A few months ago, we covered the free speech campaign called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." This was the campaign launched by a Seattle cartoonist who was disappointed in Comedy Central's censorship of a South Park cartoon that, well, didn't depict Muhammad. But it came too close for comfort and the media network engaged in censorship. Reason Magazine ended up picking up the ball and running with it and you can see the winners of the contest there, as well as some great discussion of the back story. Artistic freedom has been coming up against Islamic extremism for years now and the latest news out of Seattle is not good. Unfortunately, there was very little coverage of that news. Here is how CNN reported it in their informative story:
A Seattle cartoonist who drew a cartoon about the Prophet Mohammed has been warned by the FBI about death threats made against her by a radical cleric with ties to al Qaeda, an FBI agent said Tuesday.
"She should be taken as a prime target of assassination," terror suspect Anwar al-Awlaki purportedly wrote about cartoonist Molly Norris in an English-language magazine called Inspire that claimed to be a publication of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
"This campaign is not a practice of freedom of speech, but is a nationwide mass movement of Americans" who are "going out of their way to offend Muslims worldwide," the article signed by al-Awlaki continued. Al-Awlaki is himself being sought in Yemen for his alleged role as a planner of the failed bombing of a Detroit-bound passenger plane on Christmas Day last year.
It is a deeply disturbing story and one that I wish would get more media coverage. I can not imagine how awful this must be for the woman involved and how much her life has changed in recent weeks.
As for the religion angles in this story, I only wish to commend how the reporter explained the supposed universal prohibition of depictions of Muhammad:
Norris' cartoon inspired a campaign to create pictures of the Islamic prophet across the internet with over 100,000 people signing up on a Facebook page. A Pakistani court ordered access to Facebook there cut off for two weeks. Competing sites blasted the campaign also drew tens of thousands of followers. Many Muslims find drawings and other depitcions (sic) of the Prophet Mohammed to be deeply offensive.
That is right. Many Muslims do find drawings of Muhammad to be offensive. Usually the media will characterize this as a universal ban. That's not right and there are museums around the world featuring depictions of Muhammad from many different centuries.
The story ends by noting recent violent attacks on a Danish cartoonist, his family and his home.
When we discussed the alleged honor violence against a Muslim actress in London, some people said that it wasn't that big of a story. Likewise, there are only a few cartoonists around the world who are being threatened with death. But the media should consider what the larger ramifications of these violent threats are and how they color free expression in other contexts. There are interesting stories to be written about how these threats affect media outlets across the country. I'm disappointed that we're not seeing those stories now but I hope they will surface in the days to come.