Tom Flynn

On September 25, a gunman shot dead Nahed Hattar, fifty-six, a prominent Christian blogger, as he was about to enter a courthouse in Amman, Jordan, to face charges that a cartoon he had shared online was offensive to Islam. Hattar had been arrested on August 13 after he shared the cartoon on Facebook. The cartoon—ostensibly the work of an anonymous cartoonist known only as “M80”—showed a man in a tent lying in bed between two women while smoking a cigarette, asking Allah to get him some refreshments. Jordanian authorities deemed the cartoon offensive to Islam. Though Hattar apologized and removed the cartoon, by the time of his court date he had received some two hundred death threats.

Witnesses said the gunman was bearded and wore a dishashada, a form of traditional garb favored by Sunni Salafists. Jordanian authorities later identified him as Riyad Ismail Abdullah, forty-nine, an ultraconservative from Amman’s Yadoudah district. Al Jazeera reported that Abdullah had fought in Syria’s civil war as early as 2011.

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Hattar had previously been detained by police for postings critical of Jordan’s king. This incident marked a rare example in Jordan for an arrest on grounds of offense to Islam, and it is surely that country’s first murder apparently intended to avenge such an offense.

Western media gave modest coverage to Hattar’s death and funeral. But they followed a familiar pattern in refusing to republish the cartoon at the center of the story. Users of social media could locate the image with varying degrees of difficulty, but consumers of mainstream print and broadcast media were, once again, limited in their ability to form a full understanding of the story because the image at its heart had been suppressed.

For that reason, Free Inquiry has done what it did twice before when cartoons with Islamic themes led to violence and death: publish the offending image(s) so that readers and website visitors can see for themselves. This commentary will also appear in Free Inquiry’s December 2016/January 2017 issue, published on or about November 7, 2016.

In its April/May 2006 issue, Free Inquiry was the first U.S. periodical of national circulation to publish a selection of the famous Danish “Muhammad cartoons” that had sparked violence across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. After doing so, FI was briefly censored by two national bookstore chains in the U.S. and several related chains in Canada, though in each case issues were restored to the shelves after public and media outcry. The October/November 2015 issue republished the winning cartoon in a “Draw Muhammad” contest that inspired an attack on a Garland, Texas, conference facility in which two would-be terrorists were shot dead by police.

Publication of the new anonymous cartoon posed special difficulties. Free Inquiry takes intellectual property seriously. In 2006 and 2015, we contacted rights-holders of the cartoon images and secured permission to republish the images. The new cartoon was never published by any formal media outlet. Instead it was simply posted online, presumably by the anonymous cartoonist who is known only by the apparent signature “M80,” which appears at the lower right of the image. Free Inquiry staff conducted a painstaking online search for M80. It quickly became evident that, understandably enough, extraordinary measures were being taken to preserve M80’s anonymity and conceal his or her online trail. The cartoon had appeared at website after website, each taken down shortly after the posting. For that reason, we were unable to establish contact with the owner of this image; we are publishing it here as an integral part of this commentary for purposes of informing the public.

The cartoon is set in Paradise. Allah peers into a tent, where a bearded man reclines between two young women. Allah identifies the man as Abu Saleh. This is an apparent reference to Abu Saleh al-Afri (given name Muwaffaq Mustafa Mohammed al-Karmoush), a high-ranking financial officer in the Islamic state who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in November or December 2015. The cartoon is showing us, then, how Allah treats a recently arrived, very-high-profile martyr. The dialogue runs as follows:

ALLAH: May your evening be joyous, Abu Saleh, do you need anything?

ABU SALEH: (Upper balloon) Yes, Lord, bring me the glass of wine from over there and tell the Archangel Gabriel to bring me some cashews. After that, send me an immortal servant to clean the floor. Then take away the empty plates.

ABU SALEH: (Lower balloon) Don’t forget to put a door on the tent so that you can knock before you enter next time, your glory.

Tom Flynn is the editor of Free Inquiry.