Robot 6

“Everybody Draw Mohammed” cartoonist goes into hiding

Seattle Weekly reports that cartoonist Molly Norris, who came up with the idea of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” but later disavowed it, has changed her name and gone into hiding. In July, Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki called her a “prime target,” and the FBI has warned her to take that threat seriously.

Last spring, reacting to Comedy Central’s decision to pull an episode of South Park that spoofed the prophet Mohammed, Norris drew a tongue-in-cheek cartoon and suggested that May 20 be declared “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” The idea caught on but soon careened out of control: There was an Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Facebook page (which has also dialed back and is now devoted to inter-religious understanding), an opposing Facebook page (Ban Everybody Draw Mohammed Day), and even a real website for a fake organization Norris mentioned in her poster, “Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor or CACAH (pronounced ca-ca).”

But it turns out there is a serious downside to mocking a religious precept: People who take the precept seriously get really offended, and soon there was a backlash. By late April, Norris had washed her hands of the whole idea and asked that her cartoon be removed from several websites.

When asked about her change of heart, Norris told The Ticket that she didn’t intend for the cartoon “to go viral.”

Then why did she send the cartoon to the media in the first place? “Because I’m an idiot,” Norris replied.

That’s a little harsh. I’d say Norris made a rookie mistake: thinking the whole rest of the world is like her and her friends. What she regarded as a political comment is literally blasphemy to observant Muslims, a fact that she either didn’t know or shrugged off. Unfortunately, she’s paying for this mistake rather dearly — and so are a lot of innocent bystanders.

Here’s why: Probably 99.99 percent of the Muslims who heard about this and were offended by it shrugged it off or kept their feelings to themselves and their immediate circle. A handful may have protested quietly, by writing on their blogs or sending a letter to the editor. Al-Awlaki seems to be the only person who has actually made a threat, but it only takes one: The comments to every article I have read about this have consisted almost entirely of slurs on Muslims, ranging from the snarky (“There’s your religion of peace”) to the frighteningly hateful. What started as a tongue-in-cheek comment on freedom of speech has ended up bringing out the worst aspect of that freedom, the freedom to hate in public.

Did the cleric overreact? Of course. If I were to desecrate a consecrated host (probably the worst thing you can do in the eyes of Catholicism, which is my religion), the Pope would not order me killed, but some wacko somewhere might write on his blog that I should die in a fire. That does not mean that all Catholics are violent and unhinged. My guess is that the FBI and Norris are not worried about your average Muslim guy on the street but rather the lone crazy guy with whom that particular fatwa hits a chord. It’s a scary thing. The Internet has a short memory — I had already forgotten about “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” — but murderous psychopaths generally don’t.

It’s hard to do this on the Internet, but sometimes you have to distinguish between crazy people and the rest of the group. Right now, with regard to Islam, some Americans are not doing a good job of this, and Norris, without really meaning to, has made things worse.

A few days ago, Spwug linked to a two-year-old article about how the anonymity of the Internet fosters a lack of empathy. This whole event is Exhibit A.

(Some of the info in this post came from the Comic Riffs blog at The Washington Post.)

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Kevin Smith recieved death threats when he made “Dogma”. I seem to recall Scorsese got death threats when he made “The Last Temptation of Christ”.

Seriously.. I think this is completely out of control.. Religion of Peace my A$$, they are threatening a person for mocking their religion, but ok to mock any other religion out there with little to no such threats.

They need to chill the ____ out, and try to enjoy life a little instead of covering up there women ..

Sorry I just can’t stand the Zealots of Islam threatening people over what is a Joke.. go back to your cave and stay off the internet

The difference between those situations and this one, Ned, is that unfortunately the people that have threatened Ms. Norris have proven they WILL go through with their threats and she is indeed in danger. Joking around with any religion is always a tricky thing, but to joke around with one that’s been protected like its been for centuries, where death threats had already been made, well…Ms. Norris perhaps should have at the very least remained 100% anonymous from the start.

I don’t agree with these threats made against her, not at all, but we as people need to think at least a couple steps ahead before doing ANYTHING that might tread over someone’s beliefs, and if you want to jump into a political fire, you’d better be preparred to get burnt – it sure is possible.

Good luck to you, Molly. I hope you’ll be able to get back to your life soon.

What’s all this, then?

The cartoonist had a great idea! Not only was her cartoon funny, it highlights the absurdity of religious fundamentalism and sparked some very interesting dialogue.

Brigid, are you advocating we refrain from offensive speech because a few nutbars will make death-threats in our direction? If we do that, we let the under-evolved religious fundamentalists win because we’re afraid of their bullish intimidation.

No way. Never. Fuck no.

I’m a former newspaper reporter and a big believer in freedom of speech, even offensive speech. But as Leroy Hart says, you have to think before you speak.

Drawing a picture of the Prophet Mohammed is not just mocking Islam, it is blasphemy in the eyes of observant Moslems. You may think that’s absurd, but that doesn’t give you a license to go stomping all over their religion just for the fun of it. If you do that, there will be pushback, because people take these things seriously.

Here’s the best analogy I can come up with: Although I’m not Jewish, I rented a room from a conservative Jewish woman for almost a year. She kept a kosher house. Now, it’s perfectly legal for me to eat a cheeseburger or a ham sandwich anywhere I want, but out of respect for her, I did not bring them into the house. It’s not just about me. It’s about coexisting with other people whose beliefs I respect, despite not sharing them.

That’s why I brought in the article about anonymity and the internet. Molly Norris isn’t anonymous, but the people she was offending are (to her). The internet can be like a huge bulletin board, where you just toss stuff up and walk away. It’s easy to do that—too easy, in her case. I have done this myself, in a smaller way—carelessly insulted someone in a post. But when the person involved e-mailed me, I realized that I wasn’t just casting ideas out into the void. There are real people out there who are affected by what I say.

I’m not advocating that people never speak up because they are afraid of the reaction. I am saying that you should weigh what you say and think about how other people will feel about it before you say it—especially when critiquing someone’s religion, because there are few things as deeply felt as that.

Respect is a two-way street, Brigid. Religions and their adherents have no compunctions about denouncing the perceived flaws of non-believers, opposing sects and modern society in general, often in virulent, disrespectful ways. Saying “yes, but to them it’s *blasphemous*” (which means what, extra super-annoying?) could be applied to the fundamentalist Christian and Muslim perspective on homosexuality as well. Does seeing two men walk hand-in-hand warrant or excuse a violent ‘pushback’ (nice euphemism there!), as is happening more and more often here in the Netherlands (which has both gay marriage and a sizeable Muslim minority)?

Being a non-believer myself, I find it strange that being religious should permit believers to be allowed harsh, uncompromising positions on a vast range of hot-button issues yet also shield them from direct critiques of said views. That way, freedom of religion trumps freedom from religion, resulting in a situation where professing adherence to a god-based worldview gives one a licence to insult others freely and claim offence at any act of peaceful defiance. Religion is not the sole purveyor of passionate morality, nor does guarantee it – so I would argue against a statement as inane as “…because there are few things as deeply felt as [religion].”

The reason Everybody Draw Mohammed Day ‘went viral’, I think, is because it’s an emminently egalitarian, nonviolent way to mock fundamentalist Islam, to poke fun at it. Excusing the implied or explicit threat of violence in response to mockery, satire or spirited opposition of any peaceful kind is imbecilic beyond belief.

(addendum 1: maybe less so in the US of A, but here in Europe and in vast swaths of the rest of the world, we don’t need to be reminded that Muslims are ‘real people’ since we see and interact with them every day)

(addendum 2: how does your Kosher House analogy apply to the internet? Or say, the Danish cartoon controversy? Shouldn’t Muslims worldwide and in Denmark have STFU since its the Danes’ corner of the world and they’re the local majority, and drawing whatever you like is part of their ‘house rules’?)

(addendum 3: I once visited an Orthodox Israeli girl in Tel Aviv. Kosher food, strict observance of the Shabbat with no usage of electricity, all that jazz. Me being a goy had an unexpected upside for her: she asked me if could make her a cup of tea on Saturday – now that was coexisting with mutual respect.)

Here’s the best analogy I can come up with: Although I’m not Jewish, I rented a room from a conservative Jewish woman for almost a year. She kept a kosher house. Now, it’s perfectly legal for me to eat a cheeseburger or a ham sandwich anywhere I want, but out of respect for her, I did not bring them into the house. It’s not just about me. It’s about coexisting with other people whose beliefs I respect, despite not sharing them.

I think this is a poor analogy because you and your landlord are involved in a mutually beneficial arrangement, and by abstaining from cheeseburgers, ham sandwiches, etc in your apartment, you honor the terms of that arrangement. You say “out of respect for her, I did not bring them into the house.” Okay, but you would still eat them, say, on restaurant patio, even if there was a possibility that she could pass by and see you eating them? That is a better analogy, I think, because if you eat a cheeseburger under your landlady’s roof, you’re doing it in the sphere of her control and she is almost forced to acknowledge what you’re doing. On the other hand, Islamic fundamentalists can have no reasonable expectation of control over the Internet and, more importantly, they can simply ignore what doofy teenagers are doing on Facebook in between episodes of Fred. I do it all the time.

Mind you, I’m not saying “Everyone should disrespect whoever he likes cuz first amendment bro.” That’s not what I’m saying at all. I could to some extent understand the death threats if the blasphemies were coming from legitimate news or media organizations. But they’re not. The death threats are against the makers of South Park and a cartoonist on the blogosphere, people who are known to traffic in the profane. No one really takes them seriously, and they don’t pose a genuine threat to the Islamic way of life.

I’m sure it galls to know that there are people out there who would mock your most cherished beliefs, and I sympathize, but only a little, because the same holds true for everyone, and Islamic beliefs aren’t derided any more than any other religion. And the extent to which those beliefs are derided certainly does not warrant death threats, which can only make matters worse anyway.

Actually what I took away from Brigid’s post was the message not to judge an entire group of people by the actions of a few.

Also, as a reminder, from our comments guidelines, we won’t tolerate:

1) Insulting, attacking, wishing death upon or using profanity against other folks who comment, comic pros or the people who write for this site. This includes racist, sexist or homophobic remarks.

I’ve deleted several comments already.

Brigid, are you THAT afraid of Islam that you have to spend half of the article padding it with opinions reassuring your readers that you’re not judging most of Islam instead of simply shouting “THIS IS WRONG. THIS CARTOONIST IS A VICTIM OF PSYCHOTIC FUNDAMENTALISTS?”

I sure am. So I’m staying anonymous. Saddening.

Oh, and no rabbi will call for your death for eating a cheeseburger. Ever.

d, I am not afraid of Islam. What I am afraid of is feeding the rampant Islamophobia that I am seeing more and more of in the media and even in people around me.

I’m fine with saying “This cartoonist is a victim of psychotic fundamentalists” (I try to avoid the capslock key) as long as we keep the word “psychotic” in there. It’s important. Fundamentalism alone is not a reason to call for the death of someone half a world away and expect them to be killed.

Here’s my armchair analysis of what happened: The cleric in Yemen was scoring some political points. It’s easy to denounce Norris because what she called for is, in fact, an abomination in their religion, just as it was easy for her to call for an “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day” because prohibitions on drawing a particular person are an abomination to our notion of free speech. His rant was more violently worded than hers, but basically, it’s propaganda. I don’t think he seriously intended anyone to kill her. I bet he forgot about her an hour after he said it.

The problem is that there are plenty of unhinged people out there, and it’s possible that one will take the cleric’s words seriously. Mixing mental illness with something as deeply felt as religion leads to trouble, and that’s not exclusive to Moslems.

That’s why Norris is in danger. I seriously doubt there is an organized movement to eliminate her. What she and the FBI are probably worried about is the possibility that Awaki’s rant will set someone off.

In other words, what JK said: The whole group should not be judged by the actions of a few—and looking at the reactions to this incident, I’m afraid that’s exactly what is happening.

Wow, this is sad. I can’t believe how many dhimmis there are around here. Remember “Piss Christ” by Andre Serrano? How many Comedy Central shows have mocked Christianity or Judaism. Now one cartoonist no one ever heard of has to go into hiding and a bunch of people here say “Well, she should have thought twice.”

We have freedom of speech. there is no freedom to not get offended. Every religion in the world gets mocked. The world is not beholden to the beliefs of one religion.

D, never say never. Judaism regards you as a heathen and doesn’t care what you do because only true human beings in its eyes are capable of sin and accountability. If you were a Jew, ostracism would happen fast and the same behaviors could be expected.

Remember an Israeli prime minister was assassinated by a Jewish extremist for being too moderate and peaceful in recognizing Palestinians as human beings, and orthodox Jews revere the site of his murder, just like other places Israelis massacred muslims. In fact, the ultraorthodox in certain parts of Israel will spit on you just for not being one of them, a behavior you see much less among Jews living in the West, although a few of them share the same degree of contempt for the goyim.

Religious extremism is an effect of human nature, so no religion is exempt from its effects. Of course that could apply to even non-belief systems too, but it seems stronger within religion.

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