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[This piece is reprinted from DanielPipes.org]
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, RevolutionMuslim.com (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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