News that Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris has changed her identity and gone into hiding in the wake of death threats and a fatwa from Al Qaida recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki continues to generate outrage.
Norris proposed – but did not follow through on – "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day" to protest threats made against Comedy Central and "South Park" for an episode in which the Prophet was depicted concealed in a bear suit.
In the Los Angeles Times Monday, writer Ayyan Hirsi Ali called for legislation "making it a crime to threaten people exercising reproductive rights and permitting victims to sue for damages." The proposal, issued jointly by Hirsi Ali and Daniel Huff, director of the Middle East Forum's Legal Project, is modeled after the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
The prospect of civil damages helped tamp down threats and intimidation targeting abortion clinics and providers. Though the issues are different, the circumstances are similar, the two write.
"Existing state laws prohibiting intimidation are inadequate." Hirsi Ali and Huff write. Their proposed legislation would help "by focusing national attention on the problem and invoking the formidable enforcement apparatus of the federal government. Second, its civil damages provision would empower victims of intimidation to act as private attorneys general to defend their rights."
Hirsi Ali moved to America seeking refuge from similar threats against her life – threats which first were tacked on to the murdered body of Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh after the two collaborated on "Submission," a short film protesting the treatment of women in Islam.
She and Huff note the chilling effect such threats have on other creative expressions, citing several examples of pre-emptive censorship by those fearful of threats or actual violent responses.
"If we leave our artists, activists and thinkers alone to weather the assault," they conclude, "they will succumb and we will all suffer the consequences."
Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, meanwhile, calls out her peers for failing to speak out in Norris' defense. She quotes Awlaki's fatwa which said Norris "does not deserve life, does not deserve to breathe the air."
Kersten criticizes the relative silence about Norris' plight from fellow journalists, noting the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists have not issued statements.
It's a sign, she writes, that the media has "increasingly caved to threats from radical Islam. The new norm is a self-censorship consistent with Muslim teaching that Islam must be free from insult, though other religions may be insulted at all times."