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, any cartoonist who draws the prophet for merely the above reasons takes up a profoundly weak and un-elevated platform from which to spread the craft.
Believe it or not, mockery for no larger purpose troubles me to no small degree. Perhaps it is because I am an Arab who was formerly a devout Muslim that I still feel a faint prick of offense when Islam, Muslims, and yes, even the prophet, are made light of—this all despite having long ago washed my hands of religion.
I thus find myself doing a good deal of introspection and justification for every cartoon I draw. This is not to suggest that I am apologetic or that I have a guilty conscience—I believe this work is timely and necessary. I only mean to say that I make some efforts to be considerate and tasteful (or at least one of the two). I want to be funny, but I want 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. Does one give way for humor, or air on the side of tasteful boundaries—and if so, who’s? Like most meaningful endeavors, this is something one grows into.
In the meantime, I can say that my comics are not about disrespecting people, but rather, about discrediting a bad idea while being entertaining. For me, that bad idea is religion—and more specifically, Islam—which happens to be the bad idea I know best.
I have no illusions about drawing the prophet. Before I even thought of creating this book, a friend of mine (an Anglo-American atheist), chidingly remarked: “If you start drawing Muhammad I don’t know you.”
And there it is in plain English: religious extremists are, on some level, getting their way. It is almost taken for granted by most people that drawing Muhammad (and to a lesser extent, even satirizing Islam) is something one should avoid.
I know my cartoons are inevitably provocative and heretical to the fringe fanatic, but I like a tough and demanding audience. If I manage to force a chuckle out of a hardened Wahhabi, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I made someone laugh at their beliefs, if only for a brief moment.
Anyone can draw a stick-figure of Muhammad sodomizing a goat and offend Muslims to get attention. Needless to say, this would be in poor taste and preclude any meaningful dialogue. However, we all know that free speech is not limited to those with something intelligent to say—imbeciles also share this right (so long as they do not harm others in its exercise). But when an artist lowers him or herself to being provocative for its own sake, it is a strong indication 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 to our fellow citizens. Many Muslims I know are good people, and I certainly do know some whose views are unsavory to say the least. But as free people, we are entitled to believe and say what we want. What I will not tolerate is being threatened into silence. At the risk of echoing a thought which has been repeated to tedium: it’s 2016.