After hearing about the threats made against "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker by Muslim activists for a recent episode depicting Muhammad in a bear costume to spoof the Islam rule that he never be drawn, Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris decided to take action.
So she created a pretend activist group called Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor and declared May 20 as "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" as a way to protest the idea that free speech stops just because a certain demographic may threaten violence.
To add fuel to the fire, Norris created a cartoon depicting Muhammad in various forms such as a coffee cup, a domino and a box of pasta.
The concept quickly spread on the Internet thanks, in part, to Dan Savage, the sex columnist for The Stranger, a popular Seattle weekly newspaper, and Michael Moynihan, a contributor to the libertarian-oriented website Reason.com.
However, once Norris saw the reaction to her idea -- both positive and negative -- she pulled out of her own event. Norris declined to be interviewed by AOL News but issued this statement:
"I make cartoons about current, cultural events. I made a cartoon of a 'poster' entitled 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!' with a nonexistent group's name -- Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor -- drawn on the cartoon also. I did not intend for my cartoon to go viral. I did not intend to be the focus of any 'group'. This is not my fight. I practice the First Amendment by drawing what I wish. This particular cartoon of a 'poster' seems to have struck a gigantic nerve, something I was totally unprepared for. I am going back to the drawing table now!"
Once there, she drew a new cartoon where she expressed how the controversy affected her emotionally.
Although Norris says she didn't expect the cartoon to go viral, she admitted to the Los Angeles Times that she did send it to Savage and she assumed it wouldn't go further because, she responded, "I'm an idiot."
Meanwhile, Jon Wellington, who created a Facebook site dedicated to the event, has also pulled out, saying that what he intended to be a tribute to free expression and tolerance of other viewpoints has turned into a forum to post what he considered to be "deeply offensive pictures of the Prophet."
When some fans of the page questioned his naivete, Wellington simply replied that he apparently "had more faith in human nature than was warranted."
One person who doesn't share that unwarranted faith in human nature is Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
"The original organizers were amazed to find out that everyone who wanted to join was a Muslim basher," Hooper told AOL News. "We do take offense at people offending Muhammad, but we supported Christians who were offended when an artist put Christian crucifixes in urine, or elephant dung on the Virgin Mary as well."
Hooper says that while the act of drawing Muhammad is an intentional and gratuitous insult to Muslims, he said there is a better way for followers of Islam to react than the hint of violence.
"When something like this happens, you have to ask yourself, do you react with veiled threats like fringe groups or do you do positive lectures and outreach?"
Hooper says that when previous incidents like this happened, CAIR created a campaign dedicated to exploring the life of Muhammad.
"We are in discussions of reviving that campaign," he said.
Part of Norris' extreme reactions initially and after she saw the reaction to her poster have a lot to do with all the coverage that the "fringe groups" Hooper refers to get in the media.
"Personally, I can feel afraid of Muslims because I really have no idea if in their hearts they hate non-Muslims," she wrote on her website. "There are so many interpretations of the religion that I hear told -- sometimes it is a very extreme translation (that's the scary part, the radicals that believe that Westerners should die), then at other times it sounds more peaceful."
Norris hopes that moderate Muslims will speak out with everyone else against any violent members of that or any other religion.
"That way I would know that there is a difference," she wrote. "Maybe this cartoon I made, this fictional poster of 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!' had such a wildfire effect because it is finally time for Muslims and non-Muslims to understand one another more."
If that's going to happen, it better happen fast because "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" is still set for May 20, and, this time, a Toronto IT specialist named "Mimi" is taking the reins. She says she's had no contact with Norris or Wellington, and their lack of involvement has no effect on her moving forward.
She wants to emphasize that she sees "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" as "pro-free speech, not anti-Muslim."
"If [Muslims] are offended, they have the right to be offended -- just like Christians," she said.
In the interest of free speech, Mimi is allowing almost any kind of depiction of Muhammad "except for those inciting violence or pornographic in nature."
Mimi believes that North Americans are naive about what she calls "the radical aspects" of Islam and mistakenly bend over backward to appease that contingent.
"Mainstream society does whatever the Muslim society asks out of fear of violence or political correctness," she said. "But if you want to live in a Western society and use the system to protect your rights, you have to be willing to allow others to have theirs as well."
Another person who plans to participate is Moynihan, who plans to post his favorite Muhammad depictions on the Reason.com website. Although he doesn't appreciate people being hostile to Islam, he doesn't understand why Muhammad gets a pass from being ridiculed.
"In the South Park episode that started all this, Buddha does lines of coke and there was an episode where Cartman started a Christian rock band that sang very homo-erotic songs," Moynihan said. "Yet there is one religious figure we can't make fun of. The point of the episode that started the controversy is that celebrities wanted Muhammad's power not to be ridiculed. How come non-Muslims aren't allowed to make jokes?"
Moynihan worries that Comedy Central's self-censorship of the offending episode may make things worse."Any time you cave into terrorism, it emboldens extremists," he said.
Moynihan, who says he is an atheist, says it's perfectly OK for a religion to have certain beliefs it expects followers to adhere to. But he thinks expecting non-believers to do the same is unrealistic.
"Don't for one minute think I have to submit to your beliefs," he said. "If you're offended, tough s--t!"