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Dropped Opus Causing Questions of Double Standards (UPDATE)

After more than 2 dozen papers temporarily dropped Berkeley Breathed’s Opus this last Sunday, many are questioning if the strip was offensive enough to warrant such action. The strip apparently didn’t offend Sheila Musaji, the editor of The American Muslim. Sheila wrote on her publication’s blog that:

As a Muslim I was offended by the Muhammad cartoons run in Denmark, and I was offended by the violent response on the part of some Muslims. I am also offended when someone makes fun of Jesus, Moses, an entire religion, etc. Muslims were offended in that instance because their Prophet and the faith of Islam was being maligned.

Making fun of Islam (or any religion) is offensive, making fun of Muslims, there is no problem, and there are plenty of Muslim comedians and comic strip artists who do just that all the time. This cartoon is funny, and most Muslims would also laugh. We might not agree with everything it insinuates, but so what!

She echoed sentiments that there seemed to be a double standard regarding humor that takes swipes at Christians versus other minorities. Fox news reports that the week earlier an Opus strip made fun of the recently deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell, co-founder of the Moral Majority (see cartoon), but no effort was made to alert editors of content that might be offensive to Christians.

Regarding the two week segment of Opus that did get flagged, Amy Lago, comics editor at Washington Post Writers Group, reportedly “flagged some of the syndicate’s newspaper clients for two reasons: because of the possibility that the jokes about Islam would be misconstrued and because of the sexual innuendo in the punchline.”

According to Fox News the Washington Post pulled the strip after showing it “to Muslim staffers at The Washington Post to gauge their reaction, and they responded “emotionally” to the depiction of a woman dressed in traditional Muslim garb and espousing conservative Islamic views.” Also reported is the decision to pull the strip went to the “highest echelons of The Washington Post.”

Conservative blogger Eugene Volokh of Volokh Conspiracy, who calls the strip “quite tame,” questions whether the Washington Post should have even yanked the strip simply based on the content. He worries that by worrying so much about sensibilities, we’re depriving ourselves the ability to talk about important issues regarding Islam.

As those who like to stress the importance of accommodating world Islam in various ways point out, there are a billion Muslims out there. But that cuts both ways: A faith that is this important in the world is an important subject of discussion, both in traditional academic and political debate and in that part of social debate that happens through humor and even the comics.

I stress that I’m not speaking about legal rules; as I’ve argued before, cartoons that depict Mohammed should be as constitutionally protected as other cartoons, and newspaper decisions to reject whatever cartoons they want to reject should be constitutionally protected, too. But if I’m right in my analysis above, then it looks like certain media outlets are establishing or reinforcing a social norm that immunizes Islam and Muslims from a certain kind of commentary. And we as readers and writers should try to fight such a social norm, by criticizing those who are acting on it.

UPDATE: As noted by a reader in the comments, the Today Show visited this issue. You can see video of the 6 minute segment on their site. Scroll down to “Is Islam off-limits in comic strips?”

Community Comments

#1 Jeff Stanson
August/28/2007
@ 2:22 pm

“Questions” about double standards? Anyone who hasn’t realized newspapers are practicing double standards when it comes to religion is either immersed in media babble or living under a rock.

#2 Matt Bors
August/28/2007
@ 3:25 pm

“Making fun of Islam (or any religion) is offensive,”

Wow. What a way to insulate your belief system from criticism–just declare analyzing it through humor to be off limits.

The Washington Post Editor seemed to be anticipating readers not even able to understand the comic by saying it would be “misconstrued” and also based the decision off of the admittedly emotional response of religious staffers.

I think it would be great if they made all editorial decisions using that criteria.

#3 Cory Thomas
August/28/2007
@ 5:30 pm

Just to clarify, Matt… Amy Lago is the editor at the syndicate not the newspaper. As odd as it may seem, the Washington Post Writers Group is mostly independent of the Washington Post itself.

She’s not the one that made the decision to pull the strip from the newspaper.

As for her fears anticipating readers misconstruing the comic. That’s not paranoia. That’s extreme caution based on actual precedent.

#4 Rick Stromoski
August/28/2007
@ 6:19 pm

â?¥â?¥â?¥â??Making fun of Islam (or any religion) is offensive,â?

If I felt this way I’d lose at least a 3rd of my material.

#5 Garey Mckee
August/28/2007
@ 7:30 pm

Well Linus himself once said there are three things he’s learned never to discuss. Religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.

Fortunately for us, all three make for great cartoons.

#6 Anne Hambrock
August/28/2007
@ 8:24 pm

I guess I read this strip wrong – I thought it presented a slightly pro islamic slant by insinuating a freedom from western decadance as a positive. At least from Lola’s point of view. I had the impression the editors were more worried about offending their core audience than any potential muslim readers. After reading the Editor and Publisher piece I realized I was looking at it backwards. I guess it just shows how many things one can read into a comic.

#7 Anne Hambrock
August/28/2007
@ 8:29 pm

By the way – what exactly kind of “traditional muslim garb” was that she was wearing? Looked pretty wild to me.

#8 Larry
August/28/2007
@ 10:16 pm

Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago that that the Fathers’ Day “Opus” strip was under fire from conservatives because it allegedly bashed fatherhood? Somehow, the world works in mysterious ways. That, or you’re gonna get some flak from both sides of the political spectrum if you try to poke fun at said sides.

#9 Dawn Douglass
August/28/2007
@ 11:07 pm

“I’m offended that you assumed I’d be offended.”

:)

When it comes to religion, you can’t win for losing.

#10 josh
August/29/2007
@ 10:04 am

Did anyone see today’s Today show segment about this? They managed to insinuate that comics are “low” art, as well as get two of the most irrelevant people to debate the legitimacy of that particular strip. Seriously, they were both more out to promote themselves than discuss the issues brought up by Opus.

It’s funny when a penguin outsmarts two grown men.

#11 Dawn Douglass
August/29/2007
@ 12:00 pm

Regarding the Today Show video, that Hussein guy was ridiculous. It’s the “right-wing thought police” who are demanding that this cartoon be printed?? He obviously doesn’t know anything about cartoons in general or Opus in particular.

#12 Stewart Mason
August/29/2007
@ 3:09 pm

I think some commenters are misreading Sheila Musaji’s quote, which baldly states that there’s a difference between mocking Islam itself and mocking Muslims, and that the latter is perfectly okay. Lord knows I’ve spent enough time openly mocking our own Religious Right to understand the difference between mocking a religion and mocking its followers.

Regardless, to my eyes, the people being mocked in this cartoon are faddish Americans, as embodied by the vacuous Lola Granola. What’s wrong with that? Next, you’ll be telling me I can’t make fun of Paris Hilton!

#13 Rick Stromoski
August/29/2007
@ 4:04 pm

I don’t subscribe to the idea that ANY religion is off limits to criticism in any form. I think the world is getting a bit tired of this religious bullying in all it’s stripes.

Especially those that beleive in bronze age myths and have access to atomic weaponry to fulfill their apocolyptic visions for the purification of the Earth or the return of a messiah.

#14 Cory Thomas
August/29/2007
@ 5:30 pm

I’d say there’s a difference between criticism and mockery, though.

#15 Stewart Mason
August/29/2007
@ 7:45 pm

Rick: Yeah, George W. Bush scares the heck out of me, too!

#16 Eric Burke
August/31/2007
@ 10:28 am

I have to call out The Boston Herald for it’s cowardice in not running the Opus cartoon in question.

For such a liberal newspaper, I was surprised that they didn’t run it.

Between The Globe not running the comic and the Yankees sweeping the Sox, it feels like Boston is losing it’s spine…

…and I agree with Rick that no religion should be a sacred cow. Not all of us share the views and beliefs of these groups, yet we’re expected to respect their views even when they don’t feel they should respect ours?

#17 Garey Mckee
August/31/2007
@ 7:28 pm

Let’s declare jihad against all the papers that didn’t run that Opus strip.

#18 JeffM
September/1/2007
@ 11:40 pm

Eric and Rick:

True, not everyone shares the same beliefs, but liberals are only tolerant to those that believe their beliefs. If a conservative was to draw a cartoon critizing homosexuality, or illegal immigrants, the uproar from the left would be deafening.

#19 Dawn Douglass
September/2/2007
@ 2:07 am

Fanaticism is not restricted to religion.

How many people have been killed by radical environmentalists, by people setting fire to housing developments, getting in the way of Navy vessels, putting stakes in trees, and so on? How many animal rights people have crossed the line and become violent?

The only Christians in the U.S. who have killed for their beliefs that I know of were a few nut jobs who killed abortion doctors.

Anti-religion folks like to say that religion has been behind most death and destruction on the planet since the beginning of time. Total myth. The 19th Century saw more killing than the world has ever known…millions and millions and millions of people…and the majority of it was done by atheists.

Does that mean that atheism motivates killing? No. But neither does religion motivate killing. War is about power, control of resources and survival. Religion is often used and abused in wartime, but it’s never the cause of war. And it’s not the cause of radicals.

#20 Wiley Miller
September/2/2007
@ 7:20 am

“But neither does religion motivate killing.”

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.”

Blaise Pascal
1623-1662

#21 Wiley Miller
September/2/2007
@ 7:53 am

The point,of course, is that religion is not cause or motivation for killing, it’s the rationalization used to justify killing.

#22 Dawn Douglass
September/2/2007
@ 10:02 am

It’s *one* rationalization, Wiley, not *the* rationalization.

Pascal didn’t know communism.

There is also a lot of GOOD that is done from religious conviction. How many orphanages and hospitals and soup kitchens have been created and maintained by secular liberals?

This is from an article that came out last year about the book titled “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism”, written by somebody who went into it believing the lie the liberal lie that conservatives are callous about social injustice:

The book’s basic findings are that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional nuclear families and reject the notion that the government should engage in income redistribution are the most generous Americans, by any measure.

Conversely, secular liberals who believe fervently in government entitlement programs give far less to charity. They want everyone’s tax dollars to support charitable causes and are reluctant to write checks to those causes, even when governments don’t provide them with enough money.

Such an attitude, he writes, not only shortchanges the nonprofits but also diminishes the positive fallout of giving, including personal health, wealth and happiness for the donor and overall economic growth.
All of this, he said, he backs up with statistical analysis.

“These are not the sort of conclusions I ever thought I would reach when I started looking at charitable giving in graduate school, 10 years ago,” he writes in the introduction. “I have to admit I probably would have hated what I have to say in this book.”

Still, he says it forcefully, pointing out that liberals give less than conservatives in every way imaginable, including volunteer hours and donated blood.

#23 Dawn Douglass
September/2/2007
@ 10:04 am

Oh, here’s the link: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/204/story_20419_1.html

#24 Wiley Miller
September/2/2007
@ 11:46 am

“There is also a lot of GOOD that is done from religious conviction. How many orphanages and hospitals and soup kitchens have been created and maintained by secular liberals?”

Well, of course, Dawn. That’s what religions teach and what people who follow any given religion are SUPPOSED to do. Hence the bitter irony of those who rationalize killing and invading other countries by saying it’s “God’s will”.

You also might want to look up the definition of “liberal” before trying to demonize it in a vain attempt to support conservatism.

#25 Tom Spurgeon
September/2/2007
@ 5:04 pm

The great thing about arguments concerning religious issues is that there’s always a resolution that satisfies both sides after about two or three exchanges.

#26 Dawn Douglass
September/2/2007
@ 10:18 pm

Wiley, I know what liberal means. Perhaps today’s Liberals should look up the meaning of the word. They are no more open-minded, tolerant, or protective of personal freedom than the Religious Right. It’s just different issues on each side, like smoking vs. abortion.

Whoever said that invading Iraq was God’s will?? I never heard that, even from people who continue to support the war. I’m Catholic. Pope John Paul II was against the war, if you’ll remember, and so is the current Pope.

“Demonize”? It’s Christians who are being demonized in this country, with more and more of the Left and the media equating Christians with radical Muslim terrorists. I’m far from being a fundamentalist Christian…like I said, I’m Catholic; we’re often maligned by them, too…but I don’t hate evangelicals, fear them, or think that Bush is going to blow up the world because he believes in Jesus and has moral convictions. That kind of reaction is born out of ignorance and political gamesmanship.

I’m not about to stop defending religion with rational facts during this time when there is a growing swell of irrational myths leading the uninformed to wrongly believe that if we could just get rid of all religions the world would be a peaceful and happy place.

#27 Charles Brubaker
September/3/2007
@ 2:03 am

Have to agree, Dawn.

So, either the meaning of the “liberal” changed (and the Dictionary is too lazy to note that) or that today’s liberals aren’t really liberals. Same can be said for “big government conservatives”

#28 Wiley Miller
September/3/2007
@ 7:02 am

“Whoever said that invading Iraq was Godâ??s will?? ”

George Bush.

#29 Wiley Miller
September/3/2007
@ 7:12 am

“Perhaps todayâ??s Liberals should look up the meaning of the word. They are no more open-minded, tolerant, or protective of personal freedom than the Religious Right.”

What you’re talking about here are the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum. The extremists on the “left” are not representative of liberalism, just as the extremists on the “right” are not representative of conservatism. Both are anomalies that undermine the true nature of the principles they supposedly support. What you are doing here is the usual radio talk show technique of defining ALL liberals as left wing extremists. That’s not just tiresome, it’s intellectual lazy. And you are better than that.

#30 Dawn Douglass
September/3/2007
@ 10:25 am

Can you cite where Bush said that invading Iraq was God’s will, Wiley? The closest I know of is something that Prime Minister Abbas claimed Bush said, but that was unsubstantiated hearsay.

I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just curious where you’re coming up with that, because it’s news to me.

As for your accusation, what am I saying that’s extreme, Wiley?? Is John Edwards extreme left? He just announced last week that he would favor a nationwide federal ban on smoking in public places.

Is CNN extreme left? They are running a special that lumps the Religious Right in with the Taliban.

Is it just the extreme liberals who are close minded about the war in Iraq? When Democrat Brian Baird — a senator who voted against the war and has been critical of the administration and their war strategy — came back from Iraq and said last week that he’s convinced the situation in Iraq has begun to change substantially for the better, all hell broke loose. His own party wanted him drawn and quartered. He’s from Vancouver, a city just north of me, and I heard him on the local radio talking about how he’s lost many very close personal friends over the issue! Are all those close-minded friends and fellow Senators extremists, Wiley?

Believe me, I know that many Democrats are Christians themselves and many Republicans believe in abortion. But it’s the extremes of both parties that are defining the issues for 2008. Seems to me that ignoring their heavy influence is what would be intellectually lazy.

#31 Rich Diesslin
September/3/2007
@ 10:38 am

Just read through this thread and Dawn, you make a whole lot of sense. Well said!

#32 Rick Stromoski
September/3/2007
@ 1:11 pm

The idea that the world will ever be without religion is a preposterous idea. There’s too much going for it if you’re a believer. It gives many great comfort believing that you’re really never going to die and many of it’s disciple’s do some good because of it, but one doesn’t “need” religion to be a good and giving person.

>>>Iâ??m Catholic. â??Demonizeâ?? Itâ??s Christians who are being demonized in this country, with more and more of the Left and the media equating Christians with radical Muslim terrorists. I donâ??t hate evangelicals, fear them, or think that Bush is going to blow up the world because he believes in Jesus and has moral convictions. That kind of reaction is born out of ignorance and political gamesmanship.>>>How many people have been killed by radical environmentalists, by people setting fire to housing developments, getting in the way of Navy vessels, putting stakes in trees, and so on? How many animal rights people have crossed the line and become violent?>>The only Christians in the U.S. who have killed for their beliefs that I know of were a few nut jobs who killed abortion doctors.

Christian fundamentalist missionaries actively preach against condom use and contraception in 3rd world African and South American countries ravaged by overpopulation and AIDS predicated on religious opposition to contraceptive use. Millions have died from Aids and starvation partly due to the religious rhetoric from fundamentalist preachers and missionaries.

In America, Religious hospitals and care givers refuse to administer ECP’s that prevent contraception to rape victims based on their religious beliefs.

���Anti-religion folks like to say that religion has been behind most death and destruction on the planet since the beginning of time. Total myth.

Off the top of my head….The Crusades, The Inquisition, Salem witch trials, Northern Ireland, Islamic terrorism and Jihad, Isreali occupation of Palestinian land, Palistinian terrorism, 9/11, The Taliban, The Catholic church’s indulgences and ban on contraception, the Hollocaust, the ongoing sectarian vilolence in the Arab world between sunni and shia muslims, Bosnia, Rowanda, WW2 Japan, North Korea, …..all myths?

������The 19th Century saw more killing than the world has ever known�millions and millions and millions of people�and the majority of it was done by atheists.

I think you mean the 20th century

1) “Kill all Americans in the name of Allah!”

2) “Kill and torture heretics in the name of Jesus Christ!”

3) “Kill people in the name of atheism!”

1. Yes we hear this often today

2. Yes. This was the battle cry for 600 years of the Inquisition

3. Huh! Has anyone heard any examples of number three?

Maybe there have been atheists who killed people but not to my knowledge “in the name of atheism”. If you’re referring to Stalin Hitler and pol Pot, those arguments have been addressed in this forum many times over.

Murderous dictators donâ??t murder in the name of atheism, they murdered in the name of their political dogmatism.

#33 Rick Stromoski
September/3/2007
@ 1:16 pm

â?¥â?¥â?¥>>>Iâ??m Catholic. â??Demonizeâ?? Itâ??s Christians who are being demonized in this country, with more and more of the Left and the media equating Christians with radical Muslim terrorists. I donâ??t hate evangelicals, fear them, or think that Bush is going to blow up the world because he believes in Jesus and has moral convictions. That kind of reaction is born out of ignorance and political gamesmanshipâ?¤â?¤â?¤â?¤â?¤

For generations the Catholic church knowingly and sytematically harbored and protected legions of pederasts and child rapists in it’s clergy. Time after time again, when a priest had been found to be a serial child rapist , instead of being turned over to the autorhorities , the Catholic Hierarchy including Bishops, Cardinals and Popes shuttled them off to another parish to continue their predatory ways. It’s been estimated over 100,000 children in the U.S alone since the mid fifties as well as Hundreds of thousands of children in South America and Asia… lives ruined by the people they were supposed to trust the most. If this isn’t evil equal to sadistic muslim terrorists I don’t know what is.

Evangelical Christians believe that engaging in a nuclear holocaust between Isreal and the muslim world will bring forth the rapture and the return of Jesus Christ and their ascension into heaven. They actively believe this and pray and hope for it. This is why they are as dangerous as Muslim extremists.We have a self proclaimed evangelical President who believes we are in the End Times. I’d say good reason to be afraid of these people.

#34 Alan Gardner
September/3/2007
@ 4:56 pm

Wow. I take a couple of days off and this thread gets hijacked. Let’s bring it back to the topic of Opus and the Washington Post. This is not the proper place to debate the positive/negative influence of religion on the world.

Thanks.

#35 Dawn Douglass
September/3/2007
@ 7:44 pm

Sure, Alan. BUT speaking of religion and politics AND cartoons, I just posted a gag to my blog that I wrote and Worth drew if anybody wants to take a look. ;)

#36 JeffM
September/3/2007
@ 8:03 pm

Rick said “Evangelical Christians believe that engaging in a nuclear holocaust between Isreal and the muslim world will bring forth the rapture and the return of Jesus Christ and their ascension into heaven. They actively believe this and pray and hope for it”

Where in the hell did you hear this? Your comment is the most ignorant thing I have ever heard. Do me a favor and actually read the Bible before you post such idiotic nonsense for crying out loud.

#37 Rich Diesslin
September/3/2007
@ 9:37 pm

Nice toon Dawn and Worth! Oh, and Alan, I look forward to more articles on the fallout from the Opus toons. It is interesting. Berkeley does like to toy with every aspect of cartooning … syndicates, audience, other cartoonists, sensitive issues. He knows how to stir the pot (or smoke it). ;)

#38 John
September/3/2007
@ 9:47 pm

“Rick said â??Evangelical Christians believe that engaging in a nuclear holocaust between Isreal and the muslim world will bring forth the rapture and the return of Jesus Christ and their ascension into heaven. They actively believe this and pray and hope for itâ?

Where in the hell did you hear this? Your comment is the most ignorant thing I have ever heard. Do me a favor and actually read the Bible before you post such idiotic nonsense for crying out loud.”

It’s true, Jeff. A small but not irrelevant percentage of the people at my church believe this or some variation of it.

#39 JeffM
September/3/2007
@ 11:11 pm

No it’s not true. I am a Christian and consider myself fundamentalist and I have never heard of such a thing. The Bible mentions fire coming from the sky in the end times at the hands of the Anti-Christ, but it’s anyone’s guess as to what that is.

Christ doesn’t need man to trigger his return. It’s on God’s timetable and it certainly isn’t vengeful and contingent of mass destruction.

#40 Alan Gardner
September/3/2007
@ 11:50 pm

I find it interesting that individuals on this thread have emailed me privately complaining about incendiary language that has erupted on other threads on this blog, but eagerly engage in it when they’ve got their own axe to grind.

It has come to this. This is a cartooning news site and blog. The topic is cartooning. Occasionally we’re going to venture into emotional topics of religion, race, and politics and I feel this blog gives interested parties a forum to discuss those issues in the context of cartooning. What I will no longer tolerate are individuals who routinely hijack threads with inflammatory statements.

My new rules regarding thread misbehavior are these:
1. I’ll post a warning comment to all warning that the thread is heading off course.
2. If the participants can’t get the thread back on course, I’ll close down thread.
3. Individuals who repeatedly hijack threads (or further fan the flames of a hijacked thread) will be banned entirely from posting future comments.

Thank you all for your support.

Alan Gardner

#41 John Walker
September/4/2007
@ 7:44 am

JeffM,

You’re just one person and the essence of faith is that anyone can believe whatever they want to believe, and it becomes their truth.

You’re not the überChristian. Your opinion doesn’t “win”. The more fundamentalist people at my church, who are just as Christian as you, believe just as strongly as you.

Who’s right?

The Opus cartoon debate shows, as well as Alan threatening to shut down the thread which is engaging in precisely the same kind of debate the cartoon itself engendered, that tolerance of other peoples’ religious views and willingness to permit debate on such, are disappearing in what once was a tolerant country.

#42 Alan Gardner
September/4/2007
@ 9:23 am

No John, I’m not being intolerant, I’m simply no longer willing to allow the discussion to continue in flame-war fashion. Appropriate conversation could include whether the Washington Post (and other papers) make the right call to yank the strip, OR do American newspapers have a different standard when it comes to various religions, OR was the Opus strip offensive OR how do cartoonists deal with religion in their features, etc. If you want to talk about religion with out any context of cartooning, please find a more appropriate forum.

#43 JeffM
September/4/2007
@ 11:16 am

Alan, there is no way a discussion about the censorship of a religious themed comic strip will not evolve into a heated discussion about religion in general. The only way to prevent such discussions is to not bring up in the first place. Unfortunately that is the nature of the beast!

#44 John Walker
September/4/2007
@ 2:15 pm

Agreed.

#45 Chris
September/23/2007
@ 1:50 pm

Off the subject of religion, I noticed that in today’s 9/23/07 installment of “Opus,” Lola Granola is again present as Fatima. Seems like Breathed is thumbing his nose at the papers who dropped him for those two weeks, as if to say, “I put the ‘radical Islamist’ part in there again, but it’s not central to the joke, so you can’t censor me!”

It’s a pretty good strip today, by the way.
http://www.comics.com/wash/opus

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