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Free Speech, Islam, Texas, and the Rules of the Debate

Free speech won a rare victory the past weekend down in the “Don’t Mess With” state of Texas, where a couple of would-be jihadists were fatally thwarted in an unsuccessful attempt to shoot up an exhibition of historical and recent visual depictions of Mohammad. Many of the media lamented this, of course, and seemed to be more upset with the Mohammad depicters than with the would-be jihadists who attempted to slaughter them.
This still strikes us a strange way of looking such things, although it is by now all too familiar. At least since Salman Rushdie earned a fatwa with a satirical novel way back in the ’80s, when the word “fatwa” still required quotation marks and some explanation, the script has been pretty much the same. The respectable voices mouth the usual platitudes about their support for free speech, along with the obligatory tsk-tsking about resorts to violence and all that nastiness, and some nostrums about facilitating conversation, then insist that certain free speech is responsible for provoking violence and all that nastiness by provoking a conversation that they’d rather not have after all. The most recent example, and a perfectly explanatory one, is Cable News Network’s Alyson Camerota interviewing Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Initiative, which organized the targeted exhibition.
Camerota generously concedes that “I haven’t heard anyone saying that it’s OK for armed gunmen to show up at an event like this,” but quickly adds that “what people are saying is that there’s always this fine line, you know, between freedom of speech and being intentionally incendiary and provocative.” Geller is up to the game, woefully repeating the “intentionally incendiary and provocative” phrase as the current low standard of acceptable speech, shrewdly noting the conspicuous lack of armed response to such incendiary provocations of Christian sensibilities as Andre Serrano’s “Piss Christ” and other artworks that CNN didn’t seem to mind, and then rightly insisting on the same standards of tolerance for unpopular speech that once prevailed among the left. Then Camerato looks as if she’s playing a trump card by quoting Dutch politician Geert Wilders at the same free speech conference, where he alleged that “Our Judeo-Christian culture is far superior to the Islamic one, and I can give you a million reasons why.”
Such frankness has had Wilders barred from Great Britain and other nations, and some Democrats including the only Muslim member of Congress even tried to have him barred from speaking it in this country, and even in his own country he endured a farce of a “hate speech” trial and had his pluarility-holding political party harassed for similar heresies, and he remains a persona non gratis among the elite American media, so Camerato seemed quite confident that whatever’s left of her viewing audience would share her indignation. Geller immediately defended him, though, and not just on the left’s usual insincere grounds of defending incorrect speech. With remarkable spunk, she held out that Wilders was right.
Camerato can be seen sputtering in response to such outrageousness, and we suspect it’s because she can’t really disagree. Camerato is uncovered by a scarf or veil and dressed in something far more fashionable than a burqa, and her very female appearance on a television network also suggests she does not subscribe to the strict interpretation of Islam of those poor oppressed would-be mass murderers who were so cruelly provoked by the incendiary cartoons on display in a Dallas suburb, and surely somewhere in her addled brain is a faint realization that only the thoroughly secularized society that has resulted from the past 2000 years of Judeo-Christian civilization would afford her the opportunity to harangue a non-Muslim free speech advocate such as Geller, so she can’t quite muster a convincing defense for the idea that it’s rude to say anything critical about Islam.
Try to imagine the likes of Camerato similarly haranguing an Islamist about his insistence on the superiority of Islamic culture, or merely  tsk-tsking a would-be jihadist about his openly stated intention to kill anyone who dissents from a similar interpretation of the Koran, and even the most vivid imagination will surely fail in the attempt. Thus the parameters of the debate have been set: To assert the superiority of western civilization is Islamophobic and ethnocentric and all sorts of nastiness worse than any violence a semi-automatic rifle-bearing Islamist might inflict, assertions of Islamic superiority are to be quietly respected with all the latest multi-cultural pieties, and anyone who dissents from these rules is just asking for it. We can’t see how western civilization will fare well under these rules, which is disturbing, as we prefer even the thoroughly secularized society that has resulted from the past 2000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition, and we like the Second Amendment and the “Don’t Mess with Texas” attitude that won a rare victory for free speech this past weekend, but we’re reassured that Camerato probably has some clause in her contract that will allow her to continue in her well-compensated job in the case that the would-be jihadists finally prevail.

— Bud Norman

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One response

  1. Indeed, Wilders is right. However, that’s not a productive conversation. Rather than promoting the idea, however indirectly, that war with Muslims is inevitable, we should be encouraging those branches of Islam which don’t want war.

    “not just on the left’s usual insincere grounds of defending incorrect speech.”

    That such grounds are insincere seems absurd. As long as they’re not asking for laws protecting Islam from “hate speech,” I accept their sincerity in defending the speech of those they disagree with. And I’ll continue to exercise that right which they begrudgingly defend.

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