterable revelation. Any non-acceptance of Islamic dictats, any blasphemy or apostasy, must meet the harshest penalties. As Islamic scholar Azzam Tamimi explains:

“… the Prophet Muhammad and all the other prophets cannot be drawn and cannot be produced in pictures because they are, according to Islamic faith, infallible individuals …”

To accept the Islamic taboos on depicting Muhammed is to accept that Islam is beyond criticism. Islam is not just a religion, it is a whole way of life. Islam does not recognise the secular ideal of church–state separation and instead seeks to control political systems. The combination of political control and the outlawing of scrutiny and criticism is the very essence of totalitarianism.

Islam Quran

It isn’t reasonable to try to outlaw criticism of Islam by calling it “offensive” and reacting as though criticism were an attack on people. Yes, you have rights, but your ideas do not. You should be treated with respect, but your ideas need not be respected. The Muhammed cartoons do not attack people, they attack the idea of Islam. Muhammed is not a person alive today, rather, the idea of him is a theological construct. As the Muslim Council of Britain has said:

For Muslims, love of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is a NECESSARY part of our FAITH. He is dearer to us than our parents and children.

But even that statement admits: “There are laws to protect the dignity and properties of people”. Yes, people should be protected, but political systems should not! We would not accept a communist trying to prohibit any criticism of communism by saying that such criticism is an attack on themselves. We would not accept that from a fascist, or from a capitalist or socialist, or indeed from anyone. All political systems, all influential idea systems, must be open to scrutiny.

Iyad Madani, head Saudi-Arabia-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has called for prosecution of Charlie Hebdo, saying:

No sane person, irrespective of doctrine, religion or faith, accepts his beliefs being ridiculed.

That is why Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most oppressive countries, not even allowing women to drive. The West enjoys much greater quality of life precisely because we do accept our beliefs being ridiculed!

Islam veil

There is little such freedom in most of the Islam world. Few parts of the of the Islamic world are democratic. Few Islamic nations allow freedom of religion. Few Islamic nations allow citizens to openly criticise the government. Few Islamic countries recognise individual human rights.

Most of the people in the Islamic world want democracy, want freedom, want more rights. But the governments and the Islamic religion don’t want them to have it.

That is why it is important and indeed necessary for us to flout Islamic taboos. We need to draw Muhammed precisely because Islam says that we cannot, and that we should be subject to Islam’s rules. That is an attack on the very fundamentals of freedom in the West. The consequences of Islamic taboos are blatantly demonstrated in the lack of political freedom across the Islamic world.

It is Islam that needs to change. It is the Islamic nations that need to embrace freedom, and, yes, that does include the freedom to blaspheme, the right to apostasy, and the liberty to draw Muhammed and to criticise sacred tenets of Islam.

The people who suffer most from the totalitarian nature of Islam are overwhelmingly the Muslim citizens of the Islamic world! There are brave and far-sighted Muslims who want to reform Islam, and we should support them.

We secularists in the free West are not opposed to Muslims as people, we are opposed to the totalitarian nature of the Islamic religion. This is not just about free speech, it is more basic than that, it is about the right to live in a free society.

We only have that freedom because, in past times, many of our forefathers stood up to the Christian religion and stopped it imposing its own rules on those who didn’t want them. More recently many have had to stand up to communism and fascism.

Those forefathers established the principle of religious freedom, that one may voluntarily adopt and impose religious rules on oneself, but not on others! Your freedom to impose your religion ends where another person begins! Islam does not recognise freedom of religion, which is why we now need to stand up to Islam and flout its taboos. That’s why we draw Mohammed. It is not an attack on you as people, it is directed at the powerful idea system of Islam.


22 thoughts on “Dear Muslims, about Muhammed cartoons

  1. GBJames

    I can’t draw, either. But it doesn’t matter. Any old stick figure will do if you write “Mohammad” next to it.

  2. Jeff T Haley

    It is the duty of ALL publishers to republish the Hebdo cartoons.

    Freedom of speech is essential to secularism. Thus, it is essential to ensure that legal speech is not chilled by threats of illegal aggressive acts. Whenever illegal aggressive acts are perpetrated against anyone as a result of speech, no matter who it offends, it is essential that the offensive speech be multiplied by a thousand.

    The reason for this is like the US policy of never paying ransoms. If illegal acts to stifle speech are met with multiplication of the offensive speech rather than self-censorship, the threats will gain nothing and instead backfire.

    This is why the offensive Hebdo cartoons must be republished a thousand times. It is not because the cartoons are newsworthy. It has nothing to do with whether the editors think people should see the cartoons. The merit of the cartoons, or lack thereof, is irrelevant. The cartoons should be republished a thousand times simply because violence was perpetrated in response to them in an attempt to stifle such speech.

    Do publishers – those with access to a publication platform – have a duty to republish the cartoons? Yes. IF THEY DON’T, WHO WILL? All publishers have to duty to republish the cartoons, including publishers who are offended by them, including religious publishers of all stripes.

    Any publisher that does not republish the offensive cartoons is tacitly supporting censorship, including all religious publishers.

    My blogsite is a publication, so I have published the cartoons. I am not encouraging my readers to look at them. I am merely doing my duty.

    – Jeff T Haley

    1. aljones909

      Jeff, the islamic fascists seem to forget that the internet exists. The number of people viewing stuff on paper compared to the numbers looking at screens is miniscule. The print media may be cowed but the amount of material now circulating on the internet has multiplied greatly. jihadistjoe on twitter is particularly offensive/accurate.

  3. Patrice Ayme

    Excellent, Coel! I was brought and raised in Muslim countries. French satirical magazines were bought and read there massively. There were no problems. No confrontations with secularism, whatsoever.

    One has to understand that there are, historically speaking, more than 100 variants of Islam.

    That was, of course, intolerable to the feudal dictators of Arabia. So they flooded all such regions with money and well financed preachers of Salafism (the faith of the “old ones”). That has allowed them to replace Sufism with, increasingly, Salafism.

    9/11 was mostly organized by Saudis and Al Zawahiri (who entered the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood at 14). Zawahiri ordered the Charlie Hebdo attack.

    A way to look at the present situation with Salafist Islam propaganda from Arabia is to view it for what it is: an aggression by a system of thought promoted by Medieval rulers. One has also to understand that Fundamentalist Islam was instrumentalized, in Egypt, Iran, and Arabia, by the CIA, starting in the 1940s.

    The CIA, for decades, was the best friend of the Salafist and Shia, using this strategy to establish in the Middle east regimes that were more friendly to Washington than to London and Paris. This is how the CIA used Khomeini and his Shia to get rid of Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh (and then betrayed them to install a Shah submissive to the USA). In the long run, these Machiavellian maneuvers are proving to be in the process of backfiring.

    However, this is no problem for the USA, as it is, overall, and presently, the greatest producer of oil and gas they world has ever known. It is, of course, much more of a problem for Europe. But it allows the USA to accuse Europe to be oppressive with Muslims, as Obama just did in the presence of PM Cameron, Friday.

  4. Pingback: Show deference for people, not ideas – Marketing Secularism

  5. Patrice Ayme

    Reblogged this on Patrice Ayme's Thoughts and commented:
    Here is an essay from a scientist who, per the nature of his activities, physics, astrophysics, mathematics and searching for exoplanets, planets orbiting stars in our galaxy, is forced to keep his mind wide open on a lot of questions of deep and burning interest.
    Professor Coel Hellier shares my general approach (not just about Islam, but in much of science). However, he is from Europe, so he does not abide by the European bashing the leaders of the USA engage in.
    Generally European bashing is practiced by the USA in a fashion covert enough that paid-off European leaders can claim they don’t have the faintest idea about what is going on.
    An example is energy policy: Twenty years ago, the USA with Vice-President Al Gore (later made a Nobel Prize, of course), started a big noise, mirror, smoke and fury about “climate change”. The European Union bought it, hook, line, sink, and now even the European boat attached to all this is sinking.
    While Europe was doing extravagant efforts to reduce its greenhouse gases emissions, the USA augmented its own (counting everything, something USA propagandists will not do for you). Result? Right now the price of energy in the USA is half of that in Europe, the European economy is sinking, European unemployment is colossal, Europeans are rioting, and the President of the USA tells Europeans to their faces that this is all happening because Europeans are racust (more smoke and mirrors).
    However, today is Martin Luther King Day. Who was MLK? Somebody who wanted Americans “of colors” to have the right to sit where they wanted in a bus.
    That is a right that the Romans already had. OK, Romans did not have buses, but they hadan imperial throne, and Spaniards, inhabitants of the Balkans, French and British born sat on it. More interestingly, African born and Arab born citizens also sat on the imperial throne.
    Emperor Septimus Severus, a Libyan, was, indeed of African “blood”.
    So the Martin Luther King craze, and sanctimony, is not something that Europe ought to look up to, but something to look down on. MLK was very courageous, but only as an example that one does not get anywhere good, but by telling the truth.
    Anyway, let the sedate and wise Coel have a go at Salafists.

  6. Anton Szautner

    Religious leaders and scholars labor under the delusion that the figures and objects of veneration of their faiths, assorted ‘prophets’ or ‘messiahs’, etc., belong exclusively to their respective religions and are therefore exclusively subject to the dictates of their doctrines, which they impose not only on their adherents but on the rest of the world. However, the degree to which even non-adherents as well as these leaders and scholars seem oblivious to the fact that these figures of sanctity are part of a history common to all humanity never ceases to amaze me.

    Regardless of where anyone is situated with respect to a diabolically crenulated fence of contention that is supposed to distinguish between peoples and their faiths or the lack (along with myriad other attributes by which humans perform selection games amongst themselves) these figures belong to us all. Whether anybody likes it or not, we all have to live in a world that contains these objects. History, however admirable or sordid its contents, belongs to us all. We had better grow up and learn to own ALL of it, accept all the good and bad bits, because we are ALL required to exercise responsibility in our mutual participation of shaping our common future from our common and inexricably interlinked heritage. No particular side of that despicable fence should be able to dictate the interpretation of any historical custom, object or figure without consequence. (Despite endless pious platitudes about love and tolerance toward one’s neighbor – human virtues they seem to think they’ve invented – religious leaders are swift to endorse the principle: just the other day the pope, for example, warned – or decreed more than suggested, by many – that a remark deemed disrespectful by an offended party deserves a retaliatory bash on the nose).

    Yet religious leaders demand compliance by all under the dictates of their terms, declaring the objects of their religion to be their exclusive property untouchable by any others, and they demand everybody’s respect for that intrusive assumption of authority, protected under their terms..

    So much for the hermetic distinction between believers and non-believers. It is obvious that the authentic object of their dedication and adoration, so lovingly maintained, is that crenulated fence which divides, controls and conquers people, which they exploit as the means of exercising and consolidating their power and economic authority over as many as they can usher over to one side of it…by intimidation and threat of mortal violence if necessary. We are to let parts of OUR history alone on the absurd premise that these parts belong exclusively to them. We are not to engage in any critical appraisal or examination of the exclusive property of religious doctrine, even though these objects and the traditions they represent strongly affect, inluence and interfere with the lives of non-adherents. Let no woman or man dare to question the proxy authority of a loving god. Let no one point out the ludicrous contradictions and boundless hypocrisy of faith…or else suffer His Wrath.

    BTW? Re: the red-herring importance given to drawing pictures? See Rene Magritte (“This is not a Pipe”). THAT ought to be the message used to denounce religious dogma, or we simply find ourselves giving credence to the fallacy behind their stricture, that a drawn figure is somehow MORE than mere representation. Religious custom is notorious enough for investing all sorts of mundane objects with a surreal significance of supernatural proprtions, such as a thin wafer or a black stone, without some idiotic popular gambit that does little more than reinforce the illusion and further aggravate our situation away from an authentic understanding toward an anarchy of fashionable feel-good protest that provides an appearance of unity.

    1. Patrice Ayme

      Good point. We own the Prophets, too (Jesus being one of them).

      The whole problem of the “Satanic Verses” in Islam arose that way: Muhammad the Prophet was asked, by the dominant tribe, the Quraish, to incorporate Mecca’s main god, the Moon, and also lots of assorted deities. When it turned out that this could raise accusations of polytheism, those aspects (except for the Moon!) were dropped out… Generations after the “Messenger’s” death… (Around 850 CE, actually.)

    1. basicrulesoflife

      No, there is a cross! But, if you bring it around in your processions and mention your God in your government speeches and schools, for me it is not much better than Islamic cartoons. I am deeply confident that there is only one ‘god’ in a human society – this ‘god’ is truth, fact, doubt, scientific evidence, and reality. If some words more, survival of human beings.

  7. PeterJ

    Just thought I’d chip in to say that in my opinion this post reflects a complete failure to grasp the situation and promotes openly inflammatory behaviour at the expense of civilised society and mutual respect. To me this uncomprehending and bitter approach is a major cause of terrorism.

    Just going for a bit of balance.

    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Peter,
      So saying that free speech amounts to “a major cause of terrorism” is “balance”?

      As for respect, would you say that Muslims have any obligation to respect Western ideals of liberty and free speech? Certainly, the “civilised societies” are (in my opinion) those in which satirical cartoons are common.

    2. Patrice Ayme

      Peter: Do you know what you are asking us to “respect”? Here I am going to quote from one of my own essays:

      Have a look again at Hadith 41;685: …”Allah’s Messenger… : The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will FIGHT against the Jews and the Muslims would KILL them…”

      The “last hour” is the Day of Judgment (as found already in the Bible). When …”Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous deeds to gardens beneath which rivers flow. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold and pearl, and their garments therein will be silk.” (Qur’an S22; v23)… others will meet a “painful punishment.”

      Proposing that everybody good will be rewarded and the miscreants punished only after the Jews will be killed seems to me to be hate speech. From Allah’s Messenger, that is, Muhammad (supposing it was faithfully related by Sahih Al Muslim). It is to be feared that, left to be literally interpreted, this statement will bring many a Jihadist, to conclude it is a religious duty to kill the Jews.

      Also the Qur’an has 83,000 words. I found around 10,000 words which are encouraging thus who would make a faith out of that to inflict violence on others. You can find them in the following essay. Notice in the comments there that some Muslim scholars fell silent after I quoted all of this. Official translations of the Qur’an can be found from the Saudi government… Or Jihadist sites:

      So tell me, Pater, what is there to respect there? Are we going to have to respect the Holy Inquisition, next?

      I will propose that it is racist to inflict the Qur’an to Muslims, centuries after Europe got rid of this sort of murderous, violent obscurantism.
      With bemused respect,
      Patrice Ayme

    3. PeterJ

      Yeah. I’m not that fond of the Koran either. But it’s the same old message once one clears away the contingent clutter. In any case, two wrongs don’t make a right.

    4. Patrice Ayme

      Hi Peter! Thanks for the answer. The quote Hadith 41; 6985 was from the Hadith, not the Qur’an. It is not clear that the Qur’an orders to kill the Jews, specifically. It just insults them continuously and says that Jews have been turned into apes and pigs.

      The Qur’an is very clear though that “unbelievers” have to be slayed. That’s said as early as the first Surah of the Qur’an, S2; v191. And it’s repeated ad nauseam. I cannot call 10,000 words of violence, much of it LETHAL (such as making victims swallow liquid metal) out of 83,000 just “contingent clutter”.

      “Two wrongs don’t make right”? You mean Qur’an plus Hadith, both wrong, as manuals for social interaction, don’t make a right?

      The way out is make it illegal to preach the violent parts of Islam when they are clear hate speech directed at identifiable populations (“unbelievers”, “apostates”, “Jews”, etc.). Mali just refused the burial in Mali of the Muslim Malian terrorist. Symbols count, so does indoctrination.

  8. PeterJ

    Not quite, Patrice. I meant that inciting violence and anger is not a good response to violence and anger. As for the rest, I’d endorse the view of Ibn Arabi and thus get at the perennial message of the Koran and not dwell on the contingencies.

    I would agree that the Koran is distasteful in places. But then we have to decide what is important and what is spurious, and nobody can do that for us.

    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Peter, what do you think the “perennial message of the Koran” actually is?

      Also, the media in the Islamic world routinely publishes cartoons about the West, Jews and Israel that are vastly more derogatory than the very mild Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Are you equally condemnatory about that?

    2. Patrice Ayme

      Did not Winston Churchill promise only “blood, sweat, and tears?” Inciting violence and anger was a very good answer to Nazism. It would have worked better, if done earlier (the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hitler’s personal friend, and provider of assassins, would have disagreed, I must admit).

      The perennial message of the Qur’an?
      The problem is not that the Qur’an is “distasteful in places”. The problem is the Qur’an says that one should kill some CATEGORIES of person. This is well beyond violence and anger. It is the MAXIMAL prescription to create violence and anger.

      Here is Surah 2, verse 191 of the Qur’an as translated by Muhammad Sarwar: “Slay them wherever you may catch them and expel them from the place from which they expelled you. The sin of disbelief in God is greater than committing murder. Do not fight them in the vicinity of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca unless they start to fight. Then slay them for it is the recompense that the disbelievers deserve.”

      I quoted this verse 191 repeatedly for the New York Times. They finally replied in an editorial (!!!), by quoting ONLY the most innocuous part of the verse above: “Do not fight them in the vicinity of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca unless they start to fight.” I view this sort of cherry picking as a will to impose Islam, Salafist type. A form of religious racism, friendly to keep the feudal regimes in power in Arabia, recycling their oil money on Wall Street (hence the connection with the New York Times).

      I was raised in Sufi Islam countries, where a literal reading of the Qur’an was viewed as blasphemy, or a mental derangement. But now those countries have been overrun by Salafism, propelled by oil money.

      There is no more important message one can give to a human being than: “Slay them!” The Qur’an does this hundreds of time. Threatening to slay people is, indeed, perennial. You will have to admit that if one meets someone and they say: “God is great, the weather is fine. Let’s kill some unbelievers,” the verb “kill” is what a sane person would pay attention to, first. And then there is the problem of what an “unbeliever” is.

    3. Anton Szautner

      Hi Peter,

      Okay. lets focus on ‘balance’.

      I would like to understand why you and many others constantly strive to make such a strong distinction between what you (and others) interpret as the ‘authentic’ teaching of the Koran, and the interpretation of precisely that same Koran that appears to motivate so many to violence. I genuinely want to understand why: What, in your opinion, is it that makes people of the Islamic faith, who allegedly read the very same Koran, arrive at behaviors that so easily spans pacifist and wholesale murder? What is it?

      Of more immediate practical importance, I would like to understand what the pacifist side actually does in the real world in order to help curb the chronically violent side.

      There is plenty of mention of ‘responsibility’ in the Koran. I would like to understand why those portions are interpreted so differently amongst followers.

      Mind you, a completely innocent appeal for an understanding, for the sake of ‘balance’.

  9. Anton Szautner


    and don’t forget your balance: tell us, exactly, how a scribbling on a piece of paper weighs as much as people gunned down to death.

  10. Anton Szautner

    “But then we have to decide what is important and what is spurious, and nobody can do that for us.”

    Correct. So what’s your problem then? We express our conerns, and you decree it “inflammatory”.

    Isn’t it horrid that people might object to the constant threat of getting shot up or blown to bits? Is ANY voiced objection to such a disgusting state of affairs OFF BALANCE and OPENLY INFLAMMATORY?


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