By holding a Mohammad cartoon-drawing competition, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer deliberately set out to offend the religious sensibilities of Muslims. That is clear. It is also clear that the hand-wringing over the event was a pathetic betrayal of our Western values.
It goes without saying, or it should, that those who will kill because their religious beliefs are mocked must be continually subject to such mocking. The only question is whether people are brave enough, like Ms Geller and Mr Spencer. This is not just free speech in action; it is refusing to kowtow to barbarians.
Free speech is by definition offensive to someone. It has no application otherwise. It seems reasonable, as A C Grayling (Liberty in the Age of Terror) suggests, to draw a legal line somewhere when speech targets things that people cannot change — race, skin colour, old age and disabilities. But about things that can be changed — mode of dress, religion, political views, personal habits, or social behaviour – there should be no such line. Of course, social rules of behaviour are properly more limiting.
Generally we don’t like to see people being offensive to others, even about things they can change. Society would break down if we went around hurling perfectly legal insults at each other. Rightly, in normal course, we look critically at the actions of those that go out of their way to offend the sensibilities of others.
Free speech is not the right to social approbation. If you insist on picturing a crucifix submerged in a glass of the urine then be prepared to be treated with disdain by decent-minded people. Shouldn’t the same rule apply to the actions of Geller and Spencer? Well, to an extent it was, but it should not have been.
I heard no-one, apart from the sharia-law crowd, argue that Geller and Spencer were in breach of their right of free speech. However, those on the left, so far as I could tell, paid more attention to the provocation of the event rather than to the two home-grown Muslim jihadists who travelled a thousand miles across the country to kill people.
Conservatives like, for example, Bill O’Reilly and, surprisingly, Laura Ingraham, were clearly uncomfortable about an event which went out of its way to mock the so-called Prophet. With a few exceptions (e.g., Robert Tracinski and Mark Steyn: see Jihad Watch 16 May), even those of stronger conservative mind did not affirm the rightness and appropriateness of the event and call for more of the same. They merely refrained from criticism.
It was clear that the need for civility tended to outweigh the right of free speech in the minds of most commentators. Yes, Geller and Spencer had the right to hold the event; but no, they shouldn’t have. Commentators were apparently in the world of Debrett’s book on social etiquette. Someone should tell them that Islamists haven’t read the book. Sometimes free speech must trump civility; or, to put it another way, sometimes incivility must trump civility.
When we’ve had the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Al-Baghdadi in recent history, it seems silly that this point has to be made. Those who practice barbarity and their fellow travellers have no right to civility. In fact, incivility is called for. Silence is tantamount to complicity.
In this particular case we have adherents of a religious faith who will kill you if you blaspheme their religion. And they have a record of doing so. This is a cancer in a democratic society. It cannot be allowed to metastasise. It must be explicitly undermined and ridiculed until society is rid of it. Silence won’t cut the mustard.
Bosch Fawstin’s winning cartoon in the Geller and Spencer competition said it all. There was Muhammad sword in hand saying: “You can’t draw me!” With the cartoonist replying: “That’s why I draw you.”
As a Christian, I think the Piss Christ photograph was egregiously uncivil and uncalled for. I would think differently if millions of Christians threatened death to those caricaturing Jesus. While large numbers of Muslims continue to behave barbarously, in accordance with certain tenets of Islam, incivility is essential and should be applauded and encouraged. People like Laura Ingraham should think about it a bit more. Geller and Spencer should be celebrated.