Franklin Graham articulated what many Christians (and others) are thinking about the now-notorious Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest that Pamela Geller and I organized in Garland, Texas, and that was attacked by jihadis: “The organizers of the cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, had the constitutional right to do what they did—but just because we have the ‘right’ to do something doesn’t make it right! As a Christian I’m offended when people mock my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Muslims are offended when people mock their faith. I disagree with Islam. But just because I disagree, I’m not going to mock them or resort to violence. We need to show respect to people of other races and beliefs. What happened to civility and respect?”
It’s understandable that Graham would think that way. Blasphemy is a serious sin in both Christianity and Islam, although only in Islam is it punishable by death. It is understandable that Christians would consider a contest for cartoons of Muhammad as offensive as a contest for cartoons of Jesus, and think that it would be a matter of simple respect for Muslims as human beings to refrain from appearing to mock someone they revere.
That’s a reasonable point, but there is more to this issue. Christians can easily understand that they should accord respect to non-Christians, just as they wish non-Christians would respect their faith. Clouding this issue nowadays, however, is the growing number of things some Muslims around the world are demanding from non-Muslims as a matter of respect. Muslims in Pakistan recently warned a Christian leader that if he continued to build churches, they would kill him. You might say, “Ah, but building churches isn’t the same as mocking their prophet,” and yet to those who are issuing these threats, building churches is indeed just as bad as mocking their prophet. Both, in fact, are forbidden in Islamic law.
Muslims in Bangladesh recently hacked to death an atheist blogger – that’s the third one killed this year. They considered these bloggers to have been disrespecting Islam. Muslims who leave Islam to become atheists (or Christians, or anything else) live under the death sentence mandated by Islamic law for apostasy. Should those Muslims who wish to leave Islam refrain from doing so, then, not just for fear of their lives, but out of respect for Islam and its laws?
Also, declaring the cartoons in our contest offensive raises troubling questions about what is depicted in many of them. A large number focused aspects of Muhammad’s life as described in the earliest Islamic texts. If the cartoons depicting Muhammad with his child bride are offensive, are the Islamic texts stating that he consummated his marriage with a nine-year-old girl when he was 54 also offensive? If a cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban is offensive, are the Islamic texts in which Muhammad orders people to be killed and beheads between 600 and 900 Jews also offensive? If depicting Muhammad as a terrorist is offensive, are the Islamic texts in which he is quoted as saying, “I have been made victorious with terror” and “I have been commanded to fight against people until they confess that there is no god but Allah and I am his messenger” also offensive?
The peculiar calculus of what offends and doesn’t offend Muslims likewise must be considered. The Islamic jihad group in Nigeria, Boko Haram, has been targeting Christians for years, and has rendered 100,000 Christians homeless; where is the Muslim outrage against this – not just condemnation, but active efforts to teach against the understandings of Islamic texts and teachings that give rise to this persecution? Where are the Muslims actively protesting and working against their fellow Muslims who are committing murder and rape, and kidnapping non-Muslim women and pressing them into sex slavery, and explaining and justifying it all by referring to the Qur’an and Muhammad’s example? Why do these things not seem to offend them more than cartoons?
It is good to show civility and respect to all people as a matter of course. Our cartoon contest was an attempt to stand for the freedom of speech, which is the cornerstone and foundation of any free society, with the conviction that the principles of civility and respect are far less endangered by cartoonists than by those who demand civility and respect at the point of a gun. If we establish the principle that surrender is the best response to violent threats and intimidation, we will be ensuring that increasing numbers of Christians, and the Church in general, will face a future in which civility and respect will be stripped from them, and their subjugation obtained at knife- or gunpoint.
Our cartoon contest, then, as paradoxical as it may seem, was one small effort to try to ensure a future in which not just Muslims, but Christians and other non-Muslims also, can live with full dignity as human beings – not in fear, submission, and slavery. But the reaction to the contest has demonstrated that so many people are willing to submit, so eager to give the bully what he wants, so comfortable in slavery, that while the gentlemanly Franklin Graham may not live to experience it himself, his Christian descendants are likely to find living as Christians a great deal more uncomfortable, and difficult, and even life-threatening than he ever has.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His next book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to ISIS, will be available August 17. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.