Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dear Molly, I Understand, But Do You?

Originally, I was going to give Molly Norris her own Pop Quiz. Like this:

Which of the following is the real Molly Norris, Seattle cartoonist?

A) The Molly Norris who "felt so much passion" about the veiled death threats against Matt Stone and Trey Parker that she not only came up with the idea for "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," she also sent the cartoon to other bloggers and even appeared on a radio show to promote the idea:

B) The Molly Norris who got "freaked out" that her cartoon struck a nerve, wants to call off the "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign because it "isn't really my thing," has apologized to "everyone of the Muslim faith who has or will be offended," wants "a little support" from Matt and Trey, and hopes that America's Muslims and non-Muslims can meet "halfway."

The problem with the Pop Quiz is that the answer, of course, is both. And there was just too much to say in the Hint section. Molly Norris should really be allowed to make her case in her own words, too, which I would gladly let her, if she hadn't already removed her YouTube video in which she tried to do just that. And her own website seems to change daily, with one post replacing another rather than being added to those previous messages. But maybe her own revision to the original cartoon can do the job:

From what I saw on her YouTube explanation, Molly Norris seems like a gentle (if a bit naive and self-absorbed) soul. And I don't fault her for feeling overwhelmed by the reaction to her cartoon. Every blogger who has ever had his or her normal daily routine turned upside down by that first Instapundit link and spent the next few days policing the Comments section for trolls and deleting hate mail from the inbox has some idea of what Molly has probably been going through. And I'm sure that she's had it much worse these last few days than most of us ever have.

I don't fault her for being afraid, either. From what I remember of her now-removed YouTube video, there have been no actual threats against her, but there is, as ColoradoPatriot puts it, "clearly a tone of fear in what she’s done." And again, that's understandable. I know that when my small press got involved with the paperback publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, we were afraid, too. One of my two partners even thought about leaving the company, he was so worried about what might happen and what this might mean. My other partner seemed like an absolute rock of bravery, at least to my eyes, but I'm pretty certain he had his own moments of shaking nerves as well. But either way, we went through with it, because we really did "feel so much passion" about the situation.

What I do fault Molly Norris for is apparently being so unaware of the real situation and issue involved here that she seems to have felt she could do something like this on a lark, and then back out with no consequences for everyone else who also takes a stand against this kind of fear and intimidation, whether now or in the future. My partners and I, back in the Rushdie days, would have had an excuse to make that decision lightly. It was pre-9/11, after all, and nearly all of the madness was happening “over there.” But it still wasn’t a decision we made lightly. And you don't even want to know how my mother reacted when I told her what we had done.

And this is where I think Molly Norris doesn't get it, even now. Because at least here in America, the First Amendment isn't an issue where America's Muslims and non-Muslims can meet each other "halfway." For one thing, I'm sure the overwhelming majority of American Muslims will resent being lumped together with Revolution Muslim and the fatwa-givers, as Molly seems to be implying here. And for another, I'm not sure what meeting "halfway" even means in this case. That Matt Stone and Trey Parker wouldn't have to worry about being killed for their own cartoon, and would instead only need to worry about getting a semi-fierce beatdown instead? Maybe Molly can post another YouTube video that explains this, but be sure to watch it right away, because her explanations, whether written or video, tend to disappear rather quickly.

And I'm sorry, Molly, but Matt Stone and Trey Parker haven't left you "hanging," as I also remember you suggesting in your now-removed video. Having a someone support you by promoting, say, "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" and then renouncing that stand and apologizing a few days later is being left hanging. Having the Consortium that got small publishers like us to go on public record as supporting The Satanic Verses paperback in spite of the death sentence we then fell under, and then having that same Consortium go so silent and unresponsive that we only knew the paperback had even been published because we stumbled across a copy of it hidden away on the bottom shelf at some bookstore is being left hanging. The South Parks guys haven't left you hanging, Molly, and even half-jokingly saying in that now-removed YouTube video that maybe they ought to fly you down to L.A. is, like I wrote above, a bit self-absorbed. After all, they're the ones who actually got the death threats, not you, remember?

But here's where I think Molly Norris really doesn't understand what she's done. Because it’s one thing to stay silent on an issue like this from the start, but it’s quite another to make a public stand on it and then run away from that stand. The former is bad enough, but in the long run, the latter does even more harm. Because whether she meant to or not, Molly Norris has just shown -- and just shown very publicly -- that even those who do stand up for freedom of expression in the face of fear and intimidation can be driven from that stand. And driven from it rather easily, in her case. And that will only encourage the next group like Revolution Muslim.

I think that next group is going to be a lot worse than Revolution Muslim, too.