They Were Asking For It, Said The Victim-Blamers

If I was in charge of ISIL*, I don’t think I would be claiming responsibility for the failed attack in Garland, Texas. I don’t know what the news looks like over in Islamaland, but here in the U.S., it looks like two dingdongs bought a bunch of gear they didn’t know how to use and tried to attack a community center filled with civilians but guarded by multiple trained/armed off-duty police officers. I can’t tell if that makes them cowards (for planning to kill civilians) or idiots (for driving right up to the first patrol car they could find). Probably both.

(* Just to be clear, if I was in charge of ISIL, I would tell my followers: “Drink this grape-flavored concoction. It’s perfectly safe. No relation to Jonestown at all.”)

So yes, I was surprised that ISIL has apparently claimed the gunmen were their “soldiers”.

What didn’t surprise me were the varied and often ignorant reactions by Americans to the entire incident.

What didn’t surprise me were the varied and often ignorant reactions by Americans to the entire incident.

Liberal comedian Larry Willmore said on TV last night that the art contest inside the community center — a “Draw Mohammed” contest — was “bullshit free speech” and accused its organizer of “intentionally putting an innocent, unarmed security guard in danger”, despite no evidence that the woman in question was in charge of which off-duty cops were armed or unarmed.

The mayor of Garland said the contest organizers “invited” the attack, kind of like how misogynists say women are “just asking for it” when they wear a short skirt or tight pants. It’s called victim blaming, and it’s idiotic. No one who draws anything is wishing to be murdered, just like no one is hoping to be raped, regardless of how they dress.

In all cases, Christians vocally protested, which is the exact appropriate response to something that offends you.

Noted hairpiece Donald Trump spouted: “What would you do if a large group of Muslims had a very public meeting drawing horrible and mocking cartoons of Jesus?” Fortunately, many people responded in the vein of “Not shoot them?” Because there are very well-known art pieces that are offensive to Christians, including Piss Christ and A Fire In My Belly, among others. I couldn’t find any (in modern times) that resulted in Christians killing or even trying to kill the artists, though in several cases Christian protestors managed to damage the artwork itself. In all cases, Christians vocally protested, which is the exact appropriate response to something that offends you.

Non-famous people jumped on the saying-stupid-things bandwagon too. On a Facebook post praising the Garland PD for their quick response to a terrorist attack, someone commented that it’s “now obvious” that “all Muslims” should be “wiped out”. The writer of that self-identified as Christian. Another person calling himself a Christian called the Islamic attackers “godless heathen”. Both posts have apparently been removed now. In case you’re part of the problem, I can explain briefly what’s wrong with these statements: (1) all Muslims aren’t participating in — or even approving of — the attacks over cartoons; regardless, the issue isn’t Muslims as people, but the ideology that murder is an appropriate response to a drawing; and (2) “godless” is an accurate description of atheists, not of Muslims. Please do not bring the godless into this discussion; we had nothing to do with the attempted attack.

Not all reactions were ignorant. Fox News’ Megyn Kelly (no stranger to saying stupid things) very much got it right, saying “This is protected speech… The more offensive the speech is, the more protection it needs. That’s how the First Amendment works.”

(And yes, it feels strange to say a Fox News commentator “got it right”.)

You can defend someone’s right to speak without agreeing with what they say.

It doesn’t make you a bigot or Islamophobic to defend the free speech rights of these artists any more than it makes you a bigot or a homophobe to defend the Westboro Baptist Church’s rights to free speech. (The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the WBC’s right to say what they’ve said.) It just makes you a defender of free speech. You can defend someone’s right to speak without agreeing with what they say, but sadly many cannot grasp this simple distinction.

Willmore, Garland’s mayor, and Trump all have the right to say what they said, for the same reason. That’s the whole idea. “Protected speech” has a well-hashed-out legal framework. It doesn’t include “speech” like libel, slander, child pornography, perjury, blackmail, or plagiarism of copyrighted works, but does include pretty much anything else — even “hate speech” has been ruled protected. (Usually the grounds for not protecting certain speech is that those types are known to cause harm in violation of a victim’s constitutional rights.)

Another distinction many don’t understand is that between appropriate and inappropriate levels of response to various stimuli. For example, many otherwise intelligent people I’ve talked to believe that violence is an appropriate response to certain sentences. (“Insult my mother, and I’ll punch you.”) I’ve seen people having disagreements over sporting events get into actual fistfights — and not just drunk people. Violence is an appropriate response to violence — sometimes, as in the case of the Garland police officer who shot the two attackers. And speech is an appropriate response to speech, almost always.

But even within the two categories, people have trouble distinguishing the difference. If someone says, “You haven’t convinced me”, it’s not a correct response to call her a moron. A slap to the face doesn’t call for executing the entire family of the person who slapped you. There are levels.

Yes, it should be obvious, and I’m sure it is obvious to anyone reading this (you all seem like incredibly smart people), but we see enough interaction in our daily lives to know it’s not obvious to huge portions of society, even in “enlightened” western lands.

Addendum, 2015.05.08: Two days after writing the above, I became aware of related op-eds in major publications covering the same topic.

The New York Times editorial board opined that the purpose of the drawings in Garland was “inflicting deliberate anguish on millions of devout Muslims”, after giving lip service to the First Amendment in the first paragraph. The piece barely stops short of saying such expressions should be banned.

The Atlantic’s piece by David Frum more closely mirrors my own view: “In modern Western free societies, we take it absolutely for granted that nobody can enforce religious dogma on anybody else… When religious authority begins to be backed by compulsion, resistance to religious authority acquires a different character, too… In a free society, the rights of believers in any faith do not extend to imposing the tenets of that faith on non-believers.”

Politico’s Rich Lowry laments that organizer Pamela Geller’s “provocations are deemed almost as shameful as the intentions of the men who wanted to kill her and her cohorts”, and notes the stark difference between the two: “Geller holds events and writes blog posts deemed offensive by many, all of which are fully protected by our laws. ISIL beheads people and blows them up, all of which is criminal by any civilized standard.” And to those who asserted Geller was attacking others’ freedom of religion, Lowry responded: “Tasteless speech doesn’t impinge upon anyone’s freedom of conscience or religion.”

Related: Muslim Reaction To Cartoons (2006.02.22)
Related: Who Decides Whether It’s ‘True’ Islam (2014.09.14)

  1. Every time I read one of your pieces like this in recent months I think that you should be doing this for a living. I mean it. You are putting together really meaningful editorial opinions.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Thank you. I consider this high praise. My Dad also suggested — a couple of years ago — that I should figure out how to blog for a living (he suggested blogging about the “stay-at-home father” angle). :-)

      Maybe someday. Probably not.

      For now, it feels more meaningful to me that these are simply my observations, that it’s free (actually negative income, since I’m paying for web hosting, internet access, and the domain name), and that I’m not beholden to anyone except myself.

      But it never hurts to have confirmation that I’m doing all right at it. :-)

  2. But the Brandenburg test of free speech (also known as the imminent lawless action test) has three distinct elements; intent, imminence, and likelihood. And this event fails all three. It was intended to incite opposition. That opposition was invited during the event by virtue of it being public. And opposition to the event was very likely to include violence against the event itself. I won’t downplay the guard’s bravery. Nor will I argue the merits of the “defense of Islam” attackers. And I don’t want in any way to seem to be blaming the victim. But doesn’t it seem that the event itself was the attacker and the “defenders of Islam” were the victims?

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      “It was intended to incite opposition…. And opposition to the event was very likely to include violence against the event itself.”

      A reasonable person should never expect physical violence to be the response to drawing anything. (Note my rare lack of qualifiers.) The only reason it has come to be expected as possible is because those in the wrong have done it several times.

      I personally have never drawn a picture of anyone named Mohammed. But what if a particular religion decided it was offensive to do something that I DO want to do, or regularly do? I’m not a member of that religion and so I would never consider myself bound by their internal rules for offense.

      “But doesn’t it seem that the event itself was the attacker and the ‘defenders of Islam’ were the victims?”

      I do understand that “words will never hurt me” is untrue. Words do hurt, and so can drawings, prose, gestures, etc. In school, like many children, I was often the butt of jokes (for reasons too numerous to list here) that hurt my feelings terribly. I’m man enough to admit that I came home crying multiple times. But neither then nor now do I consider physical violence an appropriate response to that. And those were offensive things directed solely at me, in my presence.

      To my knowledge (I wasn’t there), the event organizers did not mail their drawings to any mosques or nail them to the doors of known Muslims. I haven’t heard that they specifically invited Muslims to “Come and view the offensive drawings we made for you!”

      I do assume there was some kind of advertising/promotion for the event — otherwise no one would have known about it beforehand — but do you know what I do if I see advertising/announcement for events that seem like they would be offensive to me? I. Don’t. Show. Up. Full stop.

      (Fortunately, very little is offensive to me now, so this isn’t likely to happen very often.)

  3. We don’t really seem to be disagreeing on the facts here. But I do question whether or not the organizing of an event to insult Islam should be protected as free-speech. Bear in mind that this event was organized as Anti-Islam. The title of it was “Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” The organizer is president of “Stop Islamization of America.” She believes the only good Muslim is a secular Muslim, which is akin to saying a faithless one. She advocates that in this country where freedom of religion is enshrined that there should be laws banning Islam. In France, Germany, Italy and England (I haven’t checked other countries) the organizing of the event itself would have been classified as “Hate speech” and deemed unlawful. SCOTUS has set a test on what is protected as free-speech. I’m not as certain as others that this behavior passes that test and should be protected.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      “In [other countries] …the organizing of the event itself would have been classified as “Hate speech” and deemed unlawful.”

      I’m sure that’s true. And there are huge swaths of American voters who want to outlaw “offensive speech” or “insulting religion”, etc. The problem with this, of course, is that it lets religion define what is offensive or insulting. “By the way, in my religion, it’s offensive and insulting to do [harmless activity].”

      You can make a rule within your religion and expect adherents to follow it, but it is simply insane to expect non-adherents to follow it simply because it’s a rule in your religion.

      “We don’t really seem to be disagreeing on the facts here.”

      True, except perhaps this part:

      “…the organizing of an event to insult Islam…”

      I’m not convinced that the purpose of the event was to insult Islam, despite the organizer’s known habits of doing exactly that. (If that was indeed its stated purpose, I’m happy to be corrected.)

      I understood the purpose of it to be to point out the sheer lunacy of killing over drawings/depictions. In my mind, the onus is not on non-Muslims to stop drawing Mohammed, but on killers to stop killing people over perceived slights.

      And even if it was “to insult Islam”, I’m fairly certain that insults of anything are included in First Amendment protections, unless they also fall afoul of an excluded category.

      “…a secular Muslim, which is akin to saying a faithless one.”

      I know many people of various faiths (including Islam) who are “secular” for all intents and purposes, but still believe, still attend services & classes associated with their religions. The “secular” part just means they coexist with the rest of us without forcing their doctrine on everyone else.

      As I mentioned in a previous post about gay marriage, directing my comments to Christians in the U.S.: if your religion forbids having gay sex, then don’t have gay sex. If your religion forbids getting married to a same-sex partner, then feel free not to do it. If your religion requires you to carry a “God hates fags” sign, go ahead. Just don’t expect people outside your belief system to agree or abide by your silly rules. “You must not marry your partner, because my religion forbids it” is a really asinine thing to say. And it’s exactly the same as saying “You must not draw Mohammed because my religion forbids it.”

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