Last Sunday, the editors of The Washington Post decided to deprive the funny pages of the weekly comic Non Sequitur. The strip, known for its typically off-beat humor, had waded into territory the higher-ups felt might be offensive. The cartoon consisted of a full-color cel depicting an innocuous Sunday afternoon in a park, with a detailed scene of a zig-zagging skateboarder weaving in and out of kids with ice cream and dour-looking men walking dogs. But it was the caption that for some reason spooked Washington Post Style editor Ned Martel — who had also advised executive editor Marcus Brauchli on the matter — enough to convince him to cut it: “Picture book title voted least likely to ever find a publisher… ‘Where’s Muhammad?’”
Yes, illustrated cartoons of the Islamic leader in a Danish newspaper prompted worldwide furor in 2006. But this Sunday edition of Non Sequitur does not include a depiction of Muhammad anywhere in the strip despite its reference to last May’s “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” during which people actually did include the religious figure in sketches. The Post feared uproar from religious groups anyway, and pulled the piece from the paper. Ombudsman Andrew Alexander took to his column yesterday to criticize the censorship, and warn readers that setting this sort of a precedent — pulling something that does no more than imply an offensive thing — could lead to further incidents of what many letters to the paper called “cowardice.”
The religious leader’s absence from the comic is its punchline, and by banishing the strip The Post is only reinforcing the humor at play, Non Sequitur artist and writer Wiley Miller told Alexander.
“The wonderful irony [is that] great newspapers like The Washington Post, that took on Nixon… run in fear of this very tame cartoon, thus validating the accuracy of the satire,” he told the ombudsman via e-mail.
When asked why he backed the yanking of the cartoon, Brauchli claimed “the point of the joke was not immediately clear” — which is not only condescending to the bulk of his readers with the knowledge to comprehend it, but also a weak justification in general. If comics were cut from the paper because the joke was not immediately clear, there would be more blank spaces than ink on the funny pages.
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