Cartoon killers

Kathleen Parker:

With an unintentional irony that might even tickle the Prophet himself, a new book called "Killed Cartoons'' killed a cartoon. Not because it was bad, but because it was just too good.

The book, edited by David Wallis and published by Norton, features political cartoons that other publications considered too hot to handle.

Except for one -- a drawing familiar to cartoon watchers, the omission of which merely reiterates the premise that made the book necessary.

Glaringly missing in a history of killed cartoons is one by Doug Marlette that sparked Muslim outrage a few years ago. I know it's shocking that Muslims were outraged, but try to stay focused.

The cartoon depicted a jihadi driving a Ryder truck with a nuclear bomb in back with the caption: What Would Muhammad Drive?

Wallis says he fought unsuccessfully for the cartoon's inclusion, but "I know why it didn't run and you know why it didn't run.'' He did note with admiration that Norton was the only publishing house of 15 he approached that had the "gumption"' to touch the book.

As the world knows by now, some Muslims have no tolerance for irreverence when it comes to their Prophet. When Marlette, now with the Tulsa World, drew the cartoon in 2002 for The Tallahassee Democrat, the paper pulled it from its Web site and kept it out of print editions after several thousand e-mails and death threats jammed its server.

The 2005 cartoon controversy that caused a worldwide outcry following publication of a dozen Muhammad images commissioned by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, further illustrated Islamist intolerance for Western principles of free speech.

In that instance, cartoonists went into hiding after receiving death threats. Last month, a Cambridge student also went into hiding after Muslims protested a Clare College magazine that spoofed religion, including Islam.

So far, American journalists and cartoonists have escaped the fate of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker murdered by a jihadist. But most American newspapers' refusal to publish the Danish cartoons -- to inform readers, not to inflame passions -- and Norton's decision to reject Marlette's cartoon speak to the effectiveness of intimidation.

Chris Lamb, College of Charleston (S.C.) communications professor and author of "Drawn To Extremes: The Use And Abuse Of Editorial Cartoons," likened the Marlette omission to "writing a history of the United States and leaving out the Civil War."

Editors and publishers, including Norton president Drake McFeely, typically explain their decision not to run certain cartoons with arguments about responsibility and sensitivity. McFeely said Norton's decision was based on sensitivity to the political environment: "We blinked at that one, but we did not blink on the other 282 pages of cartoons.''

It is the emotional immaturity of some Muslims that triggers violent reactions to cartoons. Cartoons trigger something in the immature brain that either appeals to them or reacts to them. It is no accident that cartoons appeal to kids and most animated features are directed at kids. It is interesting that most American kids have a more mature reaction to Wily Coyote and his pratfalls than some Muslims have to perceived insults of their religious figures.

The violent reaction also reflects another strange aspect of Islam. In the Judea-Christian religion God is an all powerful deity who can take care of himself and deal with transgressors in a brutal manner if his will is not obeyed. In the Muslim world things that are upsetting to God inspire a tantrum.


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