Which is more likely to elicit an irate Muslim response: 1) public cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, or 2) public proclamations that Muhammad was a bisexual, sometime transvestite and necrophile, who enjoyed sucking on the tongues of children, commanded a woman to “breastfeed” an adult man, and advised believers to drink his urine for salutary health?
Based on the recent South Park fiasco — where an animated episode depicting Muhammad in a bear suit sparked outrage among various Muslim groups, culminating with the usual death threats — the answer is clear: cartoons, once again, have proven to be the Muslim world’s premiere provocateur. Indeed, just yesterday, during a university lecture, Swedish artist Lars Vilks, whose life is in jeopardy due to his depiction of Muhammad as a dog, was violently assaulted to undulations of “Allahu Akbar!” (Islam’s primordial war cry).
Yet how can cartoons rouse Muslim ire more than public assertions that Muhammad was a bisexual, a transvestite, a necrofile, et al? First, context:
The evangelical Arabic satellite station, al-Haya (Life TV), regularly takes the Muslim prophet to task, especially on two weekly programs: Hiwar al-Haq (Truth Talk), hosted by Coptic priest Fr. Zakaria Botros, and Su’al Jari’ (Daring Question), hosted by ex-Muslim Rashid. Both shows revolve around asking uncomfortable questions about Islam and its founder in an effort to prompt Muslims to reconsider the legitimacy of their faith. (It is on these shows that the aforementioned, unflattering assertions of Muhammad originate; see here and here for English summaries.)
These broadcasts are viewed by millions of Arabic-speaking Muslims around the world. That the satellite station strikes a Muslim nerve is evinced by the fact that it is formally banned in several Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia, and is regularly condemned by Islam’s demagogues on mainstream Arabic media, including al Jazeera.
When the programs first began airing, they certainly caused uproar in the Muslim world. Then, Muslims regularly called in cursing the hosts, promising them death and destruction (both here and in the hereafter). Al-Qaeda reportedly put a $60 million bounty on Fr. Zakaria’s head; and the priest is on CAIR’s radar. (See the father explain his mission in this rare English interview.)
Far from being cowed by the daily death threats, however, Life TV and its unrepentant hosts have responded by upping the ante and providing even more anecdotes discrediting Muhammad. Rashid recently examined the theological implications of Muhammad’s hatred for the gecko lizard, which the prophet accused of being “an infidel and enemy of the believers.” Muslims who kill it in the first strike receive 100 “heavenly-points,” whereas those who kill it in two strikes receive only 70. More graphically, Fr. Zakaria recently examined canonical hadiths (authenticated Muslim accounts) that record Islam’s first believers eating Muhammad’s feces, marinating food in his sweat, drinking the water he gargled and spit out, and smearing his phlegm all over their faces — all to his approval.