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A Cartoonist’s Experience With the Police in a Muslim Country

8314 Peace On Earth Cartoon

In 2007, not too long after the Danish cartoonist who drew Muhammad was threatened, I lost my passport while in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I made this unfortunate discovery as I was about to go through security at the airport. I called the hotel I’d stayed at, the last restaurant I’d eaten at, and the bus service that drove me to the airport, and nobody had reported finding a passport. Big surprise. A U.S. passport is worth more than its weight in gold.

It was a weekend evening and the U.S. embassy had no one on duty that could help until morning. In the meantime, the person who answered the phone said I needed to report the loss to the local police.

The airport had a police station, so I went there. Naturally, there was lots of paperwork. An officer patiently helped me fill it out.

“Occupation?” he asked at some point. Without thinking I said, “Cartoonist.”

“Did you say cartoonist?” he asked.

“Ooops,” I thought.

I grabbed his pen and frantically drew a funny picture of myself frantically drawing a picture of myself while babbling something like, “Yes, but not political. Just funny stuff.” He looked at the drawing and took it into what I assumed was his superior’s office.

“I’m doomed,” I thought.

A few minutes later his superior came out gesturing, pointing at the drawing, then pointing at him self and then he handed me a pen.

“You want me to draw you, is that it?

“Yes,” he said.

I’m not a great caricaturist, but that didn’t seem to matter because everyone in that office wanted drawings. At some point I reached into one of my umpteen pockets (you can always recognize Americans’ abroad because they have so many pockets, someone once told me) and gads, there was my passport. Damn cargo pants. Somehow I had missed it.

By then I had also missed my flight to Mumbai … or so I thought. “You have fifteen minutes,” one of the officers said.

KL is an enormous airport and there was no way an Olympic runner could have made my gate in time, not to mention I still had to go through immigration and security. The officer, apparently an Olympian, grabbed my passport, ticket and carry-on luggage and raced ahead to immigration. When I got there the official waved me on saying, “Yes, yes, he’s gone on to security. Hurry, hurry.” When I got to the long line at the metal detector the guard insisted I come immediately to the front. Once through I grabbed my shoes and ran all the while holding my pants up because I hadn’t grabbed my belt.

I made my plane.

I’m sometimes asked if I would draw Mohammad. I’ve travelled places where people were superstitious about having their picture taken. I didn’t share their superstition, but out of courtesy and respect I refrained from snapping photos even if people wouldn’t have known I was doing so. For the same reason I wouldn’t draw Mohammed. Or put a cross in a bottle of urine.

But if I was an insensitive boob, and did insult someone’s religion, I would not deserve to die for doing so.

Fortunately, most Muslims agree with me.

Je suis Charlie!

Police Cartoons for use in magazines, web sites, etc. Cheap, and a lot more fun than being arrested.

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