It stands out as one of the more memorable e-mails I’ve ever received. The Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki had just placed a Seattle cartoonist on an execution hit list. Federal authorities were talking with the artist about her safety. And the artist was still trying to distance herself from having rendered, months earlier, the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” cartoon that sparked international controversy. Her e-mail began with two simple words:
Talk about your intentional understatement.
The freelance cartoonist, who then went by the name Molly Norris, had told Comic Riffs she had a “frat-boy” sense of humor — which was the very thing that contributed to her April 2010 illustrated response to Comedy Central’s editing of its program “South Park” over attempts to depict Muhammad. As a result, she ended up the target of death threats, most notably when Awlaki — writing in the English-language al-Qaeda magazine “Inspire” — condemned nine people, including Norris and two European illustrators (Lars Vilks and the now-retired Kurt Westergaard), whom he accused of creating “blasphemous caricatures” of Muhammad.
Last Friday, the U.S.-born Awlaki was killed by an American drone attack. Awlaki, who had served as an imam in Virginia and California, published his execution hit list in July of last year.
And then there is the former Molly Norris, who took at least one pseudonym at the guidance of the FBI. The artist may be working somewhere, but ”Molly Norris” the name, the identity was shed.
MOLLY NORRIS & ZACH CHESSER: Six months after “South Park”