That page -- titled "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" -- calls on Facebook users to upload drawings of Islam's most holy of holy men on Thursday to protest Islamic extremists' threats and violence against past portrayers of Muhammad. (Most recently, for example, arsonists attacked the home of Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who drew a picture of Muhammad's head on a dog's body.) So far, more than 200 images -- most of them certain to offend Muslims -- have been uploaded to the page.
A note on the controversial page, posted by an unknown user, said "Draw Mohammed Day" wasn't set up with the aim of demeaning Muslims or their faith. "We are not trying to slander the average Muslim," it reads. "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 into silence."
That disclaimer didn't satisfy the Islamic Lawyers Forum. The Pakistani group made a request to Lahore's High Court, asking it to order the government to block the "blasphemous" site. The court agreed; soon after the verdict was read, The Associated Press reported that members of the lawyers group were seen chanting, "Down with Facebook!" outside the courtroom.
"The court has ordered the government to immediately block Facebook until May 31 because of this blasphemous competition," Azhar Siddique, a representative of the Islamic Lawyers Forum, told Reuters. "The court has also ordered the foreign ministry to investigate why such a competition is being held."
But that ban could easily backfire, by raising awareness -- and anger about -- the page. "By banning this Web page, it will just make people more curious. It's pouring petrol on a small fire that could become a lot bigger," Shakir Husain of Creative Chaos, a Web company based in Karachi, told the Guardian. "You can't police the Internet. The Saudis have tried it, as have other governments, and all have failed."
In a statement, Facebook said, "We strongly believe that Facebook users have the freedom to express their opinions, and we don't typically take down content, groups or pages that speak out against countries, religions, political entities or ideas."
The company said it was "disappointed" by the Pakistani court's ruling and that it was investigating the matter.
Past controversies over Muhammad sketches have rapidly escalated when governments became involved. Soon after diplomats from Islamic nations started to publicly condemn Danish newspapers' publication of similar cartoons in 2005, deadly protests spread across the Muslim world, much of which had previously been unaware of the drawings. About 50 people were killed during protests in Muslim countries in 2006 over the cartoons, five of them in Pakistan.
And al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Denmark's embassy in Islamabad in 2008 that killed six, saying it was in revenge for the caricatures.
The fallout from that culture clash is still being felt today: Pakistan this week refused to renew the visa of a Danish journalist with the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published the controversial cartoons. Pakistani authorities told Puk Damsgaard Andersen that they could no longer guarantee her safety, but Pakistani daily The Nation reported that government sources believe Andersen secretly distributed the drawings in Pakistan, a charge Andersen vehemently denies.
Other Muslim countries have voiced their objections to the Facebook page in a more subtle way. Indonesia's religious affairs minister Suryadharma Ali sent a letter of complaint to Facebook and said the tech firm's decision to allow the post to stay up was "defamation against Islam," according to Viva News.
The Facebook page was first set up in the aftermath of Comedy Central's decision to censor an episode of "South Park" featuring a cartoon depiction of Muhammad -- a decision that earned criticism from commentators on the right and left. The network blocked out images of the prophet, and bleeped a speech on the importance of not bowing down to religious intimidation, after Islamic radicals threatened violence against the show's creators on radical site RevolutionMuslim.com.
However, two of the originators of the Draw Mohammed movement now say that the campaign has lost its anti-censorship focus and is now being used to bash ordinary Muslims. Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris, who first proposed the day on U.S. radio late last month, today told The Washington Post that the Facebook protest had become "vitriolic and worse, offensive to Muslims who had nothing to do with the censorship issue I was inspired to draw about in the first place."
And Jon Wellington, who set up the Facebook page, appears ashamed by his creation. He has quit the site, saying, "I did not create this event to encourage people to be deliberately offensive, by equating the silliness of those zealots with the entire Islamic faith and its bazillions of adherents, a few of whom I am lucky to count among my friends."