Molly Norris, a Seattle-based cartoonist who organized a deliberately provocative "Draw Mohammed for a Day" contest in May as a response to Comedy Central's censoring of a Mohammed-themed episode of "South Park," has gone into hiding. The cartoonist changed her name and stopped drawing for Seattle Weekly, the newspaper that employed her, after a Yemeni cleric said online that Norris "should be taken as a prime target of assassination." Hers is just the latest battle in the years-long war between cartoonists who try to make a political statement by drawing the Prophet and the Islamic extremists who are outraged by the act, forbidden under Islamic law. Here's a timeline:
September 30, 2005
The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten prints a series of 12 cartoons, commissioned from various artists, depicting the Prophet Mohammed. In the most provocative of the drawings, Mohammed's turban doubles as a short-fused bomb. An editorial criticizing Danish self-censorship accompanies the images.
Outraged Danish imams request a meeting with the country's prime minister, but are rebuffed. They make several trips to Muslim nations to spread the word about the cartoons. Nevertheless, the drawings are reprinted in other countries (Germany, Egypt) without incident. But Muslims protest the cartoons in Denmark, and labor strikes in Pakistan signal discontent in the wider Muslim world.
Though Denmark's prime minister condemns the cartoons and Jyllands-Posten apologizes, the situation spirals out of control. Protesters set fire to Danish embassies across the Middle East, and Muslim countries boycott Danish products. Street protests turn violent in Pakistan, Nigeria, and elsewhere; more than 100 people die in riots and clashes with police. The furor also stirs a worldwide debate over whether to reprint the cartoons elsewhere.
Comedy Central forbids "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker from showing Mohammed in an episode that centers around the Danish controversy — even though the Prophet had appeared in a 2001 episode with no problem. In a demonstration of the Western world's embrace of free speech, the episode closes out with "an image of Jesus Christ defecating on President Bush and the American flag."
August 19, 2007
A Swedish newspaper publishes a cartoon portraying Mohammed as a dog. Protests and Swedish flag-burning predictably follows, and the cartoonist, Lars Vilks, receives death threats. Al Qaeda places a $100,000 bounty on his head.
Protesters in Denmark, Pakistan, and the Gaza Strip rally after a major Danish newspaper reprints one of the 12 cartoons from 2006. "We are even ready to sacrifice our life for our beloved Prophet," says one student leader.
January 1, 2010
An ax and knife-wielding man breaks into the home of Kurt Westergaard, who drew the turban-bomb Mohammed in 2006. Police catch him before he is able to harm the cartoonist.
Seven people in Ireland are arrested in a plot to murder Lars Vilks.
May 11, 2010
Vilks is attacked during a lecture at Uppsala University after "showing an Iranian film that depicts the Prophet entering a gay bar." One assailant breaks his glasses. Vilks, who claims he "sleeps with an ax beside his bed," says he would deliver the speech again, though the school doesn't seem eager to invite him back.
"South Park"'s 200th episode features Mohammed in a bear costume, in an acknowledgment of the show's past controversy. A day after the episode airs, a Jihadi website predicts that the "South Park" creators will "end up like Theo Van Gogh," a Dutch filmmaker who was killed in 2004 over his criticisms of Islam. In the next episode, Comedy Central decides to censor all mentions of the Prophet's name.
After a series of death threats, Seattle Weekly cartoonist and "Draw Mohammad for a Day" organizer Molly Norris goes into hiding.