CNN poll on Muhammad depictions becomes proxy battle between Muslims, atheists

Gregg Re | Editor

A weekend CNN.com poll asking web surfers Sunday whether they “defended the decision to publish images of the Prophet Mohammed” became a proxy battle between the Web’s varied Muslim and atheist communities.

The poll launched early in the weekend on the International section of CNN.com, and “yes” voters took a commanding early lead of more than 30 percentage points. Within hours, members of the Islamic online community Siasat began rallying fellow Muslims to vote “no.”

“We Muslims are still lagging behind, while Christians / Jews and all those who are in the favor of the Video are leading,” wrote a Swedish Muslim late Saturday night. “Spread it to Pakistan and other countries too,” another user encouraged.

Several users posted links on their Facebook profiles to the poll, urging their friends to vote “no.” Others sought to form a more permanent solution to the problem.

“What we need to do is organise a plan how to stop kufar [unbelievers] from doing such blasphemy every year,” another user wrote. “Spread this to other sites as well. Inshallah [Allah willing] we will defeat them.” (RELATED: Death threats, petitions swirl online after anti-Islam filmmaker’s identity is revealed)

On Yanabi.com, which bills itself as “Reviving the Spirit of Islam,” a longtime member offered tips for mobile Muslims seeking to vote “no” on their cellphones. A similar site, the Sunni Forum, quickly got the message as well, with one user named pakistani_327 explaining to his fellow forum participants the worst-case scenario.

“If we lose tomorrow, there will be a heading: opinion: prophet Muhammad’s images should be published,” the Pakistani man wrote. “We cannot let this happen.”

On the Pakistani gaming website “Pakgamers,” a topic thread late Saturday lamented that “Americans are winning [the poll] at the moment.”

“Such bitches, these westerners, even this poll has dual meanings and unclear, I had to read the poll twice to understand what it really means,” wrote a fan of Activision’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” series. “I’m sure many people selected the wrong option as the poll itself is unclear.”

Yet another online Muslim community helpfully translated CNN’s poll into Arabic so more voters could understand the question and vote “no.”

Less than four hours after Siasat put out its first call for support, the poll results — which CNN notes on its website are not scientific — showed a narrowing tally. Meanwhile, the manager of an online petition website calling for Google to “block all content related to the disrespect of the Prophet” added a link to the CNN survey to encourage visitors to vote in the poll. (RELATED: White House slams French cartoons, amid election-time threats from Islamists)

“No one has the right to disrespect any religion or any particular group of people,” reads the petition website, which has more than 74,000 signatures. “This war against Muslims should stop and world should become peaceful. … Please Go to cnn.com and scroll down to end and vote ‘NO’ … WE ARE LOOSING [sic] AT THE MOMENT SO HURRY UP !!! SPREAD THE MESSAGE. This is the real time to show our strength in an educated way.”

By mid-afternoon Sunday, the gap had narrowed significantly, with “yes” votes holding on to just a six percent lead. That’s when a community of several thousand atheists on the social community site Reddit noticed the effort by Siasat and sprang into action.

“Muslims are currently rigging a poll on the international edition of CNN through a Facebook campaign,” wrote a user in the atheist section of the website. “Let’s show them Reddit power.” (RELATED: Obama says Arab blasphemy protests are “natural”)

Added another: “It’s not just atheists who need the help. Anyone who understands the purpose behind freedom of speech and supports it has a foul taste in their mouth, no matter what beliefs they have.”

“This will help Muslims realize that a lot of people are of the opinion that their crazy beliefs are not inherently worthy of respect,” reasoned another poster.

By late Sunday, the percentages were back almost where they began: 59 percent of the 5,731 people who voted in the poll said they supported the publication of images critical of Muhammad, while 41 percent were opposed.

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