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Fatwas, Marlette and the Guilford GOP

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Doug Marlette is at it again. In a play on the "What Would Jesus Drive" SUV controversy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist angered Muslims across the world by asking the pointed question, "What would Mohammed drive?" over a drawing of an Islamic man in a truck carrying a nuclear missile.

The cartoon didn't quite state that Mohammed's choice of vehicle would be a truck bomb, but it came close enough that the Council on American-Islamic Relations denounced what it called "defamatory attacks on Islam and on the Prophet Muhammad" and called for an immediate apology. Marlette refused, but after receiving thousands of e-mails, did post a few pages of cartoons sympathetic to Muslims at his Web site, www.dougmarlette.com. He compared the outrage caused by this cartoon to the reaction he stirred up after poking at Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker while at the Charlotte Observer. In this case he defended his "instinctive imagery" as "an assault on the distortion of [Islam] by murderous fanatics and zealots."

News that Marlette, who lives in Hillsborough and now draws editorial cartoons for the Tallahassee Democrat, had received death threats led at least one observer to call the council's campaign "an Islamist fatwa," but that's a clearly absurd characterization. The council's initial statement about the cartoon noted, "As always, be POLITE. Hostile comments will only serve to further harm the image of Islam and Muslims." Some fatwa.

The council has every right to express its outrage, of course, and American Muslim defensiveness is certainly understandable in the current political climate. But it's also true that Muslims, like every other religious group in secular America, are pretty much guaranteed to occasionally get offended in a country where it's acceptable to suggest publicly that Mohammed, like Jesus, was simply a man, albeit one inspired by a brilliant vision to accomplish great things.

Does that statement deserve an outraged response, too?

The council would do better to focus its energies on real insults, like the hateful Web site that was linked last fall on the home page of the Guilford County Republican Party. The site, www.IslamExposed.com, smears the entire Muslim world as evil savages in its first paragraph, a point somehow overlooked by the Guilford GOP until the national press took notice. The site is owned by Solomon Tulbure, currently earning a reputation as an Internet crackpot by describing himself as a telepath, a homeless bum and a Grand Master of the Illuminati, among other things.

County chair Marcus Kindley told The N&O he was unaware of the site until recently, but there's room for skepticism on that one. When the story first bubbled up on Democratic sites in October, a UCLA professor wrote in his Weblog that he'd emailed Kindley directly and gotten no reply. The link stayed, but a few days later a bizarre disclaimer went up: "This site was introduced to readers of www.WorldNetDaily.com. The Guilford GOP does not endorse the opinions expressed on this website, nor have we fully researched the site. It is presented as interesting reading material relating to the War on Terrorism."

How nice. Calling Islam a religion "invented by savages for savages" now counts as "interesting" reading. If Kindley didn't approve that one, who in the Guilford GOP did?

The story gets better. Scratch below the surface at www.IslamExposed.com and you'll find an atheist newsfeed and approving links to groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation and The Happy Heretic, where the monthly columns include "An Atheist Christmas," "WHAT Ten Commandments?" and "Religion's Evil Core." There's also a link to a now-defunct sister site, Christianity Exposed.com. Turns out the Guilford branch of the Republican Party had been quietly funneling its members toward one of the most aggressively anti-religious corners of the Web. You can imagine the looks on those GOP faces when they finally realized what they'd done.

Criticizing religion for its excesses--as Doug Marlette did with his recent cartoon--should be fair game. But using pictures of Taliban executions to argue that Islam is inherently "evil," as IslamExposed.com does, is a much more serious matter.

Groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations may want to pay more attention to the difference between the two.

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