According to columnist Andrew Alexander, the Washington Post’s editors recently pulled a Non Sequitor comic strip by Wiley Miller, because they were “concerned it might offend and provoke some Post readers, especially Muslims,” (thanks for the link @joshuafoust). Alexander wrote,
Miller is known for social satire. But at first glance, the single-panel cartoon he drew for last Sunday seems benign. It is a bucolic scene imitating the best-selling children’s book “Where’s Waldo?” A grassy park is jammed with activity. Animals frolic. Children buy ice cream. Adults stroll and sunbathe. A caption reads: “Where’s Muhammad?“
Here’s the key part – Miller didn’t actually depict Prophet Muhammad in the cartoon, [which you can see here]. That was the point of his satire, though the Post’s editors still felt the cartoon seemed like “a deliberate provocation without a clear message.” Miller reportedly responded angrily, telling Alexander it was a commentary on “the insanity of an entire group of people rioting and putting out a hit list over cartoons,” as well as “media cowering in fear of printing any cartoon that contains the word ‘Muhammad.’ ” He added, “The wonderful irony [is that] great newspapers like The Washington Post, that took on Nixon . . . run in fear of this very tame cartoon, thus validating the accuracy of the satire.”
A few people have since weighed in on the Post’s decision. Reason Magazine wrote,
If the Post‘s new standard for comics is to make jokes “immediately clear,” then it might be time to kill the comics page altogether. No, Martel/Brauchli, you pulled the cartoon because your fear of Muslims outweighs your commitment to free expression, period.
According to the LA Times’ James Rainey (the LA Times also yanked the cartoon), fear was not the reason the editors’ decided not to publish the cartoon, it was instead a matter of “expediency.” He noted that The Boston Globe had a similar complaint. Deputy managing editor Christine Chinlund noted,
When a cartoon takes on a sensitive subject, especially religion, it has an obligation to be clear. The ‘Where’s Muhammad’ cartoon did not meet that test. It leaves the reader searching for clues, staring at a busy drawing, trying to discern a likeness, wondering if the outhouse at the top of the drawing is significant — in other words, perplexed.
I’ve written extensively about the South Park cartoon controversy as well as the controversial “Draw Muhammad Day!” which spurred indignation, hate-mongering on both sides, and even resulted in the Lahore High Court banning Facebook back in May. There is a fine line between freedom of expression and needless provocation, and the Danish cartoon controversy and subsequent events have made that line even finer.
But the recent censorship of Wiley Miller seems to signify just how thin that line has become, and how overly sensitive and politically correct the world feels it has to be to avoid backlash, and let’s be honest, death threats and fatwas. By pulling the plug on relatively mild pieces, they are intensifying the sensitivity on the issue, to the point where we are equating Islamophobic cartoons that are genuinely insulting to satirical pieces that editors fear will “perplex” Muslim readers. Not all Muslims need to be treated with kid gloves, and the more hypersensitive we become on that issue, the more it validates cartoonists like Miller’s point.