Cartoon Contest Leads Pakistan to Shutter Facebook

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 equaled blasphemy, and on Wednesday won a court injunction against the social-networking site. A Facebook page promoting the cartoonist's idea (but not set up by her) had drawn upward of 71,000 members as of 11 p.m. PDT Wednesday night.

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

The brouhaha started when Molly Norris drew a cartoon 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 Muhammed in a bear suit. Some Muslims consider images of Mohammed to be blasphemous.

The episode led a New York-based Web site called 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 show's producers then said 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 Muhammed-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, however, including some pro-free-speech political cartoonists--on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Among the opponents is Norris, who on her Web site strongly distances 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!"

Norris even joined the Facebook group Against "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day - May 20," which as of Wednesday night had more than 37,000 members.

A blurb on the Facebook 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 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."

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