Monday, September 27, 2010

Have You Seen Mary Norris? Who? On FBI Advice, Seattle Weekly Cartoonist Erases Her Identity to Avoid Islamist Death Threat

On Wednesday, September 15, Seattle Weeky News reporter Mark D. Fefer made an interesting announcement to the readers of his publication:

You may have noticed that Molly Norris' comic is not in the paper this week. That's because there is no more Molly.

The gifted artist is alive and well, thankfully. But on the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI, she is, as they put it, "going ghost": moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity. She will no longer be publishing cartoons in our paper or in City Arts magazine, where she has been a regular contributor. She is, in effect, being put into a witness-protection program—except, as she notes, without the government picking up the tab. It's all because of the appalling fatwa issued against her this summer, following her infamous "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" cartoon.

Is this the United States of America I was born in? Where a political cartoonist whose gutsiness perhaps exceeded her good sense is forced to do a Salman Rusdie, and go underground in order to avoid ending up like Theo Van Gogh? (The "erasure" of Mary Norris was one of the outrages cited in the Mark Steyn column discussed in the previous post.)

In today's Los Angeles Times, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Daniel Huff call for federal legislation, similar to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, passed in 1994 by solid bipartisan margin, which made it a crime to threaten people exercising reproductive rights and permitting victims to sue for damages. The new FACE-like law proposed by Ms. Ali (herself a refugee from Islamist death threats) and Daniel Huff would make it a crime, and an actionable civil offense, to threaten artists or writers with physical attack or death in retaliation for criticism of Islam or Muhammad.

The necessity for such a law, they argue, was proven in the "South Park" incident, where an American Islamist website threatened South Park's creators for a planned episode satirizing mocking Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad. (Frequent South Park viewers know that Jesus is a regular character and target on the show, with Buddha, Confucius and Moses also making occasional guest appearances for their derision.) The Islamist website "announced that '[w]e have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh.' The 'warning' included the names, photos and work address of "South Park's" creators, a graphic image of Van Gogh's mutilated body and pictures of other targets of Muslim extremists. Overlaying this was audio of radical Yemeni American cleric Anwar Awlaki, preaching about assassinating anyone who defamed the prophet. (Alaki also issued the fatwa threatening the life of Mary Norris, which drove her to go underground and wipe out her identity.) However, the New York City Police Department determined that it could not prosecute the threat by the Islamist web site, because it did not amount to a crime under current law.

It would of course be possible, and probably preferable, to generalize such a law, and make it a crime to threaten any person with injury or death in retaliation for a criticism of religious belief or non-belief, or in retaliation for advocacy of any religious belief, or non-belief. Admittedly, there are serious arguments to be made against such a law, but something must be done, or else many more of us may be joining the artist formerly known as Mary Norris in hiding.


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