Marked for death: Artist behind "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" forced to change identity

Remember, after her idea took off online, so frantically worried was she about her offense to jihadis that she apologized for it and distanced herself from any participation. Too late, alas. The lesson: Appeasement after the fact of the insult won’t work. Actually, appeasement before the fact won’t work either. If it did, Terry Jones’s non-burning of the Koran wouldn’t be part of Khamenei’s weekly Two Minutes Hate and it wouldn’t have already been the pretext for a body count in Afghanistan. But then, that’s how self-censorship progresses. Whereas before you were apt to get stabbed for drawing Mohammed cartoons, now you’re apt to get stabbed for suggesting (then retracting) that Mohammed cartoons should be drawn.

Question for Obama: If Terry Jones was endangering the troops by burning the Koran, then presumably Molly Norris is to blame for the threats against her, right?

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.

Norris views the situation with her customary sense of the world’s complexity, and absurdity. When FBI agents, on a recent visit, instructed her to always keep watch for anyone following her, she responded, “Well, at least it’ll keep me from being so self-involved!” It was, she says, the first time the agents managed a smile. She likens the situation to cancer—it might basically be nothing, it might be urgent and serious, it might go away and never return, or it might pop up again when she least expects it.

As I acknowledged during Koran-apalooza last week, it’s a fine line between Jones’s stunt (which I opposed) and “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” (which I supported). One of the reasons I look dimly on dopey atheist gags like erecting “Secular Trees” next to Christmas trees on public squares is because the offense to Christians seems gratuitous. Sure, they’re making a point about religion in the process, but they’re doing it in a way that looks like mockery, calculated to annoy. They have the right, but why alienate people with a taunt? That’s what Jones’s stunt seemed like to me — not so much a message to jihadis, even though he tried to frame it that way at times, but something aimed at provoking all Muslims, a group that includes people like Zuhdi Jasser. EDM Day wasn’t aimed at all Muslims, though. Some moderates were bound to take offense, but the point of the day was to push back against the sort of jihadis who’ve now forced Norris into hiding. Intent and intimidation do count here; if Christian fundies were threatening to kill atheists over “Secular Trees,” my calculations would change accordingly. But either way, there simply must be space for this sort of offense in public debate. I’m open to drawing the line in a slightly different place, but the line has to be drawn somewhere.