How dare Pamela Geller get targeted by terrorists bent on committing mass murder.
That’s been the reaction of a portion of the opinion elite to news that Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas, was (unsuccessfully) assaulted by two heavily armed Muslim men in an attack ISIS took responsibility for.
The Washington Post ran an article on Geller headlined “Event organizer offers no apology after thwarted attack in Texas.”
News that the Post has yet to break: “Malala Yousafzai refuses to admit fault for seeking an education”; “Coptic Christians won’t concede error for worshiping wrong God”; “Unrepentant Shiites continue to disagree with Sunnis.”
Yes, these are more sympathetic cases, but it is no more legitimate to shoot someone for drawing Mohammed than it is to shoot a girl for going to school, or a Copt or a Shia for his or her faith. Expecting apologies from these victims would be almost as perverse as expecting one from Pamela Geller.
Respectable opinion can’t bear the idea that she has become a symbol of free speech, which once upon a time was — and still is, when convenient — one of the highest values of the media and the left.
If Geller were a groundbreaking pornographer like the loathsome Larry Flynt, someone would already be planning a celebratory biopic of her life. If she were a gadfly sticking it to a major Western religion rather than to Islam, she might be considered more socially acceptable.
Linda Stasi wrote a column for the New York Daily News titled “With Pamela Geller’s Prophet Muhammad cartoon stunt in Texas, hate rears its ugly face again.” The hatred referred to wasn’t that of the attackers but of Geller.
In perhaps the most obtuse and least grammatical sentiment committed to print in the aftermath of Garland, Stasi argued that “Geller, like ISIS and al Qaeda, revel [sic] in hate …”
This is like saying that the Finns and the Red Army both reveled in shooting guns during the Winter War, without taking account of who invaded and occupied whom. Geller holds events and writes blog posts deemed offensive by many, all of which are fully protected by our laws. ISIS beheads people and blows them up, all of which is criminal by any civilized standard.
“While we have freedom of speech,” Stasi continued, “we also have freedom of religion, which shouldn’t be impinged upon.” This is a truism and a non sequitur: Tasteless speech doesn’t impinge upon anyone’s freedom of religion.
Scurrilous and even hateful speech and cartoons — sometimes involving religion — have been featured in Anglo-American history going back centuries. They are an inevitable part of a free society. In this context, a drawing of Mohammed is mild.
The only reason it seems different is that some Muslim radicals are willing to kill over it. Which is exactly why Pamela Geller’s event wasn’t purposeless.
The event was placing a stake in contested ground, in a way it wouldn’t have if it had offended Quakers or Roman Catholics, who don’t massacre people who insult them. It was a statement of defiance, of an unwillingness to abide by the rules of fanatics.
“I feel that sometimes Muslims in America have become the last group in which public officials, organizations and others are allowed to publicly demean,” NBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldin opined the other day.
What country does he live in? The so-called new atheists merrily deride Christianity with no worries for their health or safety. Meanwhile, cartoonists who draw Mohammed have to go into hiding.
For better or worse, we live in a society in which nothing is sacred. If we are to accept the assassin’s veto, the only exception (for now) will be depictions of Mohammed, which would be perverse. A free society can’t let the parameters of its speech be set by murderous extremists.
Give her this: Pamela Geller understands that, whereas her scolds don’t. Some of them can’t even tell the difference between her and her would-be killers.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com. © 2015 King Features Syndicate