Posted by Dan | Posted in Censorship, Religion | Posted on 11-02-2014
We may have circumnavigated the globe, split the atom, walked on the moon and cured polio, but the human race still faces its share of barriers. For example: it can be incredibly difficult to name a teddy bear or a pineapple, or to draw a cartoon.
Since the Jyllands-Posten fiasco in 2005, people have been very edgy when it comes to cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. You’ll never find a cartoon of Muhammad in the news, and while this is justified as “avoiding offence” in most instances, you only need scratch the surface to find “…and we don’t want to be murdered” plays into an awful lot of the reasoning too.
One of the few sites to regularly flaunt this taboo is the brilliant, blasphemous and — in some countries — blocked webcomic Jesus and Mo. I was fortunate enough to get a short interview with the anonymous artist behind this controversial cartoon:
By day you’re an ordinary citizen. By night you don the shroud of anonymity and defy a tyrannical taboo even Murdoch’s media army is afraid to provoke. In other words: you’re definitely a superhero. But are you more Batman, Spider-Man, or someone else entirely? And do you have any superpowers?
I’m definitely not a superhero, but I can wiggle my ears and say “eee” non-stop for just over a minute if that’s any use?
Jesus & Mo has been receiving a lot of attention recently. Have you ever received death threats (or a FATWA) because of your comic?
I got a few in early 2006 when the Danish toons thing was kicking off, then nothing until November last year when some dude in India said he was going to kill me, but didn’t go into any detail. The recent attention isn’t about the cartoon though — it’s a vendetta against Maajid Nawaz. I’ve had no communication from any of the anti-Nawaz crowd, which just goes to show the comic is just a stick to beat Nawaz with, not something they are bothered about as such.
Would you say the presumed threat of violent reprisal [from drawing Muhammad] is exaggerated to some extent in Western society?
Last week Channel 4’s Jon Snow replied to a tweeter criticising his programme for censoring the picture. He challenged the Tweeter to publish it on a blog and “see what happens” adding that he would “advise against it”. Apparently he didn’t know that scores of non-anonymous blogs had already published it, including the likes of Nick Cohen and Kenan Malik, without fear and, of course, without repercussions. So, yes. The fear of violent reprisal is hugely exaggerated.
What are your thoughts on the term “Islamophobe”?
It is such an ill-defined and misused word that I think it should be ditched. That there exist anti-Muslim bigots is indisputable, but the term “Islamophobe” is applied too readily against anyone who disagrees with the tenets of Islam and says so. It’s a means of closing down debate and shutting up criticism, with its strong implication of racism. It’s a bullshit word. Try this:
The Koran is the most overrated book in the history of literature. It contains no surprises, and no significant moral insights — just endless reaffirmations of its own greatness, along with repeated warnings of the punishments awaiting those who don’t accept it. It’s not just manipulative, it’s transparently, clumsily so — plainly the work of mediocre men trying too hard, and failing, to sound divinely authoritative.
Some might say the above paragraph is Islamophobic. To me, it’s just an honest opinion on an old book. It doesn’t mean that I hold believers in the same low regard as the book they believe in. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve just made a mistake — usually because they’ve had it drilled into them since early childhood that this book is magic. It’s a common human error. Lots of people have books they think are holy. Look at Mormons — they genuinely think the Book of Mormon is great! It’s shit, as I’m sure most Muslims who have the patience to read it will agree. That doesn’t make me, or them, Mormonophobic.
How has Mo’s irony meter been fairing through all this?
He gave up on irony meters ages ago. Nobody has yet manufactured one that will withstand a pronouncement from the Vatican.
I thought Paxman was a bit of an arse in the interview, suggesting you are nothing more than a provocateur. If I were in your shoes I’d have thought of a brilliantly witty retort about two days later and kicked myself. Is there anything you’d add or say differently if you could do it again?
Well, I could only bear to watch it the once, so I don’t really remember it very well. I was a bit rabbit-in-the-headlights with Paxman, and had no idea what he was going to ask me. On the train home, I thought of several more robust responses regarding being offended by stuff on the internet: “It’s just part of being an adult in the 21st Century” being the one I regret not saying most.
Actually, on the Paxman interview, they showed you drawing Jesus. Did you also draw Mohammad?
Yes, I did. I also drew a bar scene. The producer asked me to sign them and took them home with him. He’s probably hoping I’ll get assassinated.
This isn’t really a question but… your site really needs a big ‘donate/buy me a beer’ button on the homepage [or an easy link to your Flattr, which I only just discovered existed]
There’s a “Donate to my webhosting account” button now, which has received a lot of hits in the past few days. That money is strictly ringfenced though, and I’d like to find ways to make some money I can spend myself. It’s quite tricky to set up and stay anonymous.
What software/tools do you use to create J&M comics? Any advice you would give to other heathens looking to pursue illustrated blasphemy?
Photoshop and ComicLife. I don’t think I’m in a position to give anyone advice on cartooning, as I’m rubbish at it. Just go for it — I’m sure you’ll do a better job than me!
And lastly: Would you be up for helping to make the Quran version of Awkward Moments Children’s Bible? The guys behind it chickened out of the idea.
I would, but that would mean reading the Quran again wouldn’t it? I already see that as 10 hours of my life I’ll never get back!
Please consider making a small donation to J&M’s hosting, either through Flattr or the new donate button on the homepage.