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Je Suis Molly Norris

May 10, 2015

Maybe I am too old to be Molly Norris’ mother, but she could be my grandchild, my great-grandchild, my student, friend or neighbor. I wish that she were any one of these persons so that I might tell her face-to-face that I love her. Maybe I could give her a little hug. She has been in my thoughts since I read recently about what happened to her five years ago.

I would pray for Molly Norris if I thought that it would do any good, but I don’t believe in a God who cares about us. Maybe there is an amoral god out there laughing at us from on high, waiting for us to figure him out and to finally take up arms against him and to demand that he show us his true face. But I’m not waiting for the capitulation of God any more than Andrew Marvell’s coy mistress waited for the conversion of the Jews.

Norris’s problems started when she drew a brilliant cartoon defending freedom of speech. She dedicated her cartoon to Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the animated TV series South Park shown on Comedy Central. Parker and Stone received death threats from Jihadist Muslims for depicting Mohammed in an episode that aired in April, 2010. in which Jesus and Buddha were also depicted.

Norris posted her cartoon on Facebook. It was drawn in the schoolgirl-notebook style popular with many artists, Roz Chast of the New Yorker among them. The style incorporates silly, naive pen-line drawings into a meaningful and humorous text with a message. One imagines that the voice behind the cartoon belongs to a small person searching for identity and familiarity in a big, scary world.

The style allows the viewer to escape into primordial psychological states of confusion, perplexity, rivalry, confession, shame, and self-hatred. It is just this youthful stance of self-doubt that empowers the message, shored up by the naive drawings. The artist usually employs satire and expresses a moral message.

Norris’ cartoon, well conceived and well drawn, proposed that everyone draw Mohammed on a particular day in May, 2010. She presented a coherent argument. She wrote:

“Do your part to both water down the pool of targets and, oh yeah, defend a little something our country is famous for (but maybe not for long? Comedy Central cooperated with terrorists and pulled the episode) the first amendment.”

Norris' cartoon was so appreciated that it went viral. At first Norris must have thought that she was a success with thousands of people volunteering to draw Mohammed. But an equal number found the cartoon offensive, and within three months Cleric Anwar al-Awlaki had added Molly Norris' name to his execution hitlist. Pakistan blocked Facebook. Facebook closed down every page connected to Norris' cartoon. Norris apologized. The FBI asked her to change her name and to go into hiding. She evaporated in September. Our government gave her advice but no financial support.

I would not want to be Molly Norris right now. Her career is over. She can no longer publish her charming drawings and funny cartoons. God knows how she gets by. Can she ever relax? Will she ever be safe? Her life that was once on-track is now just another train wreck of a life.

I would not want to live Norris’ life right now, waiting out world politics until I could become myself again, waiting for the rest of us to take up arms against suppression of speech in the Western world.

I am not Molly Norris, but on some level I am Molly Norris and, as I said above, I love her.

copyright © 2015 Minerva Durham