University of Wisconsin–Madison

AHA Condems Widespread Attempts to Censor Muhammad Chalkings

Last night, we chalked figures of Muhammad across campus from roughly 7-10pm. By noon the next day, the stick figures remained but many of the “Muhammad” labels showed signs of deliberate censorship.

The pictures speak for themselves.

This raises some interesting questions.
Given our mutual love of free speech, would the MSA stand with us against these acts of censorship? I also can’t help but wonder, did the people who did this even feel the slightest sense of irony, as the word Muhammad was stamped out beneath their feet?

Keep in mind that this is just a few of the best examples, of which there are many more. Also note that I’m not blaming the MSA (or anyone else) for this, as I didn’t see it happen and have no way of knowing who did it – pending further evidence. For all I know, it could have been a single mischievous atheist looking to incite more trouble.

After my last blog post, I’d say the internet hivemind was divided about 50/50 in their opinion about the MSA’s response to our event. Some argued that it bordered on the realm of censorship, because AHA’s right to free expression was at least somewhat interfered with. I stand by my original statement that is was a cunning response to a rather difficult situation, and it still allowed us to get our point across. Hey, one blog commenter observed, at least they didn’t rub out the chalk or pour water on the figures.

Well, somebody did, and now I’m offended.

A common sentiment I’ve heard the past few days went a little something like this: “I’m totally in favor of free speech and all, but what you’re doing is needlessly offensive. Just because you can draw Muhammad doesn’t mean that you should.”
And my response was simple – we shall see if I can.

As it turns out, no, you cannot draw depictions of Muhammad in Madison. At least, not without having them immediately changed to pictures of Muhammad Ali, and not without having them censored the next day. Let’s imagine an alternate universe. Let’s say the drawings were never tampered with, but instead were met with nothing more than shrugged shoulders and public admonishment for our childish behavior. In this scenario the egg would be on our faces. Instead, suffice it to say that our point has been proven. The right to criticize religion and perform blasphemous acts needs to be defended more than ever.

As Ed Clint of AFF put it, when similar images were censored at UIUC:
“Any question about the silencing of criticism is now over. This is no longer just about Viacom/Comedy Central but about what is permissible on our own university campuses.”

Do we truly cherish freedom of speech? Or do we only pay it lip service, and surrender it willingly upon the slightest cries of offense?

Muhammad will be back.

17 thoughts on “AHA Condems Widespread Attempts to Censor Muhammad Chalkings”

  1. *************************************************
    how about I believe in WHATEVER I want – even in the FLYING SPAGHETTI
    MONSTER! – and you have nothing to say!

    let me show you the end results of this particular *ONE-DIMENSIONAL SCIENTIFIC MODE*
    of thinking that is called *CRITICAL THINKING*, which is completely divorced from
    any human objectives…

    this style has been perfected by dawkins, pz, randi and the other *NEW ATHEISTS*
    THE BOOBQUAKE – 911!
    hey, atheists don't even BELIEVE IN BOOBIES!!!
    they thought BOOBIES had no effect… WRONG!

    see, I just want to make it clear to the rest of you:
    jen is unable to see that there is a CONFLICT BETWEEN EROS & SCIENCE….

    see how we take a term and convert it into its AUTHENTIC POLITICAL DIMENSION – THAT
    OF LIBERATION – not just merely harmless expression…

    Visit for the BOOBQUAKE:

    why do you waste your time with such nonsense as *atheism*? Who are you trying to convince of your delusion?

  2. West Coast Skeptic Here. You all should be really proud of yourselves. The message you've made with this demonstration is simple, pointed, and purposeful.

    Keep up the good (and very creative) work!

  3. Let's say the drawings were never tampered with, but instead were met with nothing more than shrugged shoulders and public admonishment for our childish behavior. In this scenario the egg would be on our faces.

    Nah, that's not true. If that had been the outcome, the conclusion would just have been that Muslims in Madison (or at UW-Madison) were more mature and respectful of the freedom of speech than are the doofuses who have complained about Danish cartoons, South Park, etc. That wouldn't have been "egg on atheists' faces"; it would just have been nice news about Madison Muslims.

    Now, that issue is, instead, a bit muddled.

    Glad to hear that Mr. M will be back.

  4. So what if you had sent a note saying that you would be drawing stick figures of this guy Muhammad who works at the local 7-11? Would that have been offensive to the MSA?

    What is wrong with these imbeciles who are offended by stick figures? I think dr-rieux is exactly right. If the MSA had simply ignored you then there would have been no issue at all and you would have looked like a bunch of silly college students. Instead the MSA looks like people who are one step away from strapping dynamite to their chests or loading an SUV with gas cans and fireworks.

  5. Re-draw them every night for a month. Show people that banning even the simplest speech is what these people are all about. Complacency in the face of the destruction of your work will only encourage more censorship. You started it, now finish it or you'll have done freedom of expression a grave disservice.

  6. "Offense" is always subjective and can never be avoided. This is easy enough to demonstrate by the fact that I am offended by people who suggest that I need to be saved or face an eternity of suffering.

    But, unlike many, I respect others enough that I would never say they don't have the right to offend me. I would never even suggest that they shouldn't offend me with their beliefs.

    If anyone doesn't think that offense isn't just as real as the offense they seem to take, then they honestly don't understand my beliefs.

    The penalty for not being an atheist is ridicule. It may not be pretty, but that's still a whole lot better than the penalties for being a non-believer of most of the world's religions.

    Even according to the FSM, who is one of the more tolerant gods I've run across, the penalty for apostasy is pretty steep.

    Being offended is not that steep a price to pay for the benefits of nearly unrestricted free speech. I pay that penalty all the time. Others will just have to ante up once in a while as well.

  7. Prior quotes from above:

    "Instead the MSA looks like people who are one step away from strapping dynamite to their chests or loading an SUV with gas cans and fireworks." (Tom P.)

    "The penalty for not being an atheist is ridicule." (Kengi)

    Are you kidding me?? Do you guys hear yourselves talk???

    Tom P., clearly you've never met anyone from the Madison MSA in your life. They are REGULAR STUDENTS who, yes, take offense to having a portrayal of one of their holy prophets scrawled all over campus for a publicity stunt. But they are incredibly peaceful people. When everyone met on the steps of the Union, they made it very clear that they would not outright erase or cross out any chalking done by AHA. Whoever did it the day after has not taken credit for doing so. But seriously, way to throw out some completely unnecessary, irrational, untrue paranoia.

    Kengi, that sounds a little like a threat to me. The AHA's mission has a clause about this (from their Facebook page):

    4) To raise public awareness about the misconceptions, stereotyping, and discrimination of nonbelievers; while at the same time always promoting tolerance and understanding of different viewpoints.


    Seriously. Grow up.

  8. A lot of people hate Muslims. It's pretty obvious that if the "Mohmammed" is rubbed out, the Muslims are going to get blamed. Also, there are likely plenty of people who found the labeling disrespectful since their had been no end of publicity about what it meant and that it was likely to be offensive to a group of students on campus. As you note, you have no proof of who did the rubbing out and there are certainly multiple theories about who could have. If controversial drawings that are done in easily-erased chalk were "never-tampered with," that would be, well, very surprising on a college campus.

    I don't think it makes much sense to refuse to blame the Muslim students for the rubbing out, then talk about how it would have said nice things about them if it hadn't happened. Either you think they did it, or you don't.

    Also, please note that "censorship" is technically done by governments, armies, publishers, not private individuals on their way to class. Comedy Central arguably censored, your classmates did not. If nobody official stopped you and your point was made, and it surely was, you weren't censored or silenced.

    Ever since Carrie Prejean went on a bunch of national news shows to complain she was being "silenced" because the media wanted to talk about her sex tape, not her politics, this one has been a pet peeve of mine.


  9. greyskymornings: You honestly take ridicule to be a threat? That's a joke, right?

    Let me clarify the two words for you.

    A threat would be something like: "I'm going to kill Kengi for drawing a picture of Mohammed."

    Ridicule is something like: "I need to explain the difference between 'ridicule' and 'threats' using words that contain the smallest number of syllables possible otherwise some people won't understand me."

    "I know that ridicule may be a shield, but it is not a weapon" (Dorothy Parker).

    As for the AHA rules, they don't apply to me since I'm not a member. I just support and admire them.

  10. I suppose greyskymornings could have been thinking about "threat" in a non-violent way. In that case he would be correct. I am "threatening" to ridicule religious people whenever I get the chance.

    If that's the case, I apologize, but I then don't see why greyskymornings would have a problem with it.

  11. @Kengi:

    It's the language that's the problem. I take ridicule very seriously when someone says that there is an inherent PENALTY for not ascribing to a certain non-belief system, and that that penalty is to be constant ridicule. Another word for ridicule, by the way, is derision.

    I have a lot of friends who happen to be gay, and they have encountered many people who think that the PENALTY for being a homosexual is constant ridicule. Maybe ridicule isn't a violent threat in the way we normally think about violence, but I think we're all well aware of its harmful effects. I also know that in my experience, it is the people most willing to categorize someone wholesale based on one aspect of their being, like being Muslim or being gay, that would be more apt to descend into other forms of threat, psychological, physical or otherwise.

    And in this case, contrary to the words of Dorothy Parker, I do believe that ridicule can be used as a weapon. Maybe it seems innocuous if it's just you saying it, but imagine this: what if there was one Muslim student in a school of 2,000 atheist kids, and every single one of them believed the same thing you did? You tell me how long this type of "non-violent" threat takes to wear a person down to the point where it is discriminatory. Just extrapolate your thinking to a broader scenario, and I think you'll see the possible (if not probable) negative implications of this kind of language.

  12. "what if there was one Muslim student in a school of 2,000 atheist kids"

    Turn that around, switch Christian for Muslim, and you will finally see what it was like to be an atheist when I went to school.

    I still believe that those people had a right to attempt to ridicule me (though most of it was unintelligent and unimaginative). If I didn't believe that others had the right to express their own opinions, even if their opinions made me "feel bad," then I would also have to give up my rights to express my own opinions. The best way to squash bad ideas is in an open marketplace, not through censorship.

    The penalty for being gay may once have been ridicule in some places. It still is where outdated belief systems have too much influence. But attitudes changed not because it became illegal to stop ridiculing gays, but because the LGBT community was able to argue that their ideas were better than those of the majority. This was despite the majority trying to outlaw their views. Letting the marketplace of ideas work out what is best may cause many hurt feelings, but it's still the best way of preventing the abuse of censors in a free society.

    Your implication that I am more prone to violence because of the way I enjoy expressing my opinions wasn't very nice, but you have the right to say that. My actions (through lack of violence) is enough for me. It would be interesting to see a properly controlled scientific study to support that statement. But please do feel free to express your own views. Just don't tell me I don't possess the same rights.

    Besides, it's just SO HARD to not laugh at adults who hold onto beliefs despite rational evidence and argument to the contrary. Children I can understand. I would never ridicule a child for their belief in, say, Santa Claus. But by the time they become supposedly educated adults I think they are fair game.

    As for "what if there was one Muslim student in a school of 2,000 atheist kids?" You sure do have some nice dreams!

    You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one

  13. There's a difference between making people "feel bad" and being discriminatory.

    You said: "But attitudes changed not because it became illegal to stop ridiculing gays, but because the LGBT community was able to argue that their ideas were better than those of the majority."

    So why, following that logic, why was everyone all up in arms that the MSA launched a counter-protest to argue *their* ideas? It seems as though in the eyes of AHA/AAF, that moderate Muslims are damned if they do, and damned if they don't. Secularists get mad if free speech is violently threatened by extremists, but then they also get mad when the MSA makes a show of their ideals in a peaceful, counter-protest manner, condemning it as censorship. The MSA demonstrated a non-violent, free-speech-upholding manner to assert their sacred beliefs: isn't that what secularists should WANT to see from religious groups?

    "Your implication that I am more prone to violence because of the way I enjoy expressing my opinions wasn't very nice, but you have the right to say that."

    In my opinion, the implications, (spread all over message boards and blogs following these chalking stunts), that a Muslim person is more prone to violence simply because of the fact they're a Muslim isn't very nice. Or reasonable.

    "As for "what if there was one Muslim student in a school of 2,000 atheist kids?" You sure do have some nice dreams!"

    No. It is not my dream to live in a completely homogenous society. I believe that the world thrives on a diversity of thought, and that includes spiritual thought. Even as an atheist.

  14. Your last part is telling, greyskymornings. Diversity of opinion is only beneficial if they are all thrown into a pot to make something better at the end. Religions, on a whole, are not like this. They separate and condemn, and don't respond to reason (and are thus difficult to change). They are very much parties of exclusion (if you don't believe their nonsense).

    I think you'd need to qualify your last statement then to include caveats about not restricting other's thoughts if you have "diversity of thought." More ideas aren't better if they are all unequivocally wrong and unwilling to admit it.

  15. @Janus

    You truly believe that America hasn't been bettered as a nation due to its myriad of spiritual, ethnic and cultural influences? You truly believe that all religions do is "separate and condemn"? You are clearly painting religions as YOU see them, not for the values they ACTUALLY espouse. I know of no atheist/secular organization that can claim even close to the amount of charity work that is done in the name of religion. And charity is just ONE of the positive elements of a faithful life- there are so many others.

    To the "parties of exclusion" comment … come to a Lubar Institute meeting. (

    I am an atheist with a Fellowship in an Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions. I am participating in a group of 14 religiously diverse undergrads going to Israel and Palestine this summer to learn about the conflict there- a trip organized by the campus ministry The Crossing. I have led a Week of Prayer, this past February, in which students of all religious or nonreligious backgrounds were offered the opportunity to view/participate in a Jewish service, a Christian service and a Muslim service in the course of 72 hours. In none of these efforts has anyone tried to coerce, proselytize or manipulate me; they have all accepted me as a secular person.

    If you want the opportunity to learn about the true, peaceful nature of faith, there are avenues to do so. If you don't, that's fine too. But in the meantime, don't condemn them all as "parties of exclusion" if you haven't taken the time to explore even the things going on right here in the UW campus community. These faiths aren't "unequivocally wrong" just because you say they are. Learn.

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