Cartoon contest leads Pakistan to shutter Facebook

Pakistan shuts down social-networking site after a satirical campaign dubbed "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" draws scores of supporters online.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Leslie Katz
3 min read

A Seattle cartoonist's satirical suggestion that Thursday be dubbed "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" has led to anything but humor in some quarters, particularly Pakistan, which on Wednesday evening shut down Facebook.

An Islamic lawyers association in Lahore, Pakistan, argued that the contest essentially was blasphemous and won a court injunction against the social-networking site on Wednesday. A Facebook page promoting the idea had drawn more than 81,000 members as of 6:30 a.m. PDT Thursday. The cartoonist, Molly Norris, did not create the Facebook page and is actively opposing it.

Facebook will reportedly be shut down in Pakistan for the remainder of the month.

In related news, the Associated Press reported Thursday that Pakistan's government has banned YouTube over "sacrilegious" content in what could be a wider Internet crackdown.

This is part of the original cartoon that sparked a viral campaign out of the artist's control. Molly Norris

The Facebook brouhaha started when Norris drew a cartoon last month depicting objects like a domino, a spool of thread, and a handbag, saying they were the "real likeness of Mohammed."

Norris said she drew her cartoon as a statement on free speech and a gesture of support for Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the Comedy Central show "South Park." The pair drew threats of retaliation after airing an episode earlier this year depicting the prophet Muhammad in a bear suit. Some Muslims consider images of Muhammad to be blasphemous.

The episode led a New York-based Web site called RevolutionMuslim.com to warn creators of the animated series that "what they are doing is stupid, and they will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh."

Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker and relative of famed painter Vincent van Gogh, was murdered in 2004 after producing a 10-minute movie focused on violence against women in some Islamic societies.

The producers of "South Park" then said that Comedy Central, to make the episode suitable for later airing, censored the show by removing a speech about intimidation and fear without their permission.

After posting her Muhammad-related cartoon--which included a fake group called Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor calling for an "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day"--the idea quickly went viral, drawing thousands of enthusiastic supporters and spawning not only a Facebook page, but a blog.

The idea has also drawn a good share of opponents, including some pro-free-speech political cartoonists--on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Among the opponents is Norris, who on her Web site has now strongly distanced herself from the concept of "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," apologizing to Muslims and saying she meant her cartoon as a one-off statement on free speech and censorship and had no idea how far her attempt at satire would go.

"The vitriol this 'day' has brought out, of people who only want to draw obscene images, is offensive to Muslims who did nothing to endanger our right to expression in the first place," she writes. "Only Viacom and Revolution Muslim are to blame, so...draw them instead!" (The Viacom reference is related to Viacom-owned Comedy Central censoring the "South Park" episode.)

Norris even joined the Facebook group Against "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day - May 20," which as of Thursday morning had more than 38,000 members.

A blurb on the "Against" page say it exists "to portray this group from a moral, not religious, standpoint that is respectful towards the human race, and is capable of knowing what is/can be unnecessarily offensive and controversial to any group of people/individual."

In addition, as an alternative, Norris now suggests turning Thursday into "Everybody Draw Al Gore Day," wherein people turn their creative attention to depicting the "Holy Prophet of the Church of Global Warming."

Updated at 6:30 a.m. PDT on May 20: with Pakistan's ban on YouTube and higher member numbers on the Facebook pages..