Whatever her views on other matters are, Pamela Geller is right about one thing: last week’s Islamist assault on the “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest she hosted in Texas proves the jihad against freedom of expression has opened a front in the United States. “There is,” she said, “a war on free speech and this violent attack is a harbinger of things to come.” Apparently undaunted, Geller promises to continue with such “freedom of speech” events. ISIS is now threatening to assassinate her. She and her cohorts came close to becoming victims, yet some in the media on the right and the center-right have essentially blamed her for the gunmen’s attack, just as far too many, last January, surreptitiously pardoned the Kouachi brothers and, with consummate perfidy to human decency, inculpated the satirical cartoonists they slaughtered, saying “Charlie Hebdo asked for it.”
One must, though, call out New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for backing up Affleck on the same show, and, later, in an editorial. Kristof, after all, should know better. He trades in words and ideas, and his acceptance of the fraudulent term “Islamophobia” contributes to the generalized befuddlement on the left about the faith in question and whether negative talk about it constitutes some sort of racism, or proxy for it. It patently does not. Unlike skin color, faith is not inherited and is susceptible to change. As with any other ideology, it should be subject to unfettered discussion, which may include satire, ridicule and even derision. The First Amendment protects both our right to practice the religion of our choosing (or no religion at all) as well as our right to speak freely, even offensively, about it.
One must, however, recoil in stupefaction and disgust at the consortium of prominent writers who just signaled de facto capitulation to the Enforcers of Shariah. I’m referring, of course, to the recent decision of 204 authors to sign a letter dissociating themselves from PEN’s granting the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the brave, talented surviving artists of Charlie Hebdo. (Disclosure: I have friends among Charlie Hebdo’s staff.) The authors objecting did so out of concern, according to their statement, for “the section of the French population” – its Muslims – “that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises.” A “large percentage” of these Muslims are “devout,” contend the writers, and should thus be spared the “humiliation and suffering” Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons allegedly caused them.
Europe’s colonial past and the United States’ current (endless) military campaigns in the Islamic world, as well as prejudice against nonwhites in Europe, have predisposed many to see, with some justification, Muslims as victims. But apart from the blundering wrongheadedness of the PEN writers’ dissent (Charlie Hebdo’s undeniable courage won them the award, not their artwork) and putting aside the question of whether France’s Muslims are necessarily “devout” (French law prohibits religion-based polling, so who could know?), or uniformly “humiliated” by Charlie Hebdo, or necessarily “embattled,” one thing transpires with arresting clarity from the authors’ declaration: Among the left, the confusion surrounding Islam and how we should relate to it imperils the free speech rights without which no secular republic can survive. We have to clear this up, and fast.
There is no legitimate controversy over why the Kouachi brothers targeted Charlie Hebdo. They murdered not to redress the social grievances or right the historical wrongs the PEN authors named. They explicitly told us why they murdered — for Islam, to avenge the Prophet Muhammad. Progressives who think otherwise need to face that reality. Put another way, the Kouachi brothers may have suffered racial discrimination and even “marginalization,” yet had they not been Muslims, they would not have attacked Charlie Hebdo. They would have had no motive.