Some Christians Object to Our Muhammad Cartoon Contest. Here’s Why They’re Wrong.

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?