Several important developments took place right after my article, "Two Decades of the Rushdie Rules," went to press,:
(1) Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida planned to burn hundreds of Korans on Sep. 11, but then submitted to pressure and canceled the bonfire. When his intention became international news, it lead, according to established pattern, to unrest and threats in the Muslim world and to at least 18 deaths (5 in Afghanistan, 13 in Kashmir). Under pressure from U.S. government officials, Jones relented and did not burn Korans.
I argued in a column, "'Rushdie Rules' Reach Florida," that the novelty and significance of this incident lies in the full weight of the U.S. government, from Barack Obama on down, bearing down on Jones. In distinct contrast to Margaret Thatcher in 1989, when the Rushdie affair broke, or Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2006, when the Danish cartoon affair occurred, American authorities took upon themselves the role of protectors of Islam and executors of the Shari'a. In so doing, they extended the Rushdie Rules to the United States.
Mollie Norris' cartoon that ended her normal life and began her "ghost" existence.
You may have noticed that Molly Norris' comic is not in the paper this week. That's because there is no more Molly. 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.
That "appalling fatwa" was posted in July by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who lives in Yemen. He wrote:
A cartoonist out of Seattle, Washington, named Molly Norris started the 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day'. This snowball rolled out from between her evil fingers. She should be taken as a prime target of assassination along with others who participated in her campaign. This campaign is not a practice of freedom of speech, but is a nationwide mass movement of Americans joining their European counterparts in going out of their way to offend Muslims worldwide. They are expressing their hatred of the Messenger of Islam through ridicule
Katherine Kersten discusses the American response to this outrage:
Surely, you say, American journalists and media moguls—always staunch defenders of the First Amendment—are proclaiming outrage and rallying round this young woman? On the contrary. The media have largely been silent about her nightmarish plight. When the Washington Examiner, an on-line newspaper in Washington, D.C., asked the American Society of News Editors for a statement about Norris, none was forthcoming. Ditto for the Society of Professional Journalists. This, despite the fact that the editors group's mission statement extols "the First Amendment at home and free speech around the world," while the journalists claim to stand for "the perpetuation of the free press as the cornerstone of our nation and liberty."
This incident suggests that Awlaki has the power to turn any American's life upside down by simply uttering a threat against him. This is no longer a battle of giants, Khomeini v. Rushdie, but of pygmies, Awlaki v. Norris. One can imagine the threats proliferating so that any person critical of "Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran" will be in danger of having to "go ghost."
(3) Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Daniel Huff proposed an important reply to some of the wanton threats against Americans in "It's Time to Fight Back Against Death Threats by Islamic Extremists," Los Angeles Times, Sep. 27:
It's time for free-speech advocates to take a page from the abortion rights movement's playbook. In the 1990s, abortion providers faced the same sort of intimidation tactics and did not succumb. Instead, they lobbied for a federal law making it a crime to threaten people exercising reproductive rights and permitting victims to sue for damages. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, passed in 1994 by solid bipartisan margins. A similar act is needed to cover threats against free-speech rights.
A federal law would do two things. First, it would deter violent tactics, by focusing national attention on the problem and invoking the formidable enforcement apparatus of the federal government. Second, its civil damages provision would empower victims of intimidation to act as private attorneys general to defend their rights. …
Existing state laws prohibiting intimidation are inadequate. On the criminal side, the heightened standard of proof deters prosecutors from investing scarce resources. Explicit grounds for a civil action do not always exist, and damages can be difficult to quantify. By contrast, the FACE Act, which provides the model for the proposed legislation, lets victims opt for preset damages.
(October 1, 2010)