Special Report

Who Is the Next Molly Norris?

Freedom of expression took another step closer to a slow death last week.

By 9.22.10

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Freedom of expression in America took another step closer to a slow death last week when the Seattle Weekly announced it would no longer be publishing the work of cartoonist Molly Norris because she had gone into hiding and had changed her name at the behest of the FBI due to death threats issued against her by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born Muslim cleric now based in Yemen.

Awlaki, of course, is the same Muslim cleric who has been linked to the Fort Hood Massacre and the failed attempts to blow up Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day as well as Times Square in May.

Last July, Awlaki identified Norris as a "prime target" for execution in Insight, an English language magazine that has been described as "al Qaeda's Tiger Beat." Only you won't find any articles on Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers in this magazine. While some American girls might think Bieber and the Jonas are the bomb, in Insight apprenticing jihadists can learn "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom." Initially, there were some doubts about the authenticity of this magazine. But the threats against Norris turned out to be genuine.

To refresh your memory, Norris came up with a novel idea after a Muslim group in Brooklyn threatened South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone last April over their depiction of Mohammed in two episodes. She reasoned that if everyone were to draw Mohammed, then how could Islamic fundamentalist terrorists kill everyone? Norris then proclaimed May 20 "Everyone Draw Mohammed Day." She also received support from a separate campaign on Facebook. Of course, Norris drew her own picture of Mohammed. Needless to say, her initiative took on a life of its own and spun out of control. Unfortunately, for Norris it was a situation for which she was utterly unprepared and her life would never be the same.

David Gomez, the FBI's assistant special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Seattle, stated the federal agency was doing "everything in our power to assist the individuals on that list to effectively protect themselves and change their behavior to make themselves less of a target."

Yet it is difficult to imagine what else Norris could have done to make herself less of a target. No sooner did the "Everyone Draw Mohammed Day" initiative go viral than Norris distanced herself from the creativity she sparked. She then publicly apologized and asked "that this 'day' be called off."

Well, fat lot of good that did her. Apparently, Alwaki has no concept of forgiveness. Once a transgression has been committed against Mohammed it can only be remedied by the death of the transgressor. Indeed, Alwaki writes, "The medicine prescribed by the Messenger of Allah is the execution of those involved." All things considered, Norris would probably have been better off to stand her ground.

Now one can the make the case that it is easy to say she should have stood her ground when one's life has not been threatened by the man who is arguably the most dangerous Muslim cleric in the world and being told by the FBI it is in your best interest to suddenly change your identity. But to what kind of life can Molly Norris now look forward? She can no longer call herself by her real name. She has very likely been forever cut off from family and friends. And while she might be able to draw in the privacy of her own home, she can surely never submit her drawings for publication for fear that her works will be recognized. In short, the artist formerly known as Molly Norris is being deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

With this in mind, I cannot help but wonder that if Norris had been more assertive in her own defense then others would have been more eager to stand beside her. Perhaps Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert would have offered comedic reassurance. But then again why would they risk the enmity of Anwar al-Alwaki when they can make fun of the Tea Party and Christianity with the knowledge that no one will call for the streets to be filled with their blood. Besides, Stewart wasn't exactly a profile in courage during the South Park controversy.

I also wonder if Norris had wrapped herself in the First Amendment whether the White House would have supported her. After all, President Obama cited the First Amendment in support of the construction of the Ground Zero Mosque. Yet you would be wise not to hold your breath for the President's support. Let us recall that in October 2009 the Obama Administration co-sponsored a resolution with Egypt before the UN Human Rights Council that would make criticism of Islam a violation of international law.

So given the current political climate regarding Islam in America who among us could be the next Molly Norris?

Could someone in America be forced to change their name for writing about the treatment of women under Sharia law in Saudi Arabia?

Could someone in America be forced into hiding for making a film about Muslim children being indoctrinated with hatred towards Israel?

Could someone in America be forbidden from exercising their First Amendment rights because they used those rights to speak on behalf of religious minorities persecuted in Muslim countries such as the Baha'i in Iran?

Some might believe what happened to Molly Norris is an isolated incident. But the next Molly Norris is only a fatwa away.

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.