Congratulations, Qasim Rashid, your short essay in Time is the worst thing I’ve yet read about about free speech. Titled, “What Pamela Geller Advocates Is Not Free Speech,” it is not only utterly devoid of anything approaching a coherent constitutional analysis, it gets the moral equation exactly backwards. Rashid essentially argues that free speech jurisprudence developed for the purpose of protecting the civil rights movement, and Geller isn’t part of the civil rights movement. Oh, and he quotes utter nonsense comparing her speech to speech that led to the Holocaust. Yes, he did. Read for yourself:
America’s current free speech model developed as an attempt to protect — not demonize — religious and racial minorities. “U.S. law only began to protect hateful speech during the 1960s,” writes Garrett Epps. “Southern state governments were trying to criminalize the civil-rights movement for its advocacy of change. White Southerners claimed that the teachings of figures like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X were ‘hate speech’ and would produce ‘race war.’”
Courts sided with American icons like Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks, not because they advocated unpopular ideas of hatred or destruction — but because they faced ongoing hatred and destruction at the hands of racist white southerners. As the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and leading Jewish American Rabbis note, Geller represents the antithesis of the moral courage that was Rosa Parks.
Repeated demonization can inspire violence. This is a fact. “During the Holocaust, the Nazis went beyond making us social outcasts; they systematically slaughtered our people with unspeakable cruelty. Because we know so well what it is like to be outcasts, we must never, through our deeds or words, make others into modern-day lepers,” says Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the largest Jewish denomination in North America. “[W]hat [Geller] does, what she represents, has no place in a Jewish community that is built on tolerance and understanding.”
Where to begin? First, the idea that free speech jurisprudence is little more than an extension of the civil rights movement is sheer fantasy. Indeed, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of racists and civil rights leaders alike, and most leading free speech cases had nothing to do with race at all. But that’s almost a side issue compared to the utterly dreadful use of the Holocaust to condemn Geller. In point of fact, it is the jihadists, not Geller who not only threaten genocide but do everything in their power to make it happen. If not for the protection of the IDF, Jews in Israel would face indescribable slaughter. Until American air strikes and Kurdish resistance helped slow ISIS, Christians and Yazidis stared genocide in the face. Religious minorities behind ISIS lines still face mass executions. To bring up the problem of genocide then peg it to speech uttered by a woman who’s not harmed a single human being in her life — all while actual genocidal maniacs are rampaging across the Middle East — is beyond the moral and intellectual pale.
Here’s Rashid’s big ending:
No law, no matter how specific, can legislate morality — and speech is essentially a moral issue. If we truly want peace, society must rise above the intolerance that Geller and ISIS alike espouse.
How many pilots has Pamela Geller burned alive? How many Muslims has she beheaded? How many young Muslim girls has she kidnapped to sell into sexual slavery? When did she declare a theocracy and issue orders that everyone must convert or die? Dear Mr. Rashid, Pamela Geller expresses opinions you don’t like. But if you ever found yourself in the new caliphate, you would have to conform or die a horrible death. There is no meaningful sense in which Geller and ISIS are “alike.”