This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Terrorist intimidation has just cost a Seattle cartoonist her freedom. Her crime: exercising her First Amendment rights.
That’s Seattle, as in the United States. There doesn’t seem to be a Seattle in Yemen.
Molly Norris, whose work appears in the Seattle Weekly, gained international attention last spring after she drew a mock promotion of an imaginary event, “Everbody Draw Mohammed Day.” The spoof poster, published on Facebook, depicted various inanimate objects – including a coffee cup and a domino – each claiming to be the true likeness of the founder of Islam.
Norris drew it as a satirical comment on Comedy Central’s censorship of two South Park episodes in which cartoon characters refer to another character – inside a bear costume – as Muhammad. Comedy Central backed away from those episodes because of death threats from radical Muslims.
The poster proposed “Draw Mohammed Day” to – in its own words – “defend a little something our country is famous for … the First Amendment.”
Taken seriously by many, the fictitious event went viral. Pakistan – one of the world’s largest countries – has responded by shutting down Facebook within its borders. Anwar al-Awlaki, a fugitive U.S.-born cleric, has issued a fatwa calling for Norris’ death.
Some fatwas are more to be feared than others. This one is apparently much to be feared. The Seattle Weekly’s editor-in-chief, Mark Fefer, wrote Wednesday that “Molly Norris’ comic is not in the paper this week. That’s because there is no more Molly.”
To protect Norris from what it considers a serious threat to her life, the FBI advised her go into hiding and establish a new identity for herself.
People have been arguing about Norris’ cartoon poster for months, just as people argued recently about a jackleg Florida preacher’s “International Burn a Quran Day.”
Norris said she didn’t intend to create an actual “Draw Mohammed Day,” but a lot of people celebrated the idea. It’s reasonable to suggest that Americans shouldn’t be going out of their way to offend the sensibilities of Muslims, many of whom regard drawings of Muhammad as sacrilegious.
But that conversation is beside the point when an American living in America is forced into hiding by homicidal fanatics who are willing to murder a woman over a gently satirical drawing.
In 1954, when his colleagues were fretting about whether to air a show attacking Joe McCarthy, Edward R. Murrow famously said it must be broadcast because “the terror is right here in this room.”
When a terrorist fatwa from Yemen can force a Seattle cartoonist into run for her life, the terror feels way too close to home.