University of Wisconsin–Madison


The deed is done… kinda.

Immediately upon arriving at our agreed upon meeting spot, we were somewhat surprised to see a large gathering of MSA students – also armed with chalk. After a brief discussion, and another explanation of the purpose of the event, the MSA informed us that they would not try to prevent us from drawing anything or attempt to censor our work, rather, they would merely be expressing their own freedom of expression by “adding to” our drawings.

Thus, Muhammad (the Prophet) became Muhammad Ali (the Boxer)!

You’ve got to hand it to them, it was a creative and non-confrontational way to minimize the intolerable offense of seeing stick figures labeled Muhammad. It was a celebration of free speech for everyone! AHA students were outnumbered at least 4:1, so it was rather easy for the MSA to follow us around and make modifications to nearly all of our 50-100 drawings.

Curiously, many of the drawings featured the quotation “Do not get angry” – which I can only assume is a reference to the hadith in which Muhammad advises a man to, well, not get angry. Doesn’t attributing a quote from the prophet Muhammad detract from the goal of transforming the stick figures so they are no longer representations of him? I think “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” would make more sense here.
(Incidentally, I do want to sincerely express my gratitude that members of both AHA and the MSA were able to remain calm and cordial throughout the entire chalking event)

So many Muhammad (Ali)’s was getting tiresome, so we introduced variations.

Some drawings evaded detection, including the pièce de résistance… An approximately 38 foot long version, which I’d like to think is among the biggest stick figures ever drawn, Muhammad or otherwise.

And then there was this one, NOT drawn by the MSA, but rather by an agnostic who was vehemently opposed to the event and categorically rejected all of our reasons for doing it.

The point he was trying to make was that drawings of Muhammad are deeply insulting to Muslims on a very personal level – on par with the deluge of offense I surely felt when seeing this message. He argued that I, like the MSA, can thus reasonably respond to these transgressions by erasing or otherwise censoring things which needlessly cause offense.

And that’s where he is dead wrong.
Actually, I’m not insulted by speculations about what kind of animals my mother has intimate relations with. Really, I’m not. In fact, I’m not even insulted that the MSA chose to change our drawings. You won’t see me crying foul to the Dean’s office about this. And even if I was insulted by these or other things… too bad. Offense can go both ways, that’s the beauty of the freedom of expression. If people learn anything from this event (other than that, man, a lot of people suddenly seem to like Muhammad Ali) I hope it’s this:

We must all eventually come to the agreement that no religion, person, idea, or sacred cow should be granted immunity from criticism. In a free society, even opinions which the majority may find reprehensible have the right to be heard. Among these is the right to criticize religion and to perform actions considered “blasphemous.” When that right is under threat, as is clearly is today, we have a moral obligation to exercise it to ensure that it is not lost. We cannot tolerate limitations to our freedom of expression, whether they come from violence, intimidation, or self-censorship out of political correctness.

Finally, someone (presumably from the MSA, although I did not see it happen) chalked the following message from the Qur’an at the steps of the Union:
“To you your beliefs, and to me mine” (109:6)
Exactly. So stop demanding that we respect your beliefs about depicting Muhammad, as they do not apply to the rest of us.


  1. The right of free speech is sacrosanct in America; most would agree. The question I have in this case is whether the Muslim student organization was demanding that you follow their taboo, or just asking you to not go out of your way to offend them. There is a very important difference.

    The incidences in Europe that have been in the news have been reports of radical Muslims demanding that their prohibition against the drawings be followed. Clearly this isn't something that we'd tolerate in our society.

    Is the Muslim student organization doing the same? Or is it more that they acknowledge and respect your right to exercise free speech, but ask that you not exercise it specifically and for no other reason than to offend them?

    Perhaps a better exercise would have been for you to find a reason that a drawing of Muhammad would be necessary for some sort of artistic work or other purpose. Then you could test the idea that non-Muslims should not be obligated to follow that taboo, without making it your clear and stated purpose to offend. I wonder how much of what you perceive as an attempt to abridge your free speech is just reactionary to the deliberate targeting and attacking of an individual community.

  2. You've got to hand it to them, it was a creative and non-confrontational way to minimize the intolerable offense of seeing stick figures labeled Muhammad. It was a celebration of free speech for everyone!

    No, I do not feel obligated to agree. Altering someone else's drawings to change the intent and disguise the original message is interfering with someone else's freedom of expression. To call that a "celebration of free speech for everyone" is quite Orwellian.

  3. "No, I do not feel obligated to agree. Altering someone else's drawings to change the intent and disguise the original message is interfering with someone else's freedom of expression. To call that a "celebration of free speech for everyone" is quite Orwellian."

    If I came across a poster with a picture of my mother being raped, I would probably take it down. In that sense, I don't see the difference here. It seems that the real point was the MSA was doing the equivalent in a non confrontational way.

    Now, if that poster was there to make a statement more than just to offend me, I might consider leaving it up. I think people take the freedom of speech angle out of its intended context. We can criticize and ridicule, but we can't do so in every possible way conceivable. I can speak out against the President, but I can't rape his children under the guise of freedom of speech to make a political point.

    They had the right to make the drawings which served no purpose but to offend, and the MSA had the right to change them in a peaceable way.

  4. At home on my lunch break.

    It's a fact that Mohammad fucked a child, and was in general a sexual predator. I very much doubt that Chris Calvey's mom fucked any cows. So actually the agnostic has committed a crime, defamation, whether or not it offends anyone. On the other hand "Muhammad is a Pedophile" would not count as defamation because the truth is an absolute defense against the charge.

    I hope the MSA doesn't get upset when any of their organizations posters or ads pinned on campus message boards are written on by others, because that is the equivalent of what they are doing. Feel free to deface or tear down any of their notices.

    I think the pictures should have been of a historical nature. Show Muhammad pulling Aisha away from her dolls to deflower her 9 year old body with stick figures. Show mohammad instructing an assassin to stab a pregnant poet in the stomach to kill her. Show Mohammad setting a fire on the chest of a victim to torturer the location of his tribes valuables out of him. Etc. The possibilities are endless, and all true.

  5. I agree with Reginald Selkirk… their altering of our drawings was a form of soft censorship, and belies the fact that they do not truly believe in the right of free speech for everyone. In many cases, their "additions" made our drawings and letters more or less illegible. As for "going out of our way to offend [Muslims]," I can only speak for myself but I believe others would agree with me that offense was not our goal. It is an unfortunate side-effect of our actions, but we believe the necessity of our actions outweighed that unfortunate side-effect. Our goal was to send a message of resistance to fundamentalist Muslim groups who seek to force their will upon others through intimidation, as well as a message of solidarity with people like Matt Stone and Trey Parker who continue to resist despite great personal risk.

  6. "'To you your beliefs, and to me mine' (109:6)
    Exactly. So stop demanding that we respect your beliefs about depicting Muhammad, as they do not apply to the rest of us."

    However, for many Muslims, their belief is that they should kill those who depict Mohammad. As far as I'm concerned, that's the core problem. The more murderous members of Islam want their beliefs respected, even the beliefs that subjugate women lead to the killing of infidels, etc.

    I don't agree with those who felt change the pictures was a form of soft censorship. I think these displays should properly be seen as a dialog, not a monologue. In a conversation, you expect the other party to reply… And personally, I just think it's hilarious.

  7. As as small update, some of the drawings which evaded modification yesterday night have now been more unambiguously censored. Pretty much all they did was get some water and rub out the Muhammad label. They didn't even try to be witty.

    It's absolutely within their right to do this of course, but I feel it defeats what the MSA was trying to go for last night. There's also a chance that the people who did this are not part of MSA and so were not even aware of the event. I really wouldn't be surprised if it was the MSA, however, because near the end of last night, some of them began merely to draw unintelligible shapes on top of "Muhammad" to make the word illegible. Hmm… not so funny :/

  8. "However, for many Muslims, their belief is that they should kill those who depict Mohammad."

    … ??? "many"?? I'd say that's a bit of dramatic hyperbole.

    Jonathan, how many murderous Muslims have you met? Because I've been working with Christian, Jewish and Muslim students at this University for the past four years, and I've never met one.

  9. Gojira74,

    pictures of a rape are evidence of a crime, and it's legitimate to consider crime scene photos private to the family and victim in certain situations, and not use them as posters.

    But if it's a stick figure labeled "rape" and with a name on it? Should be protected under free speech.

    Actually, that reminds me of the discussion here:

    where in fact Australia passed legislation that is pretty much the equivalent of the Muslim ban on Muhammad depictions. Basically, all depictions of adult child sex is illegal as child porn, no matter a significant departure from realism.

    .|__ o
    | | .|
    | | | |

    Is a criminal offense under that law.

    So yeah, it's not just the Muslim students being crazy.

  10. The solution to prevent further soft censorship is to the do the same thing but write instead of just Muhammad but "Muhammad (that prophet duded)" or something similar so there's no room for them to modify it.

  11. @carpe diem

    At what point does some become many? I'd agree that "most Muslims" don't want to kill for these offenses. But, if many Muslims didn't want to kill for these offenses, why is Theo Van Gogh dead? Why is Ayaan Hirsi Ali still forced into hiding? Why did the Danish cartoonists have to go into hiding? Or, Salmand Rushdie? Why would Revolution Muslim think there's enough the murderous type that they should "warn" the South Park creators?

    To answer your question, so far I've only personally met one of the murderous type. He worked for my friend in the U.S. On a trip to (I think) Pakistan, he blew himself up in a crowed bar. So, yeah… just one. I'm glad you work with the majority that aren't murderous.

  12. Well, Ayaan Hirsi Ali isn't still in hiding… she was just at UW, in fact. But that's sort of beside the point.

    In the evolution of pretty much every major faith, organization, lobby or government system, there are people that take things to far. Extremism exists, and it should be combatted. A faith with millions of believers is bound to have extremists. It's horrible, it's not right, but it happens every time. Non-Muslims, however, should be conscious that this ratio is still overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly in favor of peaceful moderates. It's the extremists that make the most noise.

    I'm glad you've only met one, because extremism is horrible and really dangerous. But I'm still wholly unconvinced that an extremist is going to be curbed by a stick drawing on the UW campus, and 100% sure that it would, and has, offended innumerable moderate Muslim students here. I do work with the VAST majority that aren't murderous, and I'm proud to do so. I'm the only staunchly atheist member of an Abrahamic religions dialogue group, and if you asked my group-mates, I am completely confident that they would say positive, constructive, tolerant dialogue will do ten times more good for the future of interfaith and faith/secular relations (which could be the key to REALLY ending extremism) than an event like this would. You really want to fight extremism? Work together. Be peaceful. It drives them crazy. Drawing more lines in the sand, burning more bridges… this polarization is what extremists are after. When there are so many ways to support free speech and work TOGETHER, why should be choose to insult each other? What's the worth? It just distracts from the bigger problem, and the original antagonists.

  13. When Ayaan was there, perhaps you noticed a lot of extra security around her. The extra security was there because many Muslims want to see her dead. If the threat wasn't big enough or real enough, they wouldn't be there. Not really beside the point, I don't think. Oh ok.. I'll change that to "…because some Muslims want to see her dead." Point taken, even though I think "enough to be a real threat" kind of equals "many" but why quibble, since you have to agree with the word "some."

    From what I can tell, these chalk drawings were in response to veiled threats against the South Park boys posted on the Revolution Muslim website. What is more offensive to your Muslim friends — stick figures labeled "Mohammad" or Revolution Muslim's response to South Park? Your school's Muslim group could have chosen to write a note by each stick figure: "We are so sorry about Revolution Muslim's veiled threats of violence. We will call upon them to change." Or something. It seems to me that Muslims should be more outraged than I am about those "veiled" threats. This Revolution Muslim group brought huge heaps of shame on the the whole group. But, as long as this vocal minority flaunts violence against those who would criticize them, the vast majority will have to get used to being insulted in response to that minority.

    By the way, the suicide bomber Muslim I knew.. He was a great guy. Fun, happy. Loved America. He was educated here. He loved riding on my friend's Harley. He made me think, "maybe Muslims ARE misunderstood." Since I only personally know a small handful of Muslims.. it was pretty shocking. I don't know what happened in his head to make him do what he did, and I don't tar all Muslims with that brush. But what I don't see enough of, and what I want to see more of, is your "VAST majority" standing strongly against this minority.

    In my view, Christian moderates don't do enough to curb the stupidity of Intelligent Design, just as Muslim moderates aren't doing enough to curb the violent stupidity in their ranks.

    (Yet, having said all this, I still applaud your bridge building. That's fantastic! I just think no group should be above criticism — even if that criticism feels offensive.)

  14. @Jonathan:

    I get the point you're trying to make here. But you also make it seem like the Madison MSA has a direct line to Revolution Islam or something.

    '"We are so sorry about Revolution Muslim's veiled threats of violence. We will call upon them to change."'… ? I get what you're after, but it's sort of strange to apologize for something you had nothing to do with. After 9/11, I think that non-Muslim Americans had this idea that every moderate Muslim had to constantly "explain themselves"' and implicitly apologize for the actions of these 19 renegade hijackers. If they (regular moderate Muslims) were to apologize on behalf of these extremists, it would make it seem like they were a part of the mainstream, but they aren't. Several of my Muslim friends have said that perpetrating that kind of terrorism is akin to not being Muslim at all. In general, I don't think that they would consider these people to be "in their ranks" after they have ruthlessly murdered.

    Honestly, I get what you're going after, but some of it seems contradictory. You said:

    "I don't know what happened in his head to make him do what he did, and I don't tar all Muslims with that brush."

    … but yet you also say …

    "… as long as this vocal minority flaunts violence against those who would criticize them, the vast majority will have to get used to being insulted in response to that minority."

    The latter statement would seem to indicate that you ARE okay with the majority getting 'tarred with that brush'. Or at least that they should put up with insults they didn't earn.

    I agree the extremism should be curbed, it is a huge priority, but I don't think that moderates are necessarily responsible for apologizing every time an extremist gets irrationally violent.

    (Thanks for the applause though. I should say that in our group, we are totally not above criticizing one another- we just do it in a forum, were we can really engage with each other and discuss things, which is why, by comparison, this type of event seems like a really impotent way to have a real dialogue.)

  15. @greyskymornings

    In my first post on this thread, I made the point that I thought it was fair of the Muslim student group to modify the chalk drawings because that's one way they could enter a dialog. And no, I don't think the MSA has anything to do with Revolution Muslim. But, from what I understand, these drawings were a statement to Revolution Muslim: We are sick of these threats of violence, and we will not let it go unchallenged. These drawings were not an attempt at a dialog with moderate groups like the MSA. The drawings were a statement to a non-moderate group. If the MSA wants to engage in a dialog based on that statement, I think that's fine. The spectrum of possible responses from the MSA include modifying the images as they did, doing nothing because this protest wasn't directed at them, make it plain that Revolution Muslim and their ilk don't speak for them, or any number of other things.

    I would characterize it this way: South Park starts by asking the question, why are the media so afraid to critique Islam? Revolution Muslim answered that it's because there are Muslims that will kill you if you do. To which many people across the US said, Well… you will have to kill us all then. What is more offensive to your MSA friends — that an extremist Muslim group would tacitly encourage the use of violence for a perceived insult, or chalk drawings by a non-Muslim group in response to that tacit threat? I think if I were Muslim, I would be more offended by a Muslim group butchering my faith. But, I'm not Muslim.. I don't know how they feel about that.

    My point about not taring all Muslims with the same brush is that I don't think they are all suicide bombers in hiding. There was no indication that the guy I knew would do such a thing. He didn't seem radically religious. He kind of had a live and let live attitude. He didn't even seem particularly political. So when he did this thing, it was shocking. So my point was that just because the guy I knew did something like this, I don't tar all Muslims with that brush, thinking they're all one step away from strapping on a bomb. I did not mean to imply that anyone should be somehow immunized from offense.

  16. I just want to clarify something…You guys get that Revolution Muslim has been dubbed "the 4 idiots on the corner," right? That they've been barred from all the New York mosques because they're utterly insane? And what's more, they're totally impotent? They've been issuing death threats to their fellow Muslims for ages and being bat-shit crazy for ages. This is nothing new for us.

    Responding to those idiots is totally counterproductive. I've met a few of the loonies in my time and they're certifiable. When Americans do things like this, it gives them the chance to say "see, they're all against us." This allows for better recruitment. So you're actually helping what you purport to despise.

    It's hard enough being Muslim in America. No, really. I get that people think it's all sunshine and freedom, but getting your scarf ripped off or having people make threatening comments when you're in the grocery store isn't all that fun or free. And that happens way more often than it should be. We don't get freedom from offense at all. Look at how much time Islam gets in the news and how much of it is negative. Building bridges is really the only way to combat the extremist loonies on both sides. Positive peer pressure (ie that which encourages unity despite differences) is pretty much the name of the game at this point.

    There's a lot of history behind what's happening now, stuff we really shouldn't overlook (yet continue to do so to our detriment.) And the reasons for extremism can vary: your friend may have been recruited, enticed with money, or just really really depressed. It's not like the recruiters go *bang* "Wanna be a terrorist?" No, they weed out the ones who feel down and exploit them. Those of us in the community try to catch it before it happens, sometimes we fail. That's not to be blasé about it, just honest.

    Anyways, if you ever want to get a glance at what Muslims think, there are many excellent blogs and humans out there. Suhaib Webb is one such person, as are the guys at Loonwatch.

  17. Jonathan: Why should I have to answer for all the extremist Muslims out there? When I was a Christian, no one asked me to condemn David Koresh, the KKK, Westboro Baptist Church, Timothy McVeigh, or any other Christian extremist individual/group.

    Why has this changed now that I've became a Muslim?

  18. Hi Jocelyn, I never said you did *have to* answer for extremists. In fact, I just listed several options and included that as one among many possibilities. But you understand that the reason for the protest is that many of us non-Muslims are sick of Muslim extremists bullying us with threats of violence. (the school teacher that named a bear after a popular boy in class named Mohammad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Theo Van Gogh, Salman Rushdie, riots and death threats over cartoons published in a Danish news paper. the fact that Comedy Central felt the need to censor a show because of real chance of violence, etc.) You know that, right? We're sick of it. I imagine you're a moderate Muslim. Just a guess on my part. I'm wondering… do you advocate the killing of Jews? how about infidels? Do you support the rights of non-Muslims to criticize Islam as part of our freedom of speech? I can see why it would suck to be caught in the middle of this dispute. I really can. Do you understand why we would want to protest this?

    When I was a Christian, no one asked me to condemn the groups you mentioned, either. But I did it anyway without having to be asked. In fact, most Christians I've ever met vehemently criticize those groups. So yeah, I never said that you have to, but I am curious… why wouldn't you?

  19. The reaction of the muslim students was soft because the original action was done by Humanists,Atheists.. Had the original drawings been made by any religious group, the reaction would have been different.

  20. Free speech was guaranteed by law to allow knowledge to circulate freely: knowledge in the interest of science and commerce and politics.

    Criticism? Of the fact-based kind? Or simply based on your tastes and belief?

    That is useless. It only creates lots of noise and worse.

    If it does receive legal protection it is by mistake.

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