Remembering Molly Norris

The cartoonist behind the recent “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” cartoon has been drawn into hiding after a fatwa was issued for her death.  Molly Norris of the Seattle Weekly has gone into hiding on the recent advice of the FBI after being declared a “prime target” for death by extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in a June issue of “Inspire,” an English language magazine.  “The gifted artist is alive and well, thankfully,” a Seattle Weekly reporter wrote Friday. “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.

Ethan Sacks, “‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ cartoonist Molly Norris goes into hiding after radical cleric’s fatwa,” New York Daily News, September 19, 2010

A  unique forum took place on October 7, 2010 in the Sheslow Auditorium of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.   The forum was titled “What it means to be an American Muslim,” and the four panelists and the moderator were all Muslim Americans:

Moderator: Dr. Mahmoud Hamad, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, Drake University

Luai Amro, Then-President of the Islamic Cultural Center of Des Moines

Bill Aossey, President of Midamar Corporation

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, MD, Founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy

Dr. Saima Zafar, MD

The entire forum can be seen in eight parts on YouTube, starting with Part 1 at 

An eye-opening moment in the forum came after the presentations by the panelists, when they were presented with an issue involving our First Amendment right to freedom of speech.  This segment is at the beginning of Part 4 and can be found at:

This author was among the first to get up to ask a question of the panel.  I said:

Molly Norris used to be the editorial cartoonist for the Seattle Weekly.  She came up with the idea earlier this year of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.  Because of threats of death from people who said they were Muslims and from a particular Muslim, Anwar Al-Awlaki, and advice from the FBI, Molly Norris is now in hiding and has changed her name.  What I would like to do is offer the panelists, being Muslims in America, the chance to show that the First Amendment has significance.  I’d like, I’d like our panelists to go on record and say that everybody in the United States has the First Amendment right to criticize Muhammad and to draw a picture of Muhammad if they’d like.  And two, to also, to also condemn anybody who says they’re a Muslim who threatens death or physical harm to anybody exercising that First Amendment right.

Dr. Hamad started saying “thank you” before I had ended the last sentence.  I walked back to my seat expecting to hear an interesting panel discussion about the relationship between the First Amendment and the teachings of Islam.  However, even before I had arrived at my seat the moderator had already gone on to the next person in line to ask a question.  I sat down and quickly realized that my comments to the panel were not even going to be addressed.

A few minutes later we found out why Dr. Hamad had ignored my comments.  Dr. Jasser had been asked a question about the separation of mosque and state.  At the end of his response to that question, he said (at 7:10 on the Part 4 video):

Our moderator said that the question on Molly Norris is not relevant.  I can’t tell you how relevant I think it is.  I think American Muslims should stand up

Jasser got no further because at this point Dr. Hamad actually took the microphone out of Dr. Jasser’s hand and said

As the moderator I am the one who decides.

Dr. Hamad then went on with the forum.  There was no comment about this from any of the other panelists.

The issue involving Molly Norris comes down to the question of which takes precedence in the United States: our Constitutional right to freedom of speech, or Islam’s prohibition against doing anything that could be construed as criticizing or reviling Muhammad?  Earlier in the forum Luai Amro had talked about the obligation for Muslim-Americans to say what they believed and to say who they really were; this was the panelists’ opportunity to do both.  It was unfortunate that the matter ended with the microphone being removed from Dr. Jasser’s hand.


Excerpt from Letting Islam Be Islam: Separating Truth From Myth, pp. 308-310.