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Monday, August 27, 2007 

Opus gets censored out of fear of offending Muslims

This story (via The Amboy Times and Hot Air) has been making headlines on the blogosphere in the past day or two. It seems that Berkeley Breathed's Opus comic strip, which you can see here at the side, has been suspended by 25 newspapers carrying it because, whether it's in good or bad taste, he decided to write and draw a joke involving radical Islamism:
Berkeley Breathed's Aug. 26 and Sept. 2 strips -- which comprise sort of a two-part series -- show the Lola Granola character wanting to become an Islamic radicalist (and wear traditional Muslim clothing) because it's a "hot new fad on the planet." Content also includes what Shearer described as "a sex joke a little stronger than we normally see."

Wyson said some client papers hesitated to run a sex joke and others won't publish any Muslim-related humor, whether pro or con. "They just don't want to touch that," she said.

Violent protests took place after a Danish paper in 2005 published cartoons picturing Muhammad.

Shearer told E&P that WPWG checked with a couple of Islamic experts to see if the "Opus" strips might be offensive, and they said the comics were OK. But he understands why some papers might still be wary.
There's actually something fishy here about their turning to some Islamic experts about this. As Bryan Preston, who added some more to Allahpundit's topic, wonders:
Do they do the same when a comic strip might offend, say, someone who’s not a Muslim? No, at least not to my knowledge. It’s not hard to make the connection here: The Danish cartoonists are still living in hiding. The publishers of Opus don’t want to do that. So they trot down to the “Islamic expert” to get his it stamped halal.
Naturally, that's cowardice, considering that nobody has the right to threaten innocent people no matter where they're living. Thus, this is a very grave case of shari'a creep coming into the US media.

LA Observed tells that the LA Times, amazingly enough, was not among the cowards who aren't running the strips. Unfortunately, as Breathed notes on his own website, it appears that the Washington Post, Opus's own host paper, is. As a commentor at Newsarama blog says:
A cowardly move on the part of the newspapers, sure, but not at all unexpected. We live in cowardly times.
That, sadly, almost perfectly describes how some of the world is operating in this day and age, being jelly-spined when a rock-solid stand is most needed.

Here's a roundup of other blogs covering this, including Stop the ACLU, Texas Hold 'Em Blogger, Bookworm Room, Unite Later, Leaning Straight Up, Something and Half of Something, This Goes to 11, Inzax, Bill's Bites, Dhimmi Watch, Marginalized Action Dinosaur, Thought Cops, Southchild, Right Ringtail, Mount Virtus, Foehammer's Anvil.

Oddly enough, Doonesbury has been running a story in the past several days that could offend Muslims too, yet that by contrast hasn't caused any ruckus. Is it because the Doonesbury story may be more clearly anti-war that the MSM gave it a free pass?

I'll try to add the second Opus strip to the topic if and when it becomes available in the next couple of days. Update: okay, here's the page on Salon featuring the second of these two Sunday strips (also via Hot Air). Can't say it's really much of an earth-shaker either, yet strangely enough, 25 newspapers did not see fit to print this. How odd.

Update 2: now isn't this something. Deborah Howell of the Wash. Post's Omsbudsman column (also via Hot Air) says that the WaPo should have run the cartoons. Now they tell us!
Executive Editor Len Downie decided to kill the strip because he felt the language and depiction of Muslim female dress could be offensive. He consulted with other editors, one of whom talked to a Muslim staff member, who believed the strip was problematic.

[...]

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group, wasn’t offended. “‘Opus’ poked fun at the strip’s characters, not Muslims or Islam. I see hundreds worse on the Internet every day,” he said.

Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University, also wasn’t offended. He said there is a strong Muslim tradition of satire and self-deprecation. “I think there is a danger of us becoming so politically correct that we end up by blunting the critics’ bent and the satirists’ wit. Muslims need to be sensitive to the fact that in Western culture there is a healthy tradition of not taking things too seriously.”
Note how Hooper's response hints that, if he did think the strip slighted Islam, he would've objected.
It would be an understatement to say that Breathed and Writers Group editors were not pleased that The Post didn’t run the strips. [Writers Group editorial director Alan] Shearer was “disappointed” and argued against dropping them. Publisher Bo Jones was in the middle. The Writers Group reports to him, as does Downie. Jones worked with Shearer and Breathed on points that concerned him and approved the strips’ distribution. But he let Downie decide not to publish them in the newspaper.
She doesn't make clear what those "points of concern" were. What good does it do to note that if you don't know what exactly the problems were?

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