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.
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.
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”.)
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.”