The aborted assault by two would-be jihadists on the ‘Muhammad art contest’ at the Curtis Culand Center in Garland, Texas on Sunday has added another grim chapter to a screechingly dishonest ‘free speech versus Islam’ debate that continues to gain deadly traction from one country to the next. First things first: there is no doubt that the two ‘jihadists’ would have perpetrated a Charlie Hebdo-style massacre had not they not been shot dead first. That’s what they went there to do, and that objective deserves nothing but contempt and outrage.
But what about the event itself. What was it trying to do? The contest was sponsored by the American Freedom Defence Iniatiative (AFDI), a ‘counterjihadist ‘ organization, whose president Pamela Geller told CNN yesterday, ‘ Islamic jihadis are determined to suppress our freedom of speech violently. They struck in Paris and Copenhagen recently, and now in Texas.’
To say that Geller is not a particularly appealing figure does not begin to describe her. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes her as the ‘anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead’ who is ‘relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam’. Few people familiar with her track record or her website Atlas Shrugged will find much reason to differ from this judgement.
In the past Geller has suggested that the teenagers murdered by Anders Breivik on Utoya Island deserved what they got because they expressed solidarity with Gaza; that Obama is a Muslim who once had sex with a ‘crack whore’; and that Muslims who pray five times a day are ‘cursing Christians and Jews five times a day.’
Geller did not choose the Culwell Center by accident. In January this year, just over a week after the Charlie Hebdo murders, the Chicago-based Islamic multimedia organization Sound Vision staged its annual ‘Stand With the Prophet in Honour and Respect’ conference at the same center. The conference took place just over a week after the Charlie Hebdo murders, and its specific message ‘Stand with the Prophet Against Terror and Hate.’ was supported by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The conference was intended to raise funds to educate young Muslims on how to counter Islamophobia, and its Facebook page explained its intentions in the following terms:
‘Prophet Muhammad inspires love and devotion in the hearts of Muslims, peace be upon him. Unfortunately, Islamophobes have turned him into an object of hate. The fight in defense of our Prophet against the $160 million Islamophobia machine is continuous, and groups like ISIS and Boko Haram only increase the media”s ammunition to incriminate Muslims. Let us stand against terrorism and hate together with the Prophet and his path of mercy, peace and blessings be upon him.’
The conference was loudly denounced by leading figures in ‘counterjihadist’ circles such as Frank Gaffney as yet another sinister Muslim attempt to silence free speech and Islamicize American society, and the AFDI staged a ‘Free Speech Rally’ outside the event. Some 2,000 people attended that rally and waved American flags at the attendees, many of whom also waved American flags at the conference.
But Geller clearly wanted to make a more compelling statement, and so in February she announced that she would be staging the First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest at the same center, in order, as she put it, ‘to show how insane the world has become â€” with people in the free world tiptoeing in terror around supremacist thugs who actually commit murder over cartoons. If we can”t stand up for the freedom of speech, we will lose it â€” and with it, free society.‘
A noble and courageous stance? Not really, because Geller is not Voltaire, except insofar as Voltaire couldn’t stand Islam either. And her concerns were not so much with free speech per se, but in using the issue as a pretext to stage a very deliberate provocation aimed at advancing her a very specific loathing of Islam and a ‘counterjihadist’ narrative that presents violent Islamist extremism as part of a broader Islamic assault on western civilisation.
To give the statement a bit more clout and publicity, she also invited Gert Wilders, the peroxide-blonde Dutch Islamophobe who is cut very firmly from the same cloth. Wilders was star speaker at the Culwell Center on Sunday, where he told the audience that depicting Muhammad was ‘ an act of liberation’ in a ‘clash between civilization and barbarism.’ How so? Because
‘Our Judeo-Christian culture is far superior to the Islamic one. I can give you a million reasons. But here is an important one. We have got humor and they don’t….Islam does not allow free speech, because free speech shows how evil and wrong Islam is. And Islam does not allow humor, because humor shows how foolish and ridiculous it is.’
The fun-loving imp went on to tell his audience
‘I am not saying that there are no moderate Muslims. Fortunately, there are Muslims who do not live according to the Islamic commands. But there is no moderate Islam!…Let us de-islamize our societies! No more Islam, no more mosques, no more Islamic schools. It is time for our own culture and heritage.’
All this was necessary because
‘Moderation in the face of evil is evil. This is not what our age needs. We must uncap our pens; we must speak words of truth. We are facing a determined enemy who is striving through all means to destroy the West and snuff out our traditions of free thought, free speech, and our Judeo-Christian values.‘
Here are some of the ‘words of truth’ that The Daily Beast correspondent observed:
‘One cartoon featured a minimalist cartoon desert and, in the foreground, Muhammad suspended in the fetal position on a pencil skewering his entire body; another had “Islam, religion of peaceâ€ written across a man juggling severed heads; another featured Muhammad wearing a green turban with eyes that look bewitched, open-jawed snakes coming out of his neck; another had a grumpy Muhammad in black turban holding a bloody, serrated knife, captioned: “when it comes to religionâ€¦ I”ve got the edge.â€ ‘
I’m sorry, call me a humourless dick and a closet jihadist enslaved in a state of mental Dhimmitude, but I don’t see how these caricatures have anything to do with any form of ‘truth’, except the truth of bigots. They have nothing to do with combating extremism, because they are extremist. They don’t have much to do with humour either, except the sniggering laughter of hatemongering frauds, who have hijacked and debased the whole notion of free speech as a common social good and transformed it into a deliberate provocation.
That doesn’t mean that I regard the two would-be murderers as devout Muslim believers seeking to express their hurt and indignation at the latest ‘insult to the Prophet’, anymore than I regard the murders in Paris or Copenhagen as such. You don’t respond to insults against your religion by killing the person who insulted it. That is the logic of moral imbeciles – or tyrants.
So let’s not give these murderers any legitimacy whatsoever. They – and the organizations they support or subscribe to – know perfectly well that every act of violence in response to the ‘drawing Muhammad’ culture wars is likely to bring more hatred and loathing towards Muslims in general, and European and American Muslims in particular. They actively seek this outcome because they believe that the great ‘war’ they have been seeking will be best served by promoting hatred and division.
This is an agenda that Geller and her gang of provocateurs are only too willing to serve, and they see the ‘Muhammad cartoons’ as a useful vehicle in promoting it. They aren’t defending ‘civilisation’ or ‘free speech’ – they are debasing these terms and weaving them into their own ‘war’ – a war fuelled by an extremist agenda of bigotry, hatred and discrimination.
They might say that their war is fought with laughter and humour rather than bullets. But I suspect that their humour is intended to invite bullets, and there is nothing very funny about that at all.