While WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is celebrating his $1 million-plus book deal on a 600-acre estate and enjoying his status as a lefty fringe hero, former cartoonist Molly Norris is in hiding.
The moral of this column is that in today's world, cartoons, if they target Islam, can be more hazardous to your health than crossing the mighty U.S. government and its allies.
Swedish and Danish authorities arrested four suspected militant Islamic jihadists last week for allegedly planning a terrorist attack before this weekend. Their target was the Jyllands-Posten news bureau in Copenhagen. In 2006, the newspaper became the target of terrorist threats after it printed controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. Authorities say the suspects arrested planned to use the same "swarm" tactics used in the 2008 Mumbai killing spree that left at least 160 people dead.
Kurt Westergaard drew a cartoon that depicted Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Last January, a Somali man wielding an ax and demanding "revenge" broke into Westergaard's home. In 2009, Danish authorities arrested three men for planning to behead Westergaard.
Like Westergaard, Jyllands-Posten Editor Flemming Rose, who commissioned the cartoons, now has round-the-clock security. I asked via e-mail how many planned attacks against his paper and cartoonists have been thwarted.
Rose answered that this latest episode represents the sixth or seventh foiled attack.
In his new book, "Tyranny of Silence," Rose explains that he asked cartoonists to submit works on Muhammad in order to stand up to "my perception of prevalent self-censorship among the Danish media" on the subject of radical Islam. Now he has a target on his back.
When we met in 2008, Rose summarized what summed up "The Cartoon Crisis." "They are basically saying, 'If you say we are violent, we are going to kill you.'"
And: "If you give in to intimidation, you will not get less intimidation, you will get more intimidation."
Back to Molly Norris. In April, the one-time Seattle Weekly cartoonist made the mistake of drawing a cartoon that called for an "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day." Norris was reacting to Comedy Central's decision to censor parts of the show "South Park" that depicted a cartoon Muhammad dressed in a bear suit -- wink, wink -- lest showing an image of the prophet offend. The network also bleeped out verbal references to Muhammad.
Norris quickly renounced the idea and apologized to the Muslim community. But that didn't stop American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki from declaring that that Norris should be "a prime target of assassination." Al-Awlaki, you may recall, has been linked to the attempted Times Square bombing, last year's failed Christmas Day bombing on a Detroit-bound plane, and the Fort Hood shootings that left 13 dead.
At the FBI's urging, Norris changed her name and wiped her identity.
As for "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, they didn't like Comedy Central's decision to censor their material. To their credit, they risked the wrath of extremists, who made veiled death threats against them.
But they thrive in a system that perpetuates a double standard. Stone and Parker are now working on a new Broadway musical, "The Book of Mormon." In reporting on the musical, Newsday called them "scamps" and "the wonderful troublemakers of 'South Park.'"
Those aren't the sort of terms reserved for Rose, who became something of an international pariah for doing to Islam once what Parker and Stone do regularly to devout Christians. The "South Park" guys know that they can make fun of Mormons without fear of censorship from upstairs or fatwas from abroad.
This new year will bring the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. "Since Sept. 11, 2001, at least 30 planned terrorist attacks have been foiled, all but two of them prevented by law enforcement," a Heritage Foundation paper reported in April. And that was before Faisal Shahzad failed to set off a car bomb in Times Square.
As for 2010, it ended with arrests in London, Denmark, Sweden and a suicide bombing in Stockholm.
We don't know the names of the intelligence operatives and law enforcement officials who saved innocent lives by uncovering and stopping these plots, but they are the unsung heroes of the last decade.
As for Assange, his leaks "have made it much harder for those who are stopping attacks to do their jobs," according to former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. "The countries we rely on for information must increasingly be unwilling to share it with us for fear that it will be exposed in the next set of leaks. Next time an attack is successful, those who are applauding WikiLeaks today will give not a second's thought that they contributed to it."
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