If a mosque near Ground Zero is a national story, let alone a Jewish story — as is the proposed burning of a Koran by an obscure Florida pastor; as is the perceived surge in Islamophobia — with each of these stories inspiring endless Jewish statements, columns, and rabbinic sermons from here to Israel, then what are we to make of Molly Norris?
Is she a Jewish story, too?
And when so many in the media have so focused on how “moderate” an imam can be, what are we to make of Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki?
The New York Times praised him in 2001 as the “go-to Muslim cleric for reporters scrambling to explain Islam.” He said all the right things. The Times quoted his 2001 sermon, “We came here to build, not to destroy. ... We are the bridge between Americans and one billion Muslims worldwide.”
Born in New Mexico, a graduate of Colorado State University, Awlaki was the spiritual leader of a Virginia mosque, one of the largest in America.
We’ll get to the connection between Norris and the imam in a moment, but first: who is Molly Norris, anyway?
A few months ago, Norris, a Seattle cartoonist, was briefly famous — even internationally, the Jerusalem Post and others in Israel wrote about her — when she mock-proposed in one of her cartoons that May 20th be “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” It was her response to Comedy Central’s censorship of a “South Park” episode that depicted the Islamic prophet in an undignified fashion. Then some people started a Facebook group to encourage drawing Mohammed in a negative way, saying they got the idea from Norris.
According to the Christian Science Monitor (May 19), “The blowback was quick and furious.” Norris “posted a disclaimer… ‘I am horrified” at the Facebook group. To actually demean Mohammed, she said, was “vitriolic and worse, offensive to Muslims who had nothing to do with the censorship issue I was inspired to draw about in the first place.’”
Try telling that to the massive crowds in Pakistan who in May were waving placards and screaming in the streets against Norris and “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”
On Sep. 15, the Seattle Weekly told its readers, “You may have noticed that Molly Norris is not in the paper this week. That's because there is no more Molly.”
In FBI jargon, she was “going ghost,” said the paper, changing her name, leaving her home, disappearing as much as any human could.
Imam Awlaki, no longer moderate and now living in Yemen, issued a fatwa, a death sentence declaring Norris to be “a prime target of assassination.” The FBI said the threat was real, and closing in.
Awlaki may be in Yemen but he has quite a reach. According to the Times and Washington Post, he has been linked to one of the 9/11 hijackers. And he exchanged e-mails with Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, prior to the murders there. The imam also has been linked to the foiled Times Square bomber, as well as to the foiled Christmas bomber in the plane over Detroit.
One of the few journalists writing about Norris, James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal online (Sept. 17), recalled how the Times was once convinced that this imam was the Great White Hope of moderate American Islam. “How’s that working out?” asked Taranto.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) strongly condemned the proposal by the Florida pastor to burn the Koran by invoking the famous words of Heinrich Heine: “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings, too.” This was surely of Jewish interest, everyone agreed.
But now that someone wants to “burn” a human being, it begs the question that Emily Yoffe poses in Slate (Sept. 23): “A young woman disappeared and no one really seems to care.” Why is there such a “lack of full-throated defense” for her? ... This should be the source of fervent outrage by the same leaders who castigated [Terry] Jones,” the Florida pastor, “but their silence makes Norris’ disappearance tragically complete.”
Bloggers castigated President Obama for not speaking out about Norris as he did about the mosque and the proposed burning of a Koran, but in fairness, the president has already done something remarkable: Even before the threat to Norris, Obama authorized the CIA to make Awlaki the first American citizen who can be killed on sight, even without a trial, should the opportunity arise in Yemen.
At what point do these two life and death stories — Norris’ and Awlaki’s — become more of a story than the non-burning of a Koran in Florida and a zoning dispute near Ground Zero?
Are Americans turning against Muslim citizens? The Sacramento Bee reported a recent FBI study that found, “Hate crimes directed against Muslims remain relatively rare.” As of this summer, “Jews, lesbians, gay men and Caucasians, among others, are all more frequently the target of hate crimes.”
Bart Hinkle, a columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Sep. 10), points out that for all the fuss over Islamophobia, “for every bias crime against a Muslim in the U.S., there are 10 bias crimes against Jews.”
His column, however, had the chilling headline: “Time to Declare War on Israel.”
Hinkle was suggesting, tongue in cheek, that “nothing could do Israel more good than for the United States to declare war on it. After all, if you want to win the support of American academics, journalists, and movie stars… then you should get on the wrong side of U.S. foreign policy.”
According to Hinkle, during the worst years of the Soviet Union, “If you wanted agitprop about the evils of anti-communism, Hollywood was happy to oblige. If you wanted to learn about the horrors of the gulag or Soviet psychiatric prisons, Hollywood was happy to change the subject…. We see the same thing shaping up today with regard to radical Islamic extremism. Thanks to the debate over the Park51 mosque in Manhattan, the news media suddenly are full of stories about America the Intolerant… Three decades after Jimmy Carter lectured Americans about their ‘inordinate fear of communism,’ his intellectual heirs are lecturing the public about their inordinate fear of radical Islam.”
After months of articles and follow-up articles and lecturing the public about Islamophobia and American Islam, suddenly much of the media and the Jewish media have decided that the tragedy of Molly Norris is none of your business.
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