WASHINGTON: An American cartoonist whose work inspired the controversial "Everybody Draw Mohammed Page" on Facebook has condemned the effort and issued an apology to Muslims.
Molly Norris, of Seattle, drew a cartoon in April to protest the decision by the US television channel Comedy Central to cancel an episode of the popular show "South Park" over its depiction of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in a bear suit. In her cartoon, Norris satirically proposed May 20 as an "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day."
An "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" page quickly turned up on Facebook but Norris, writing on her website at mollynorris.com, said she had nothing to do with it. "I did NOT 'declare' May 20 to be "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," she said, adding that her idea was satire but "was taken seriously, hijacked and made viral."
"I never started a Facebook page; I never set up any place for people to send drawings to and I never received any drawings," she said. "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 said. "I apologise to people of Muslim faith and ask that this 'day' be called off," she said.
The "Draw Mohammed" page has led to Facebook being blocked in Pakistan and sparked angry protests and condemnation from the foreign ministry, which denounced the publication of blasphemous caricatures the Prophet (PBUH).
The Facebook page on Thursday had drawn over 98,700 fans - and a slew of crude photo-shopped pictures and caricatures.
The purported creator of the Facebook page said meanwhile that he started it to stand up for "freedom of expression." "We didn't really know that this would expand so extremely," the man, who would be identified only as "Andy," said in a voice-only interview with the US television channel MSNBC.
"We know that the fight for freedom of expression, freedom of speech can't be stopped by a country like Pakistan censoring the Internet," he added.
The Facebook page itself calls for "creative and funny depictions of Mohammed" and says "there is no need to make hateful and totally respectless depiction of him." "We are not trying to slander the average Muslim, it's not a Muslim/Islam hatepage," the page says. "We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Mohammed depictions, that we're not afraid of them. That they can't take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us to silence," it says.
There was no immediate reply to a message sent by AFP to "Andy" at an email address provided on the Facebook page.
Meanwhile, a rival Facebook page called "Against Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" started to oppose the caricature page had drawn some 106,300 fans.
Facebook, in a statement to AFP, said on Wednesday that it was disappointed at the blocking of the site in Pakistan and may make the offending page inaccessible to users there. Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of any prophet as blasphemous. Muslims across the globe staged angry protests over the publication of satirical cartoons of Mohammed in European newspapers four years ago.