The massacre at the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people last week, was allegedly Al-Qaeda’s response to cartoons the newspaper had published. The tragedy is only the most recent in a series of violent or controversial episodes surrounding depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in the past few decades.
To put the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in historical context, Co.Design created an infographic visualizing 20 years of reactions to cartoons and artwork depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The title refers to a powerful cartoon David Pope drew in response to the terrorist attack, featuring a gunman saying “He drew first,” referring to a slain cartoonist victim.
These 13 events took place in Bangladesh, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden, Britain, and the United States, but all had global reverberations. In many cases, the artists involved in these controversies still fear for their lives: cartoonist Molly Norris remains in hiding after creating a poster for “Everyone Draw Muhammad Day” four years ago; Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who drew a cartoon of Muhammad in 2007, still lives under police protection due to several Jihadist plots to kill him; and Bangladeshi cartoonist Arifur Rahman lives in exile in Norway.
Many of the controversies visualized here are incidents of major cultural institutions–the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Britain, Comedy Central, Yale University Press–censoring images of the prophet. Historically, they have been bastions of free speech. The infographic highlights a pattern of otherwise progressive organizations relenting to fear in a post-9/11 world.