Cliff May

Molly Norris is not as well known as Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf or Pastor Terry Jones. But you should know who she is -- even though she is no more. It will take just a moment for me to explain.

In response to threats from militant Islamists, such custodians of Western culture as Comedy Central, Yale University Press and the Deutsche Oper have resorted to self-censorship. Ms. Norris, a cartoonist for the Seattle Weekly, was troubled by what she saw -- correctly, I think -- as the slow-motion surrender of freedom of expression, a fundamental right.

So she came up with an idea: “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” This may not have been a great idea -- few ideas are -- but the point she wanted to make was simple enough: Freedom implies the right to criticize and caricature. This freedom is now in jeopardy because a minority of Muslims believes the majority of non-Muslims can be easily intimidated. If we all stand up for freedom, Molly Norris thought, surely freedom’s enemies will back down.

What happened next: Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric -- once touted by The New York Times as a moderate but in fact an al-Qaeda commander who is currently hiding out in Yemen -- issued a fatwa calling for Ms. Norris to be murdered by any Muslim willing and able. She quickly retracted her proposal for a day of mass Mohammad-sketching but it was too late. As the Seattle Weekly cheerily informed its readers:

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. …

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 joked, "Well, at least it'll keep me from being so self-involved!" … [W]e wish her the best.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.