Last weekend, Pamela Geller hosted a “Draw Muhammad” competition in Garland, TX under the banner of her Islamophobic hate group, American Freedom Defense Initiative. The promotional material for this event prominently featured the Charlie Hebdo cartoons which provoked outrage among European Muslims and led to the mass killings of the magazine’s editorial staff.
After the Paris attack, Geller wrapped herself in Charlie Hebdo and promoted photographs of herself reading it with the magazine banner prominently featured. The French magazine’s editors aren’t returning the favor. On the Charlie Rose Show (video), one of them specifically rejected any comparison between the work of his publication and Geller:
While he [editor Jean-Baptiste Floret] described the [Geller] event in Texas as part of an “anti-Islamic movement”…Thoret said the motives of Charlie Hebdo are “absolutely not the same.” For the magazine, he said it “was a question of criticizing” all religions, not Muslim people “in particular.”
This “Je ne suis pas Pamela” is at best disingenuous. Hebdo rarely criticizes Israel. When it does, it offensively uses the term “Jew” in place of “Israeli.” While it sometimes satirizes Orthodox rabbis, I’ve never heard of it skewering Judaism as a religion. In fact, one cartoonist was fired by Hebdo when he lampooned Nicholas Sarkozy’s son for converting to Judaism. One can never imagine it firing Luz for his drawings offending Muslims.
In fact, a comparison between Geller and Hebdo is apt. Just as Hebdo cartoons featured Muhammad engaged in sex acts and bestiality, among the cartoons featured in Geller’s competition was one depicting Muhammad wearing a toilet-paper turban and pissing on the Quran. The winning cartoon, which earned the artist a $12,500 award, depicted The Prophet as a werewolf.
Earlier this week, two Islamist gunmen drove from their home in Phoenix to Texas armed with assault rifles and equipped with body armor. When they arrived at the event site they opened fire on a traffic policeman who promptly shot both of them dead. Though little is known so far about their exact plans, it’s safe to say they intended to attack the event and kill as many people there as they could.
Before anything further is said, it’s critical to note that murder is not a legitimate way to battle the hate that Pamela Geller and Charlie Hebdo peddle. In fact, any act of violence in furtherance of religious or political motives is odious.
But I believe it’s also important to consider a perspective few have offered. If instead of Muhammad, Hebdo pictured the Jewish God, Yahweh, pissing on a sacred Torah scroll can you imagine liberals and free speech advocates like PEN rushing to defend them? If Geller dared to picture Jesus engaging in an act of bestiality would the same Christian evangelicals who welcomed her to Garland view her in the same way?
Clearly, the answer in each case is No. So if defaming the Jewish God would be unthinkable for Hebdo and defaming the Christian God unthinkable for Geller, why is Islam in a different category? Why is it acceptable to picture Islam’s founder in ways but unacceptable to engage in the other forms of bigotry I outlined?
There is a double standard in the west which few are willing to concede. Islam is treated as a religion of subhumans, while western religions largely get a pass. Violence endemic to western religions gets a pass, while the violent acts of a small number of Islamist fundamentalists represent the entirety of Islam.
If the results of such ignorance and hatred of Islam weren’t so murderous, it would be best to ignore Islamophobes like Hebdo and Geller. Before the Paris attack, Hebdo was a magazine struggling financially and creatively. I only wish it could’ve sunk into eventual deserved oblivion. One might argue the same about Geller. If we could just ignore her long enough, whatever resonance she has for a certain cross-section of lunatic haters out there might dissipate.
But unfortunately, a few hot-heads with guns have decided to take matters into their own hands. This should force the hand of authorities who must address issues both of public safety and free speech.
I think we lose when we try to fight this battle on the issue of free speech. Clearly, idiots have the right to spout off in democratic societies. No one should argue their speech should be criminalized or sanctioned.
But remember the bright red line drawn by Justice Holmes’ Supreme Court decision on protected speech. No one is permitted to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater. This is what Geller and Hebdo have done. They have shouted anti-Muslim slurs in a crowded theater and caused stampedes which have led to the deaths of scores of people, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
Their views are a danger to public safety. When they speak, people die and lives are threatened, both the lives of the bigots and lives of innocent citizens. Do municipalities like Garland and public institutions have a duty to open their facilities to public events featuring provocative hate that almost guarantees violent outbursts? I think not.
Of course, any such public entity that wishes to, do so should. It goes without saying that private institutions, which already have the right to permit or refuse use of their facilities to speakers of their choice, can permit Pamela Geller to shout anti-Muslim obscenities to the world.
But any institution or individual hosting, sponsoring or promoting such views must now take into account the reality that these views, which are violent in themselves, promote violence in response.
Garland chose to compel Geller to pay $10,000 for security at her event. She was surrounded by SWAT teams, private security and all manner of protection. If institutions and elected officials wish to call out the National Guard to protect themselves in such situations they should do so.
But I think any municipality which contemplates renting a hall to Geller (and don’t kid yourself, now that she’s infamous she wants to replicate her hate fests everywhere) should ask themselves a great many questions: do they wish to turn their jurisdiction into an armed camp bristling with weapons and Rambos bruising for a fight? Do they wish to place their own residents in almost certain danger? Do they wish to become known as the place where hate is welcomed?
Any town or city considering hosting her should demand a multi-million dollar security bond and be prepared to offer hundreds of security personnel to protect Geller, her guests and the rest of its community. Just because Pam Geller may wish to become a martyr for her cause, does this mean that America much enable her?
There may be some who argue that Geller is merely and purely an advocate for free speech and that her campaign should be seen solely on those grounds. But in truth, Geller knows what happened to the Charlie Hebdo editors. She deliberately chose to create an event even more insulting toward Islam. What did she expect would happen? She provoked this attack. In some sense, she has a death wish. Or else she wants to provoke a vicious official response to it that will further her own goals of criminalizing Muslims and Islam. In that case, she is a radical extremist who wants to turn this country into something heinous.
Returning to the toll that Islamophobia takes in society, it’s important to note that scores of Muslims were killed in the wake of the Jylland Postens Muhammad cartoons, and Hebdo’s editors were killed, and the Garland gunmen died. Rabid Islamophobia of this sort kills. It kills the good, the bad and the innocent. Society has no obligation to promote the ideas of psychopathic Islamophobes nor should it have to pay for their dissemination with the lives of its members.
PEN honors Charlie Hebdo
This week, PEN America honored the editors of Charlie Hebdo with an award for “courage” and “free expression.” After six writers who were table hosts of the evening withdrew in protest, 200 other writers joined them in penning a letter objecting to it. They reasoned that while the publication had a right to publish anything it chose, there was no affirmative obligation for PEN to honor it for doing so.
In fact, just as tabloids in the past were called scandal sheets, Hebdo is a hate sheet. No one should die because they peddle hate. But no one has an obligation to honor them either because of what they peddle or because they died peddling it.