Each day, I figure that the whole mess will have finally burned itself out. That everybody who would have been outraged already has been, that everybody who would have fanned the flames has banked the embers. But for every group trying to find middle ground, each day brings news of another corner of the world that’s expressing violence over cartoons. Rioting over art may be nothing new, but this situation seems to have no natural limit. The death toll must be into the hundreds by now.
Some say the eruptions started as a cynical ploy by governments desperate to distract from bad news. Others want to paint it as a clash of civilizations, or a noble struggle in defense of cherished ideals. Meanwhile, nearly everybody is presuming that what sounds reasonable in their own heads must be universally thought of as just peachy. Need an example? I like this cartoon; to me, it speaks well of Islam. Mohammad could be anybody because anybody can be Muslim, and all believers are equal before Allah. To my eye, it doesn’t even necessarily depict the person of the Prophet; the turbans are maybe unnecessary, and I don’t know what’s up with that guy on the right, but it doesn’t seem insulting to me. Maybe that only makes sense inside my mind.
Talking heads, theorists, and Sunday-morning policy showboaters have all had their say, but what about somebody who straddles the line between Muslim and cartoonist? Mohammad “Hawk” Haque knows what it’s like to be faithful to Allah, while living in a culture that doesn’t always understand (or care to understand) his beliefs. Hawk also knows that a good way to diminish tension (and to educate) is to laugh at yourself.
So I had some questions about his take on this whole situation, and he was gracious enough to answer. Before we get started, try to keep in mind that there is no single doctrine of Islam, and Hawk’s not being asked about anybody’s belief but his own. In the interests of full disclosure, there are links to others of the Danish cartoons; they are not here to provide insult or offense, but only so that our readers know what we’re talking about.
Do you think there degrees of acceptability in protraying Mohammad? There’s a stack of old depictions of the Prophet here (but it’s rather overloaded at this time) that date back a thousand years or more. Do you find the fact that they were produced by the Faithful an important distinction?
Yes, I think there’s a degree of acceptability in portraying Mohammad. If someone was to draw the Prophet, do it without offending people. Now I’m looking at those pieces of artwork that date back a thousand years or more, it’s like reading a history book. There’s a story, a history inside each of those artworks, just like when you go to an art history class and learn about Christian art, the Renaissance, etc.
Looking at the Danish cartoons, some of them were clearly meant to be inflammatory (like the infamous bomb/turban), but others not so much. Some seem to try to emphasize the essential humanity of Mohammad, which would seem to be consistent with Islam’s message. Others are largely non-representational, or seem to be trying to get at the difficulty of drawing what’s regarded as off limits. Do any of these fall within the bounds of what you’d find acceptable as a Muslim, or as a cartoonist?
As a Muslim, born in America and growing up in America, I have learned to ignore and keep believing what I believe and keep doing what I do. As a cartoonist, only picture I find acceptable is [this one]. The rest, I’m not too sure.
Speaking of cartooning, there’s a moment when what started to be a loose, random set of lines suddenly becomes a true representation. It’s a picture now. Is there a similar kind of line that you can point to that some of these cross and others don’t?
Yeah, the ones that making him look goofy and whatnot. Once again, the only one I find acceptable is [this one].
Other cartoons seems to make a definite political statement. Some see menace in Islam, one seems to contrast the reputation of Islam as violent with Mohammad being less so (it depends on the author’s intent) ), and one takes the original contest by Jyllands-Posten to task (Note: there is an English translation in this cartoon, added sometime after the original publication. There was also an editorial comment that criticized the artist for the content of the cartoon; this has been removed). How do you think these differ from the previous batch?
Once again the art in the past (to me) tells some kind of history. It’s not making fun of Mohmmad, it’s not telling some wrong message. These new artworks are made by artists that think they know what is going on because they’re watching the media. My opinion, the media is bunch of horse-shit that twists things around and only show bad things.
Would you be willing to draw the Prophet Mohammad yourself? Why or why not?
No I wouldn’t. I’m in no position to draw him. I don’t know what he truly looks like. Whatever image I have of him will be in my head and to myself only.
Schedules did not allow for followup questions, but Fleen will be happy to provide space for replies or discussion of this situation (particularly from anybody that may have knowledge of Islamic art history). We thank Hawk for his time and answers.