Age of the Facebook Fatwah

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[This piece is reprinted from]

Reciprocal death sentences raging between Yemen and the United States offer a glimpse of warfare in the internet age.

The topic opens with South Park, an iconoclastic adult cartoon program on Comedy Central, which in April mocked the prohibition on depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. An obscure website, (whose proprietor was subsequently arrested on terrorism-related charges), responded by threatening the show’s writers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Panicked, Comedy Central censored further mention of Muhammad.

Enter Molly Norris, a cartoonist at the Seattle Weekly, who showed solidarity with Parker and Stone by posting a facetious “Everyone Draw Muhammad Day” appeal on Facebook, hoping that a host of caricaturists would “counter Comedy Central’s message about feeling afraid.” To Norris’ surprise, dismay, and confusion, others took her idea seriously, prompting Facebook campaigns for and against her “day” and the Pakistani government temporarily to block Facebook. Norris disowned her initiative, apologized for it, and even befriended the local Council on American-Islamic Relations representative, to little avail.

Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamist leader in Yemen, responded in July by issuing a death sentence on Norris, inaccurately but pungently called a fatwa. On consulting with the police, Norris in September not only went underground but “went ghost” and disappeared entirely, including her name and her profession.

Awlaki’s “fatwa” on Norris, however, is only half the story. The other half concerns a U.S. government “fatwa” on Awlaki.

Awlaki was born in New Mexico in 1971 to well-connected Muslim Yemeni parents. His father, Nasser, studied and worked in the United States until 1978, when the family returned to Yemen. Anwar went to the United States as a student in 1991 and spent the next decade in various degree programs (engineering, education), only to emerge as an Al-Qaeda-style Islamist figure, comparable to Osama bin Laden both in his ideological fanaticism and his operational involvement in terrorism. Arrested in connection with the 9/11 attacks, he was inexplicably released and allowed to move to a remote region of Yemen, beyond government control, where he currently lives.

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  • watchful

    Every state needs to pass the law that protects against these fatwas and lawsuits so that the person being sued can counter-sue and take some of their money and give them something to think about before they decide to sue. Also, to sue against the emotional distress caused by a death fatwa.

    These people who do these threats and lawsuits are so arrogant they really make me sick.

    • John Beatty

      How, exactly, would this fantasy statue work? This guy is hiding in a place where no one can get at him, supported by people with nuclear weapons. How would a mere court affect him?

      Why do you want to create more laws that you can't enforce? To "send a message" to those who want you dead or converted to their ideology and don't care which?

      The Internet and "islamism" didn't "privatize war." War has always been a very private matter between combatants, ideologues and those who just get in the way. Survival, the root of warfare, is a very private, and a very public matter, both at the same time.

      • den

        The Israelies could find him. We could put a bounty on these folks and bring them in. Doubt it would make much difference. They are blinded by hate.

  • BS77

    Will men in dirty pajamas ever conquer the west? The people want to know.

    • bdouglasaf1980

      As long as good men continue to do nothing the answer is yes. They could conquer or at the least cause major damage just like a private and painter brought Europe to it's knees.

  • philgee

    I don't buy this "We can't find him." stuff. We can spot a goat, . . . didn't one of our presidents drop a missile on Gaddafi's digs, and didn't Gaddafi pipe down, . . .

  • USMCSniper

    Should some deranged Iman ever issue a Fatwa against me to be hunted down and killed, it will be a signal to me to become the hunter not the hunted. And I would be justified as they have chosen the rules of the game.

  • Rock Nelson

    Obama is a coward. I defecate on islam. Come get me.

  • Lalla

    WATCHFUL – what kind of a proposition is that? Are you in your 5 senses? You can't "outlaw" a death threat! To attempt to do so is like telling criminals it's unlawful to get a gun. A "fatwa" is not a "formal" death threat with a contract full of rules, deadlines, schedules, etc. If someone wants your head, they're not going to make you sign that you agree!!

    ROCK – Right on. I'm actually repositioning everything in y bathroom so that when I "go" I'm facing Mecca.