In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, mourners across the world rallied around “Je Suis Charlie,” causing a backlash of #JeNeSuisPasCharlie ("I am not Charlie") sentiment that minimized the magazine’s martyrs with claims that their cartoons were Islamophobic. Déjà vu struck in Garland, Texas, when two Islamist gunmen attacked the Muhammad cartoon contest hosted by activist Pamela Geller, reviving the debate over the limits of free speech when it comes to ridiculing Islam. Does Geller deserve the same solidarity as Charlie?
One big difference between the two is that Charlie was an equal-opportunity offender, whereas Geller has singled out Islam for years. Jeff Goldberg, in an essay on the “dangerous myths” about Charlie, elaborates:
The first myth is that Charlie Hebdo is anti-Muslim. It is not. It is critical of Islam, as it is critical of all religions. Islam is a set of ideas, just as Christianity and Judaism are sets of ideas. In the putatively enlightened age in which we live, all ideas should be subject to testing, criticism, even excoriation. … Charlie Hebdo specializes in attacking ideas, not people.
So what does Goldberg think of the current provocateur, a woman he considers a long-time “personal nemesis”?
PamelaGeller is a nutbag, but nutbags are allowed to mock religion in a free society.— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) May 4, 2015
.@rcallimachi Free speech is for nutbags and provocateurs and people you and I consider bigots and assholes and I support free speech.— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) May 4, 2015
Goldberg’s distinction of ridiculing “ideas, not people” was taken up by David Frum in The Atlantic on Friday. The most up-voted comment highlighted his “brilliantly well-written” bottom line. Frum:
When vigilantes try to enforce the tenets of a faith by violence, then it becomes a civic obligation to stand up to them. And if the people doing the standing up are not in every way nice people—if they express other views that are ugly and prejudiced by any standard—then the more shame on all the rest of us for leaving the job to them.
Amen. Pamela Geller may be Islamophobic, and as Frum notes an "uncomfortable person to defend," but I have to applaud her for at least having the testicular fortitude to not be cowed by religious extremists who seek to quash free speech. For example, it's one thing if Western media refused to reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons out of respect—it's another thing entirely because they largely refused out of fear.
But dave in texas doesn’t quite agree:
It's an awfully thin line between refusing to be cowed and deliberately inciting violence. I don't think the organizers of this asinine event should face any kind of legal sanction, but I do think Geller was trying to provoke a response of some kind. What if that response had been an Oklahoma City-type bomb instead of the two doofuses (doofi?) who showed up at the Garland event? I think this conversation would be entirely different.
We can only speculate as to whether Geller sought to incite violence, or was simply making a point that we will not be cowed. Given the trend in the media to be cowed, I'm simply going to applaud her for at least having courage, just as I did the brave cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo.
Back to dave in texas:
Just because I think Geller is unhinged doesn't mean I think that violence in response to speech is in any way justified. I find the entirety of the violent Islamic responses to depictions of Muhammad to be barbaric and beyond the bounds of any kind of civilized behavior. I think it's perfectly fine to defile Islam. I think it's perfectly fine to defile Christianity. As far as I'm concerned, nothing is out of bounds as a subject for ridicule, and violence is never a proper response.
Like the PrinceOfDorkness says above, we really have no way of knowing for certain what Geller intended. Unhinged zealots like her, however, tend to do things for maximum effect. They were offering a cash prize for the best cartoon at the event, for cryin' out loud. Common sense would dictate that a response of some kind would occur.
To me, Pamela Geller and the idiots who respond with violence to this type of thing are two sides of the exact same coin. Can we just put all of them on some desert island and let them have at each other?
Ugh, says azt24:
Don't be stupid. Pam Geller spoke, the cartoonists drew—but the ISIS wannabes came with guns intending to kill scores of people. That's not the same coin at all.
Alexander Rawls also comes to Geller’s defense:
The distinction Frum makes here between criticizing broad groups of people and criticizing ideology has been made most clearly by Geller and her colleagues. It is one of those colleagues, Ibn Warraq, who made the well-known distinction that "there are moderate Muslims, but there is no moderate Islam."
Geller for YEARS has at great personal effort and expense been one of the strongest advocates for persecuted MUSLIMS in the world, undertaking an extensive campaign to rescue Muslim girls who are at risk of being "honor" murdered—reaching out to them, offering them help, and saving lives.
An interview on those efforts:
And speaking of honor killings, Ayaan Ali Hirsi recently warned in The Atlantic about them increasing in the U.S. ThunderLizard, meanwhile, scoffs at any suggestion that Geller is a free speech heroine:
If what Ms Geller did is "standing up for free speech," then so is flipping someone the bird. Her event was nothing more than a "f**k you" to a religious minority.
There is no "threat" to free speech here in America. Everyone gets so caught up in defending the universal principal of freedom of speech that people forget which country this took place in. Congress is not going to pass anti-blasphemy laws just because of a couple of lunatics with guns. Now if Ms. Gellar organized an event like this in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, then I would be the first to applaud her courage. But in America, it just makes her a desperate crank, best ignored.
He adds, “No one goes to jail over blasphemy in this country, and that is not about to change.” But azt24 is alarmed by other, lesser forms of censorship:
Try to get a conservative speaker onto most college campuses, and you're like to find them rejected or "uninvited" due to “security concerns" that somehow never bother progressive speakers. The Left is trying to shut down discussion. They own most campuses and they want to ban contrary ideas. No wonder they are all for artistic expression when it's "Piss Christ" but suddenly full of deference to religion when it's Mohammed cartoons.
Dave in texas adds:
It's to Christians' credit that they didn't respond violently to Piss Christ, although I think their efforts to ruin the artist's career and defund the entire National Endowment for the Arts was a gross overreaction.
Nathan Brittles runs through some examples of non-government censorship:
The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art cowardly shelved a “history of Mohammed” exhibition in 2010. Publishing giant Random House, after forking over 100 grand in advance dough to the female author of the racy Jewel of Medina, suddenly yanked the book from print when this “Jewel” was about the concubine of Mohammed. In a patent theater of the absurd, Yale University, which named its 2009 work Cartoons That Shook The World, a history of controversial and influential political cartoons over the centuries, yanked any and all of them that had anything to do with Mohammed:
Reza Aslan, a religion scholar and the author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is a fan of the book but decided to withdraw his supportive blurb that was to appear in the book after Yale University Press dropped the pictures. The book is “a definitive account of the entire [Danish cartoon] controversy,” he said, “but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic.”
Democratic lawmakers wanted to ban Geert Wilders from traveling into the U.S to attend the Garland event. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a champion of women brutalized by Islam everywhere, was denied access to American colleges by puerile leftwing protesters. Abject liberal cowardice and craven kowtowing to the “Religion of Peace ” goes on and on.
But as sweetjazz3 notes, the right has plenty of censors of its own, namely Geller:
She was one of the leaders of the movement to obstruct the "Ground Zero Mosque" (more accurately, the non-mosque that was not located at Ground Zero), interfering with the rights of Muslims to assemble and worship. I'm certainly not going to defend a bigot who only believes in the First Amendment for herself, but not for others.
Frum, however, made a distinction between that protest and the one down in Garland—the former was bigotry, the latter just blasphemy:
It's bigotry to prevent Muslim Americans from building a place of worship in lower Manhattan. It's bigotry to protest when a Muslim American member of Congress takes his oath on his own sacred book.
We owe equality and respect to persons. Ideas and beliefs have to prove their worth. Pamela Geller, the organizer of the Garland, Texas, "Draw Muhammad" contest, attracts criticism because she so often pushes up to and over the line separating criticism of ideas from vilification of groups of people. She's an uncomfortable person to defend. But that's often true of the people who test the rights that define a free society.
Pam Geller bile defaced in my local subway station. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of bigots. pic.twitter.com/vPP6Whc4— Tom Gara (@tomgara) January 23, 2013
But tTg297527 isn’t buying the criticism over the “Ground Zero mosque”:
Geller did not infringe on anyone’s rights by protesting it. She does not have the power to stop a mosque from being built. Only the government can stop it.
Sweetjazz3 doesn’t back down:
I never said Geller infringed on anyone's rights. I'm pointing out that she helped organize to pressure the government to restrict the rights of Muslims. It is clear that she is a hypocrite who advocates for the undermining of the First Amendment.
Let's not forget that when Matt Stone and Trey Parker released “The Book of Mormon,” the same people [at the NYT] claiming we should not blaspheme against Islam wrote glowing praises of the BoM and paid hundreds of dollars a ticket to see it. Here's the NYT's 5-star reviews from 2011 and 2014. Hypocrisy doesn't even begin to cover it—the NYT, not Matt and Trey, who are great and equal opportunity offenders.
Indeed, as PrinceOfDorkness points out, “In the same episode where South Park was forbidden to depict Muhammad as simply a guy who knocked on a door, Parker and Stone—to make a point about such hypocrisy—ended the episode with Jesus defecating on people”:
Such displays of Christian blasphemy, according to ThunderLizard, aren’t as pernicious as Islamic blasphemy:
People do get butt-hurt when Christianity is publicly blasphemed, some so much so that they're willing to take action over it. However, we live in a country where the interests of the Christian religion are protected by the government. Christianity isn't the state religion, but people know that if they complain about any disrespect given to the Christian religion, they will find someone in government willing to listen. Christians in this country aren't violent because they don't have to be.
AudreyA addresses that argument:
Thunder, there are no laws against blasphemy in this country. You claim Christians take action (complain) when their religion is blasphemed and the government responds. I'm saying that the government response, which is tepid as best, consists of discussions over whether to remove public funding from the art in question. You claim that Christians aren't violent because the government acts to protect the interests of Christianity. So, the reason Mormons didn't go berserk over the defamatory in "Book of Mormon" is because the government—oh wait, the government did nothing. That Serrano was not shot by outraged Christians over “Piss Christ” is because the government—oh that's right, the government did nothing.
Christians put up with a whole lot of blasphemy in this country mostly because we see stuff like Serrano's third-rate "art" as the noisy buzzing of pretentious fools, not because we rely on the state to act against them.
On that note, Goldberg gets the last word:
Iran holds an annual Holocaust cartoon contest. It doesn't get much attention, in part because Jews don't shoot it up. We just laugh at it.— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) May 4, 2015
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