AN ATTACK IN TEXAS MAKES US
ASK WHAT FREEDOM IS WORTH
“The South-Central Michigan Poverty Law Center [that is to say…me] has released its first index of dangerous radical organizations. Heading the list is the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a known extremist group that specializes in slandering individuals and organizations that support traditional Judeo-Christian moral values and laws conforming to constitutional principles.”
So, whaddaya say? You like my description of the SPLC? Think I have the kind of credibility that would get it into the lead paragraph of an Associated Press report?
Well, why not? Here’s how AP opened a story about the abortive attack on Pamela Geller’s anti-Islamist gathering in Garland, Texas…
“NEW YORK (AP) — The Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest that exploded in violence over the weekend in Texas was organized by Pamela Geller, a New Yorker who rails against Islam with such ferocity that one of the nation’s top civil rights groups lists her in its ‘extremist files.’”
Just to be clear, “one of the nation’s top civil rights groups” is the SPLC. That’s the same SPLC that labeled Dr. Ben Carson an extremist because of his alleged “Anti-LGBT” views.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks hate groups, keeps a dossier on [Geller] in its ‘extremist files,’ calling her ‘the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.’
“The law center describes her as ‘relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam’ and notes some of her more sensational claims, including that President Barack Obama is the ‘love child’ of Malcolm X.”
Well, Pamela Geller is flamboyant.
I’d even agree that she’s kind of on the shrill side.
The Malcolm X thing? Okay, that’s a tad coarse.
Still…given that two Islamist terrorists just tried to assassinate Pamela Geller, I do feel compelled to ask: Who’s the extremist here?
But this SPLC is the authoritative source from which the Associated Press derives its description of Pamela Geller.
And incidentally, note how AP says Geller’s event “exploded in violence.” The event did that, mind you — not the two would-be assassins.
Such is the state of modern journalism.
Now, I gotta admit that staging a well publicized gathering in which cartoonists compete for the best satirical representation of Muhammad was provocative.
Of course it was provocative. It was supposed to be provocative.
The point of Geller’s exercise was that in our religiously pluralist society — where everybody’s doctrines and sacred symbols are subject to free and open criticism in what we call the “marketplace of ideas” — no religion gets special protection. We’re all in this together. We’re all free to set forth our own beliefs, and we all have to take the barbs, no matter how irreverent or tasteless.
Lord knows, Christianity has endured the most egregious denigrations. Anybody remember Andres Serrano’s infamous 1987 “Piss Christ” photo image? A crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s own urine — that was a heart-warming Kodak moment.
Surely, one might ask if Geller was being prudent in staging an affair that was likely to rouse the ire of entities given to extreme and indiscriminate violence. And here we get into some rather murky moral waters.
I think Geller’s attitude after the shooting would have been a bit less triumphant if anyone but the terrorists had been killed. On the other hand, where do you set the boundary for avoiding offence?
Should Geller refrain from posting the anti-Islamist billboards on busses and subways which she has gotten the courts to force on the New York City transit system?
Should Christian evangelists be legally prohibited from handing out Bible tracts at Muslim events — and hustled away by police — as happened here in Michigan? Should churches be pressured into abandoning any outreach to Muslims thinking about becoming Christians?
Should restaurants and food services drop pork products, as has been demanded by activists who consider pork haram (religiously forbidden)? Pork isn’t kosher for Jews, but they just choose not to buy it.
Should every writer or public figure refrain from critical statements about Islam? That’s pretty much the ongoing demand of CAIR and other Muslim lobbying groups.
What’s the First Amendment worth? And how do you balance it’s importance against the risk to innocent human life?
These are tough questions. And they’re arising more frequently, as aggressive elements within our domestic Muslim community — responding to the appeals of the so-called Islamic State — become bolder. But as we examine these concerns, we have to keep from being diverted by the subtle shadings of news reports and the slanders of the SPLC.
Writing in Commentary, Jonathan Tobin warns that we must not allow the subject to be changed from Islamist violence to alleged “Islamophobia”…
“Almost immediately after the news of last night’s shooting in Garland, Texas broke many in the chattering class started to blame the intended victims of the attack.”
He acknowledges that Geller, Charlie Hebdo, and other critics of Islam may not be subtle in their approach, but they have a message which must be heard…
“They aren’t right about everything as is inevitable with anyone who ignores nuances and seeks to inflame rather than analyze and illuminate. But, contrary to many of the talking heads on television today, they aren’t the problem. The problem is that a variant of Islam that commands the loyalty of hundreds of millions around the globe thinks it is okay to kill those who blaspheme against Islam.”
Question Pamela Geller’s wisdom, if you will, but her provocative event has helped us to focus on an important issue of our time…
There are bad guys in this country who don’t share our love of freedom, who aren’t constrained by our understanding of civil discourse, and for whom the Constitution is as haram as barbecued pork ribs. What are we willing to risk in order to resist them?
We’re gonna have to give that some serious thought.
Meanwhile, I wonder if the Southern Poverty Law Center has a dossier on me. Wow, that would mean I’ve finally made the big time.
Here’s the Associated Press profile of Pamela Geller which relies so heavily on the sweet aspersions of the Southern Poverty Law Center…
And here’s Jonathan Tobin’s defense of her in Commentary…
Sassy, bold and undeniably provocative, Pamela Geller has made it her life’s work to alert us to the depredations of Islamist radicals and those who enable them. And believe me, she’s got something to say. You might want to judge her words and her work for yourself by checking out her website…
Back in May of 2014, in an essay for the online journal Ethika Politika, I explored the conflicts in perspective between Islam and America as well as the difficulties which Muslim immigrants face in accepting our values…
“It remains to be seen whether the newest wave of Muslim immigrants ultimately will buy into The American Idea, become fully assimilated, and play a constructive role in the progress of our nation, as earlier Muslim arrivals have and other immigrant groups before them. (And naturally, all of this presupposes that we’re talking about Muslims of good will — not any who may have committed themselves to the path of radical Islamist subversion or terrorist violence.)
“Likewise, whether the Muslim world in general can recognize that America is greater than its moral shortcomings is one of the most pressing questions of our time. In no small measure, global peace depends on the answer.”
“It is not okay to shoot other people because you are offended by what they draw, even if they drew it to offend you.”
The sketch got a little weird and kind of fell apart at the end, but it made the point that we must keep focused on what is true…