Give this to Pamela Geller: She has ushered us into a worthy discussion of tactics against the advance of global jihad.
Although the Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas ended with the shooting of two actual terrorists who sought to attack the event, the daily threat in America is not ragtag teams of ISIS-inspired gunmen looking to shed American blood. At least not yet.
The daily threat is the Sharia-flavored assault on our liberties, the kind of pressure exerted by reasonable-sounding Islamists in communities across America, under the guise of fighting “Islamophobia.”
It was just such an event that attracted attention in January in the same convention center attacked by Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi on May 3. Dubbed “Stand With the Prophet,” it featured elements of earnest concern about Islam’s image in America. But it also featured moments of scurrilous slander against anyone who would speak boldly against the terrorist wing of the Islamic faith.
Employing the first rule of political correctness, the “Stand With the Prophet” event brimmed with the fascist sentiment that assertive words against radical Islam must be branded as hate speech.
Sadly, this is the same noxious logic the Southern Poverty Law Center uses in its reckless designation of Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative as an anti-Muslim hate group.
It is neither a hate group nor anti-Muslim. It is anti-free speech repression. Muslims willing to tolerate America’s heritage of free expression will taste no quarrel with Geller’s AFDI.
Her group mounted the cartoon contest not from a general distaste for Muslims, but as a ballsy response to Jihadist habits of suppressing expression that rattles their fragile sensibilities. The most extreme example of this thin skin is the recent tendency of some hard-liners to take up arms against those who have drawn images of the prophet Muhammad. The Charlie Hebdo attacks in January and the widespread riots protesting Danish cartoons a decade ago reveal a facet of Islam’s advance that poses a dire threat to all societies cherishing freedom of expression.
So, seeking to put a stick in the eye of such an affront, the Geller event sought to make a point that we will not be told what we can and cannot draw— or say, or write, for that matter.
By the time the day was over, another lesson had been delivered. Unlike the sitting ducks in the Paris office, in Texas, we shoot back. One hopes the growing ISIS fan base will be somewhat dampened each time its adherents are killed before they take out one infidel.
That lesson has been so popular that it has drawn many to approve of the whole cartoon-contest idea, fancying it as a method to smoke out the next wave of twisted souls seeking to spread the caliphate by challenging Americans engaged in free speech.
But here is where a line is drawn, between standing up for groups like AFDI as they hold such events, and actually advocating them.
That line is beyond the grasp of many. Soon after the January event in Garland had attempted to bully and berate anti-jihad speech, I heard of the plan for the Muhammad cartoon contest. I may have audibly groaned.
I am as ready as anyone to take the battle to the terrorists, whether by bombing them into oblivion in the Middle East, or defending America against violence or ancient repressions here in America.
But the cartoon contest was problematic at several levels. It was clumsily broad and needlessly hurtful to countless people who are guilty of nothing.
Remember, the cartoon-fest was not just a show of defiance to the rioters and murderers who react violently to Muhammad on paper; it was a massive back of the hand to the entire Muslim world and its article of faith that says not to draw its prophet.
Some folks cared not one bit about collateral offense. “These people killed our countrymen on 9/11,” one radio caller told me. “I can’t get real worked up about getting them steamed about a stupid cartoon.”
Not an unprincipled view. But as we hopefully move toward a new era of rejoining the war our enemy has never stopped fighting, it is time to note the need to fight hard, but fight smart.
Our war effort should do two things: obliterate the enemy militarily, and make clear that we have no dispute with Muslims willing to peacefully coexist in free societies.
The Islamic rules against depicting Muhammad are no skin off anyone’s nose, and that belief deserved better than to be savaged by some righteously offended Americans looking to score points against radical views recommending violence to prevent such depictions.
Let us focus our energies not on flipping giant birds in the general direction of all Muslims, but rather a concerted effort to vanquish the portion of Islamic culture that gave birth to murderous overreactions to art.
There have been multiple lessons in recent days, groupable in a folder one might call Free Speech 101 in the Age of Islamic Repression. Its highlights:
— Strict Quranic interpretations are incompatible with American law in many ways. Few examples are more valuable than Sharia’s call to shut down offending speech by the sword.
— In America, some folks believe that free speech is supported only if the words are embraced and praised. I cannot be more clear: Ms. Geller has the right to hold a daily Muhammad cartoon contest if she wishes. But if that tactic is not my cup of tea, no one should suggest that my defense of her rights is somehow timid.
— Vast cross- sections of America need a refresher course on free expression. The First Amendment exists to protect precisely those types of speech that rankle some sensibilities. Safe, sanguine speech requires no protection. There are exceptions for fighting words and incitements to violence, but the Garland event exemplified neither. It was a private event that forced no unwitting souls to gaze upon the Prophet. As for incitements, they are actual invitations to do specific harm. The mere crafting of words or images that are infuriating to some are the problem of the offended party, not the artist.
Those knocked off-kilter by the free expression of others have the responsibility to learn a skill set: First, let it go like big boys and girls, realizing that freedom means occasionally running across things that can anger, provoke, even infuriate; Or second, engage in more free speech in return. Explain why you are offended, call for self-restraint in the creation of incendiary images, and then just walk away. Such entreaties may prevail, they may not. Such is life in a free society.
Every Muslim in America should know that a free society is what they have chosen to enter. Our incredibly tolerant and resilient nation mounted no national wave of retribution even after Islamic terrorists ripped our hearts out on 9/11.
But clear-eyed assessments of our war against radicals are not hate speech. And the occasional edgy stunt designed to highlight the jihadists’ hostility to American law and culture does not warrant an armed attack.
In today’s America, we cannot even know the name of a heroic police officer who mowed down the two Garland terrorists before they could kill a single Texan. The reason: too many concerns about his safety.
We will know we have rejoined the battle when ISIS is more worried about its safety than the brave Americans who occasionally mow down an ISIS operative.
Meanwhile, let us marshal any passion for more cartoon contests and channel it toward something genuinely constructive: the election of a President who is serious at all levels about fighting radical Islam, fending off both its terror tactics and repressive instincts.