It’s still a radical document, the U.S. Constitution, no part of it more so than the First Amendment.
Almost everybody’s for freedom of speech — particularly for themselves and people who agree with them. However, the part about “no establishment of religion” vexes True Believers of every persuasion. How can government possibly remain neutral in matters of faith?
But what really confuses people is an episode like the recent failed terrorist attack in Garland, Texas. Does our commitment to freedom of expression require that we condemn Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, the two self-proclaimed ISIS jihadists who got themselves shot to death during an abortive attempt to massacre participants in a well-publicized contest to draw ugly cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad?
Absolutely it does. Those two murderous dimwits got exactly what they came looking for. Although nobody’s saying so, something tells me the police officer who took them down wasn’t just the average traffic cop. That fellow would have been all over TV by now. This guy has remained anonymous. Amateurs are ill-advised to get into gun battles with professionals.
But are we therefore also required to admire Pamela Geller, co-founder and president of Stop Islamization of America, the organization that sponsored the cartoon contest? No, we are not. The right to free speech does not include the right not to be criticized.
I’m glad nobody shot her. However, Geller’s actions were deliberately and characteristically provocative, coarse and contemptuous of others’ beliefs; in short, the very definition of bigotry. In the final analysis, those actions are also damaging to this country’s ability to prevail in its long twilight struggle with radical Islamic terrorism.
The amazing thing is how observers find this hard to see.
Writing in his Washington Post media column, the normally sensible Erik Wemple takes issue with Geller’s critics. “And who’s being treated as the public enemy on cable?” he asks incredulously. “The woman who organized a cartoon contest.”
I’m pretty sure Wemple would take a different view of a Stormfront competition to caricature the ugliest hook-nosed rabbi.
But hold that thought.
“To her enduring credit,” Wemple adds, “Fox News’ Megyn Kelly has been screaming all week about the folly of the ‘too-provocative’ crowd.”
Indeed she has. Interestingly enough, the lovely Ms. Kelly’s antagonists include Fox News luminaries Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump, along with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, CNN’s Jake Tapper, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and others Wemple characterizes as “folded into a crouch of cowardice and rationalization.”
Kelly’s thunderous rebuttal to O’Reilly was couched in melodramatic terms Geller herself would find appropriate: “You know what else the jihadis don’t like? They hate Jews. Should we get rid of all Jews? That’s the path we’re going to go down catering to the jihadis. There’s no satisfying them.”
Holy false dichotomies, Batman! So the choices are deliberately offend the religious sensibilities of millions of peaceable Muslims or get rid of Jews?
This kind of black-and-white thinking is pretty much the stock in trade of propagandists like Geller, who are intent on persuading Americans that not only ISIS and al-Qaida extremists, but Islam itself and Arabs in particular, are terrorist enemies of the United States. All Arabs, everywhere.
The problem, argues former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, is that the worldwide battle with Islamic fundamentalism “can’t be won without Muslim allies — loyal U.S. citizens who report suspicious activities; allies and proxies who fight against violent Islamism; hundreds of millions of people around the world
who repudiate Salafism by the peacefulness and tolerance of their daily lives.
“When Americans engage in high-profile, attention-seeking acts of blasphemy, they are not joining U.S. military and intelligence forces at the front line; they are complicating and undermining their work.”
President Obama has said much the same thing.
Things might also be different if Pamela Geller didn’t have such an extensive track record. “On her website,” reports the Jewish Daily Forward, “Geller has denounced President Obama as ‘a third worlder and a coward’ who ‘will do nothing but beat up on our friends to appease his Islamic overlords,’ and as ‘a muhammadan’ who
‘wants jihad to win.’”
The Anti-Defamation League has criticized Geller for “consistently vilifying the Islamic faith under the guise of
fighting radical Islam.” The British government refused to let her enter that country in 2011. She has characterized other Jews who criticize her as worse than “21st-century kapos,” a reference to Jews who served as guards in Nazi death camps.
Astonishingly, after extreme right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik murdered 70 people at a Norwegian Labour Party summer youth camp in 2011, he credited Geller with inspiring him. She then assailed the Scandinavian left for harboring anti-Israel sentiments, posting a camp photo on her Atlas Shrugs website captioned: “Note the faces which are more Middle Eastern or mixed than pure Norwegian.”
Non-Aryan untermenschen, Hitler would have called them.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at email@example.com.