Let’s be clear: The great freak-out over Pamela Geller’s “draw Muhammad” contest isn’t about love for Islam or for robust and respectful religious pluralism. Indeed, many of those expressing anguish over blasphemy against Islam show no such concern over even the most vile attacks on the Christian faith. Beyond that, they’re among the leaders in movements designed to banish religious liberty — including Muslim religious liberty — to the margins of American life.
Instead, the fury against Pamela Geller is motivated mostly by fear — by the understanding that there are indeed many, many Muslims who believe that blasphemy should be punished with death, and who put that belief into practice. It’s motivated by the fear that our alliances with even “friendly” Muslim states and “allied” Muslim militias are so fragile that something so insignificant as a cartoon would drive them either to neutrality or straight into the arms of ISIS.
That’s why even the military brass will do something so unusual as call a fringe pastor of a tiny little church to beg him not to post a YouTube video. That’s why the president of the United States — ostensibly the most powerful man in the world — will personally appeal to that same pastor not to burn a Koran. They know that hundreds of millions of Muslims are not “moderate” by any reasonable definition of that word, and they will,in fact, allow themselves to be provoked by even the most insignificant and small-scale act of religious satire or defiance. After all, there are Muslim communities that will gladly burn Christians alive to punish even rumored blasphemy.
Our nation’s “elite” knows of the 88 percent support in Egypt for the death penalty for apostasy, and the 62 percent support in Pakistan. They know of the majority support for it in Malaysia, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories. They know that even when there’s not majority support for the death penalty for exercising one of the most basic of human rights — religious freedom — that large minorities still exercise considerable, and often violent, influence on their nations.
That’s a staggering level of support for a man who not only targeted innocent men, women, and children in the West, but who allied himself with the most medieval Muslim regime in the world: the Taliban. And, ominously, his support waned only as his power waned. Islamists have a new jihadist idol — ISIS.
Geller’s speech is different not because it’s uniquely insensitive or even uniquely “hateful.” Her speech is different because it makes people afraid.
Further, our elites also know that while ISIS’s brutality certainly repels many Muslims, it attracts many others — that there are Muslim young people who are so captivated by images of beheadings and burnings that they’ll defy the law and their own nations to make their way to the jihadist battlefronts of Iraq and Syria.
Unable or unwilling to formulate a strategy to comprehensively defeat jihad or even to adequately defend our nation, our elites adopt a strategy of cultural appeasement that only strengthens our enemy. Millions in the Muslim world are drawn to the “strong horse” (to use Osama bin Laden’s phrase), and when jihadists intimidate the West into silence and conformity, the jihadists show themselves strong.In a sane world, our national elites would not only rally unequivocally around free speech, they would point to the events of Garland, Texas, as perfectly symbolic of the way we handle threats against our Constitution and our culture — by defeating our enemies and defending our liberty. Instead, they express fears that provocative speech not only threatens our troops abroad but our cities here at home.
Geller’s critics should spare us all the high-minded rhetoric about tolerance and liberty and “democratic values.” In a continent-sized nation of more than 300 million souls, “offensive” speech is always happening. Geller’s speech is different not because it’s uniquely insensitive or even uniquely “hateful.” Her speech is different because it makes people afraid.
There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling fear — especially when that fear is grounded in the reality of the enemy we face. Fear is a natural human response to a savage and bloodthirsty enemy. But there’s everything wrong with appeasement — especially when appeasement is concealed behind a façade of self-righteousness.
Islam has a serious problem. Silencing Pamela Geller isn’t the solution.
— David French is an attorney, a staff writer at National Review, and a veteran of the Iraq War.