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Advice for Everyone Draw Muhammad Day

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Controversy exploded late April after South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker received death threats for including a depiction of Islam's prophet in a recent episode. To show solidarity and support free speech in the face of these death threats, Secular Student Alliance affiliates at UIUC, UW-Madison, and Northwestern each sponsored events in which they went around campus chalking stick figures labeled "Muhammad." These actions were controversial within each group and drew responses from the respective schools' Muslim Student Associations.

U of IL Muhammad

Other secular student groups have expressed interest in participating in "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" on May 20th, 2010. Deciding if and how your group wants to get involved is obviously completely up to your group. However, since it's an event which can easily elicit negative feelings and divide groups if you're not careful, here are some suggestions which will help you effectively convey your message if you choose to participate:

  • Decide if you want to do this:

    While there are lots of good reasons to stand up for freedom of expression in the face of threats of violence, doing this constructively is likely to take a lot of time. It is also difficult for some people to make the distinction between deliberately insulting Muslims and standing up against threats of violence (e.g. Eboo Patel's blog about this). It's an important task, but not an easy one. Also, let's face it, threats of violence have been made. We obviously don't want anyone to get hurt.

    Even if you don't want to engage in chalking Muhammad, there are other ways you can engage these issues that we've listed below.

  • CensoredDiscuss what, exactly, your message is:

    Discuss with your group what you hope to achieve. Are you setting out to offend Muslims, or protesting the use of threats of violence to project certain ideas from criticism? (Hint: the latter.) Make decisions with that in mind, and the event will go more smoothly. You don't need to post images that would be tasteless whether they featured Muhammad or not - the South Park version or smiling stick figures labeled "Muhammad" do the trick.

  • Respect people even if you don't respect ideas:

    Don't make your event about atheists against Muslims. That would only distract from the intended message. You can assert the right to draw Muhammad without going out of your way to insult Muslims. Invite everyone to join you in condemning using threats of violence as a tool of persuasion!

  • Make your intentions apparent: [Suggested Talking Points]

    Many people won't understand why you would go out of your way to do something that Muslims find offensive. Talk to people when you can! You can't stand at every flyer, chalked image, or talk to every passer-by, try to make it clear what "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" is about: protesting the notion that it is okay for anyone to use threats of violence to protect ideas from criticism. So think about other ways to let people know what you're doing. For example, next to the image, you could write "This shouldn't bring death threats" or "We stand with Matt & Trey (South Park)." We really like the statement of purpose that Chris Calvey, leader of the University of Wisconsin - Madison groups, wrote:

    "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 it 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."

    You might want to post something like this on your group's Facebook page, blog or website.

    We have created a list of suggested talking points that you may find useful for talking with people about what you're doing.

  • Encourage a constructive dialogue:

    Don't just put up images of Muhammad and think you're done. Use the event as the beginning of a conversation! Talk to people about free speech and the controversy surrounding the South Park episode. Consider inviting representatives from the Muslim student groups - or many religious groups - on your campus to participate in a panel discussion about taboos, sacred cows, and censorship.

    Muhammad supports free speechThe group at UW - Madison made contact with their campus Muslim Student Association to let them know what was about to happen. Reading about their experiences will likely be helpful. The other two groups have also been in touch with their respective MSAs.

    The group at Northwestern used their drawings as a way to promote two discussion meetings which were open to everyone in their campus community. They also submitted an excellent op-ed in their campus paper about their actions. An op-ed or letter to your campus paper is an excellent way to express you views on drawing Muhammad if you agree or disagree with chalking Muhammad.

  • Be mindful of your school's policies:Muham___

    Find a way to hold your event while following your campus' rules. If your campus doesn't allow chalk drawings, perhaps flyers are the right way to go. Get permission for what you need permission to do. The last thing you need is for a procedural controversy to detract from your message.

  • Get Informed:

    Know the facts of the situation. The editorial by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the Wall Street Journal is a good overview. The threats against Parker and Stone occurred within a long-standing history of both threats of violence and actual violence in response to criticism of Islam, as described in this 2006 Washington Post piece. It's worth reading the Wikipedia article on Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.

  • Alternative to Chalking:
    Some Secular Student Alliance affiliate groups want to address this issue without chalking Muhammad. There are lots of ways to do this.

    Historical Imagesimpolite to label this Muhammad
    At least one group is planning to print out depictions of Muhammad from the middle ages created by Muslims who did not believe depicting Muhammad was a problem. They believe that this will make their point in a less distracting way.

    South Park Marathon
    Have a South Park Marathon. You can legally watch most of the episodes at http://www.southparkstudios.com Of course, the Super Best Friends (from 2001) episode and other episodes with depictions of Muhammad have been taken down.

    Letter Writing Campaign to Comedy Central/Viacom
    Although they were responding to veiled threats of violence, it was technically the decision of Viacom to censor the depictions of Muhammad. Your group call all write them letters telling the why you think they should have made a different decision.

    Contact your local Muslim Student Association and host a joint event
    It is unlikely that your local MSA will be willing to cooperate in any event that has a depiction of Muhammad at it, but your MSA may be willing to join you in hosting an event that denounces using threats of violence in response to depicting Muhammad. Whatever you end up doing, reaching out to your local MSA is a good idea.

    solidarity

Secular Students Drawing Muhammad in Solidarity with Threatened South Park Creators

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For Immediate Release
Contact: Jesse Galef (614) 441-9588 x1
jesse@secularstudents.org �“ www.secularstudents.org

May, 12 2010

Secular Student Alliance affiliates ignited controversy this month by drawing the Muslim prophet Muhammad to show solidarity with South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who recently received death threats for their portrayals. Groups at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Northwestern University used chalk to draw hundreds of smiling stick figures labeled "Muhammad" around campus accompanied by messages in support of free speech without intimidation.

"The best response to intimidation is unity," said Jesse Galef, Communications Director for the Secular Student Alliance. "Threats of violence should never be used to stifle expression, and we stand together in denouncing them."

After Stone and Parker featured Muhammad in their 200th episode of South Park, an American Muslim group named Revolution Muslim warned the cartoonists that they would likely end up like Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker who was murdered for producing a film critical of Islam. The group also posted images of the murder along with Stone and Parkers' home and office addresses.

Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is an ex-Muslim and a former member of the Dutch Parliament, encouraged a "solidarity campaign" in a Wall Street Journal Op Ed. She suggested that people feature Muhammad in non-insulting ways to spread the risk of attack.

"The point of the matter is that we have allowed, as a culture, for intimidation and fear-mongering to compromise our freedom of expression," said Cassy Byrne, president of Northwestern University Secular Humanists for Inquiry & FreeThought (SHIFT). "When threats of violence are made and are taken seriously, the intimidated party renders the intimidating party more powerful."

Today, the Secular Student Alliance, the national nonprofit umbrella organization devoted to supporting groups for nonreligious students, sent out recommendations to their affiliates that wish to participate.

Among the recommendations, participants are encouraged to be respectful and reach out to Muslim groups on campus to make their intentions clear. All three participating groups posted statements of purpose on their websites and have been in direct contact with their respective Muslim Student Associations to explain the context of the message.

Despite the outreach, the chalking has elicited pushback. Drawings at all three schools have been deliberately erased or vandalized. At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the Muslim Student Association denounced the event and mobilized its members to follow secular students and alter the drawings.

A grassroots campaign has formed to declare May 20th "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day." More secular student groups are expected to participate.

The Secular Student Alliance recommendations to their affiliates can be found on their website at http://www.secularstudents.org/DrawingTheProphet

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The Secular Student Alliance, based in Columbus OH, supports a network of over 200 campus groups for atheist, agnostic and humanist students. The Secular Student Alliance envisions a future in which nontheistic students are respected voices in public discourse and vital partners in the secular movement's charge against irrationality and dogma. www.secularstudents.org

Secular Student Alliance 2010 Board Elections Open

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UPDATE: New Directors announced.

The 2010 elections for the Secular Student Alliance Board of Directors runs from 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, 4/28/2010 to 12:59 p.m. on Wednesday, 5/5/2010.

SHIFT Hosts Health Care Discussion with Utah Representative

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by Elaine Ball

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