In light of Charlie-Hebdo, and as a former Muslim, I feel it is necessary to point out two things. First, my comics are not an exercise in spiteful and provocative irreverence for its own sake. Second, for any cartoonist who draws the prophet for merely the above reasons, I will say that it is a profoundly weak and un-elevated platform from which to spread the craft.
Believe it or not, mockery for no larger purpose does trouble me and to no small degree. Perhaps it is because I am an Arab who was formerly a very devout and believing Muslim that I still feel the prick of disrespect when Islam, Muslims and even the prophet are made light of. I feel all this despite having long ago washed my hands of religion and everything it stands for.
As you might have gleaned, I do a good bit of introspecting and justifying for my cartooning (not to suggest I am apologetic). I want to be funny, but I want modern and progressive Muslims to be in on the joke. This is a bit of a balancing act, and by no means, one which I am always able to manage. Do you give way for humor, or give way for respectful boundaries (and if so, who’s)? Like anything else, this is something I expect to grow into.
In the meantime, I can happily say that my comics are not about disrespecting people, but rather, about humor and discrediting bad ideas. For me, that bad idea is usually Islam, because it is the bad idea I know best.
I do not live in a fantasy land either: I realize that my cartoons are inevitably provocative and heretical to the fringe fanatic. But I like a tough and demanding audience. If I do force a chuckle out of a hardened Wahhabi, I have the joy of knowing that for a brief moment, I have forced them to give in to their human impulses by laughing at the ridiculous rather than clinging to it with inquisitional fervor.
Anyone can draw a stick-figure of Muhammad porking a goat and offend Muslims in order to get attention. Needless to say, this would be in poor taste as well as quite stupid. But as we all know, free speech is not limited to only those with something intelligent to say—dimwits and imbeciles also share this right (so long as they do not harm others in its exercise). But when an artist lowers themselves to being provocative for its own sake, it is a strong signal that they have nothing of value to add the discussion.
While I vehemently disagree with Islam and hold that its ideas are destructive to decent society, I do my best to give individuals the respect and compassion that is due every person to draw breath on this planet. Many Muslims I know are good people, and I certainly do know some whose views are unsavory to say the least. But they are free to believe and say what they want. What I will not tolerate, however, is being threatened into silence. At risk of echoing what has already been repeated by many others to tedium, I will in any case do so because of its succinctness: it’s 2015.