August 28, 2007

Opus the Penguin has seen his share of controversy, especially back in the 1980’s, when Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County was a more liberal (and more intelligent, and more funny) version of Garry Trudeau’s (even then) tired Doonesbury.

But this last weekend, the penguin dove in where angels fear to tread, and Breathed’s current comic-strip, Opus, found itself blacklisted by a number of papers for providing a humorous look at Islam.  The two-part storyline (the second part is scheduled to run on Sunday, September 2) features the main female character, Lola Granola, converting to radical Islam and taking the name “Fatima Struggle.”  (You can view the first part here, courtesy of

More fascinating even than the reaction from newspapers has been the attempt to obfuscate the issue.  Reports, such as this one from Editor & Publisher, have tried to claim that some newspapers chose not to run the strip because it contained a “sex joke,” and not because it made light of conversion to Islam.

That explanation beggars belief, however.  The “sex joke” consists of Lola Granola telling her boyfriend, Steve Dallas, about all the positive things he can expect from her conversion.  After a couple panels in which a thought clearly appears to Steve, he turns to Lola and says, “Anything else I won’t be getting, Fatima?”

Technically, that is a sex joke, but it’s hardly one that would make Blondie or even Mary Worth blush (let alone Brenda Starr).  Back during the height of The Scandal, newspapers routinely ran much more explicit “jokes” about priestly pedophilia without batting an eye.

No, this is all about the fact that some newspapers, according to Editor & Publisher, “won’t publish any Muslim-related humor, whether pro or con.”  The strangest thing about it, though, is that the comic strip isn’t making fun of Islam.  It isn’t even making fun of serious converts to Islam, such as “Abdul,” the eighth-generation German-American convert whom I have been profiling in a series for Chronicles.  Rather, it’s satirizing moronic liberals who change their “spirituality” more often than they change their underwear.  And it might be poking a little fun, too, at those conservatives who find Islam attractive because of its supposedly conservative social values.

Perhaps Breathed can devote his next series of “controversial” strips to newspaper editors whose idea of a “free press” is running away from anything that even hints at the politically incorrect.


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