The Council on American-Islamic Relations once again is demanding an apology for an alleged slur of Muslims, this time asserting a veteran cartoonist has cryptically defamed Islam.

The Washington, D.C.-based group sent out a dispatch to its e-mail list after a “B.C.” cartoon last week by Johnny Hart was publicly questioned on a Washington Post Web chat page.

The cartoon shows a caveman entering an outhouse at night, and then saying, from inside, “Is it just me, or does it stink in here?”

The Post reader said the cartoon only made sense metaphorically, noting the strip contained a total of six crescent moons, and wondered if it might be a cryptic slur on Muslims.

Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s spokesman, is sure it’s a defamation of Islam.

“I think the reason there might not have been initial complaints is that it’s so cryptic,” he told the Post. “If you know who the cartoonist is, what he’s done in the past, then it becomes clear. Otherwise, it’s just an unfunny joke.”

CAIR also is demanding an apology from radio counselor Dr. Laura Schlessinger for an alleged “anti-Muslim tirade” on her program this week.

Hart, 73, is known to be a devout Christian who often has communicated religious themes in his strip.

Along with the moons, CAIR’s e-mail noted that Hart drew a sound effect – “SLAM” – between two frames to accompany the closing of the outhouse door. The SLAM, which was rendered vertically in the shape of an I, could be viewed as “Islam,” CAIR said.

The group also noted the cartoon appeared on the 15th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hart and Creators Syndicate insist, however, the cartoon is just a simple joke that is being misunderstood.

“My goodness. That’s incredible,” Hart told the Post after hearing of CAIR’s claims. “That’s unbelievable!”

The cartoonist explained it as a silly bathroom joke. The SLAM simply depicted the caveman walking into the outhouse and the moons indicated it was nighttime. Also outhouses often are shown with crescent moons.

“This comic was in no way intended to be a message against Islam – subliminal or otherwise,” he told the Post. “It would be contradictory to my own faith as a Christian to insult other people’s beliefs. If you should have any further silly notions about malicious intent from this quarter, you can save yourself a phone call.”

Several years ago, Hart drew protest from Jewish groups for an Easter Sunday strip that showed the candles of a Jewish menorah flickering out one by one alongside one of Jesus’ last utterances. It culminated with the menorah turning into a cross and the words “It is finished.” Hart insisted the cartoon was meant to honor both Judaism and Christianity.

The Post interviewed a number of analysts who believed Hart’s outhouse strip was an intentional defamation of Islam.

Marshall Blonsky, professor of semiotics at the New School in New York, said for one thing, people don’t slam outhouse doors.

An expert in the interpretation of signs and symbols, Blonsky said he didn’t get the joke, and the cartoon makes sense only in light of the religious interpretation.

The paper also interviewed six leading cartoonists, who all admire Hart. Five of them thought the religious interpretation probably was right, including Berkeley Breathed, creator of “Bloom County” and “Opus,” and Jef Mallett, creator of the nationally syndicated cartoon “Frazz.”

Only Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau sided with Hart.

“We cartoonists are simple folk. We don’t write on that cryptic a level,” he told the Post. “Leave Johnny alone.”

Blonsky opined that when it comes to artistic criticism, it is a mistake to give much weight at all to the artist’s stated intention.

All that matters, he said, is the way people interpret it. Therefore, even if Hart intended no offense, the offense is there.

As WorldNetDaily reported, CAIR and another Muslim group demanded an apology last year from Pulitzer-prize winning political cartoonist Doug Marlette for his depiction of a Middle Eastern-looking man behind the steering wheel of a nuclear-bomb laden truck under the headline, “What would Muhammad drive?”

The cartoon shows a Ryder rental truck like the one used by convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Marlette told WorldNetDaily he would not apologize, though he had received thousands of e-mails from angry Muslims, with some threats of death and mutilation.

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Dr. Laura rebuked for ‘anti-Muslim tirade’

‘What would Muhammad drive?’

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