There is no sane or humane creed that would justify putting Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris on an execution list, but there is little that is sane or humane about radical Islam.
Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has issued a fatwa targeting Norris, declaring the cartoonist's "proper abode is hellfire" because she drew a cartoon last spring that inspired Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. In a just world, Awlaki's proper abode would be a prison cell or a padded room…
Justice, however, has not caught up with this terror guru who has been linked to the failed car bomb in Times Square, the massacre at Fort Hood and a plot to gun down U.S. soldiers here in the American homeland. Instead, he is running free and sending out screeds that condemn those who offend his medieval mythology. As the New York Daily News reported on Sunday:
In an English-language Al Qaeda magazine that calls itself "Inspire," Awlaki damns Norris and eight others for "blasphemous caricatures" of the Prophet Muhammed. The other cartoonists, authors and journalists in Awlaki's cross hairs are Swedish, Dutch and British citizens…
"The medicine prescribed by the Messenger of Allah is the execution of those involved," writes Awlaki, 39, a Las Cruces, N.M.-born American citizen.
"A soul that is so debased, as to enjoy the ridicule of the Messenger of Allah, the mercy to mankind; a soul that is so ungrateful towards its lord that it defames the Prophet of the religion Allah has chosen for his creation does not deserve life, does not deserve to breathe the air."
I exchanged e-mails with Molly Norris a couple of months ago, when her rather benign and whimsical cartoon first started stirring up the extremists. Clearly a gentle soul, she was shaken by the animus her drawing had inspired. Now, she must be terrified, especially since she tried to mollify the zealots by disavowing her cartoon. Apparently, Awlaki had not heard about her expressions of regret. Or he didn't care.
During a conversation on KIRO radio on Monday, I repeated to host Frank Shiers — who moonlights as a political cartoonist — what I had said about Holly's cartoon when it first appeared: Lampooning the prophet is not something I would rush to do, simply because it would offend a broad community of decent, peaceful Muslims with whom I do not wish to pick a fight. I'd rather focus my cartoons on creeps like Awlaki who are truly deserving of ridicule. Nevertheless, Holly Norris has every right to draw whatever she wants to draw and express any opinion she may want to express.
But, as I told Shiers, this new threat on Molly's life makes clear the genuine risk we face when we dare to challenge Muslim militants. In most other countries, editorial cartooning has always been a hazardous profession. On a regular basis, cartoonists are threatened, jailed, exiled and even killed. (For specific cases, check out the web site of Cartoonists Rights Network International.) In the United States, cartoonists have thrived under the shelter of the First Amendment, suffering only the nuisance of nasty e-mails or threats of lawsuits. But American cartoonists, like all Americans, now face an enemy that has no tolerance for truly free speech. They believe in only one thing: submission to their idea of god.
I'm not sure most of us have come to grips with the struggle we face. Folks on the right think we can battle these new foes by sending armies across the world and occupying countries, as if this were World War II. Folks on the left want to pretend that if we were just nicer, no one would be mad at us.
The reality is that Western Civilization is being challenged by an ideologically-driven enemy that holds our values in contempt. This enemy is confined between no borders and operates on a subterranean level where armies cannot reach. It will take decades and a broad range of forces to defeat them — everything from spies and commandos to diplomats and cultural ambassadors.
Frankly, cartoonists will be of minimal use — although one armchair critic named Eric Lurio would disagree. Writing in the Huffington Post, he disparaged Norris for backing down in the face of death threats. He thinks she should be as brave as Ghandi:
What Molly Norris initially did was the right way to address the problem: fight terrorism with humor, intelligence, and panache. The response was threats of murder. She backed down and apologized to her oppressors. I guess she didn't want to end up like Gandhi.
That's laying way too much on Molly. "Panache" isn't going to protect her. She didn't know what she was getting into and does not deserve what has happened.
Now, though, she should understand one thing: We are in a mortal struggle with an elusive, merciless death cult. So far, American leaders have been no more clever than American cartoonists in choosing the ground on which to fight. Nine years after 9/11, it's time to pick our battles more wisely.