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“The Freedom To Provoke”: The Right To Free Speech Does Not Include The Right Not To Be Criticized

It’s still a radical document, the U.S. Constitution, no part of it more so than the First Amendment. Almost everybody’s for freedom of speech, particularly for themselves and people who agree with them. However, the part about no establishment of religion vexes True Believers of every persuasion. How can government possibly remain neutral in matters of faith?

But what really confuses people is an episode like the recent failed terrorist attack in Garland, Texas. Does our commitment to freedom of expression require that we condemn Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, the two self-proclaimed ISIS jihadists who got themselves shot to death during an abortive attempt to massacre participants in a well-publicized contest to draw ugly cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad?

Absolutely it does. Those two murderous dimwits got exactly what they came looking for. Although nobody’s saying so, something tells me the police officer who took them down wasn’t just the average traffic cop. That fellow would have been all over TV by now. This guy has remained anonymous. Amateurs are ill advised to get into gun battles with professionals.

But are we therefore also required to admire Pamela Geller, co-founder and president of Stop Islamization of America, the organization that sponsored the cartoon contest? No, we are not. The right to free speech does not include the right not to be criticized.

I’m glad nobody shot her. However, Geller’s actions were deliberately and characteristically provocative, coarse and contemptuous of others’ beliefs; in short, the very definition of bigotry. In the final analysis, those actions are also damaging to this country’s ability to prevail in its long twilight struggle with radical Islamic terrorism.

The amazing thing is how observers find this hard to see. Writing in his Washington Post media column, the normally sensible Erik Wemple takes issue with Geller’s critics. “And who’s being treated as the public enemy on cable?” he asks incredulously. “The woman who organized a cartoon contest.”

I’m pretty sure Wemple would take a different view of a Stormfront competition to caricature the ugliest hook-nosed rabbi.

But hold that thought.

“To her enduring credit,” Wemple adds “Fox News’ Megyn Kelly has been screaming all week about the folly of the ‘too-provocative’ crowd.”

Indeed she has. Interestingly enough, the lovely Ms. Kelly’s antagonists include Fox News luminaries Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump, along with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, CNN’s Jake Tapper, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and others Wemple characterizes as “folded into a crouch of cowardice and rationalization.”

Megyn Kelly’s thunderous rebuttal to O’Reilly was couched in melodramatic terms Geller herself would find appropriate: “You know what else the jihadis don’t like? They hate Jews. Should we get rid of all Jews? That’s the path we’re going to go down catering to the jihadis. There’s no satisfying them.”

Holy false dichotomies, Batman! So the choices are deliberately offend the religious sensibilities of millions of peaceable Muslims or get rid of Jews?

This kind of black-and-white thinking is pretty much the stock in trade of propagandists like Geller intent upon persuading Americans that not only ISIS and al Qaeda extremists but Islam itself and Arabs in particular are terrorist enemies of the United States. All Arabs, everywhere.

The problem, argues former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, is that the worldwide battle with Islamic fundamentalism can’t be won without Muslim allies — loyal U.S. citizens who report suspicious activities; allies and proxies who fight against violent Islamism; hundreds of millions of people around the world who repudiate Salafism by the peacefulness and tolerance of their daily lives.

When Americans engage in high-profile, attention-seeking acts of blasphemy, they are not joining U.S. military and intelligence forces at the front line; they are complicating and undermining their work.

President Obama has said much the same thing.

Things might also be different if Pamela Geller didn’t have such an extensive track record. “On her website,” reports the Jewish Daily Forward “Geller has denounced President Obama as ‘a third worlder and a coward’ who ‘will do nothing but beat up on our friends to appease his Islamic overlords’ and as ‘a muhammadan’ who “wants jihad to win.

The Anti-Defamation League has criticized Geller for “consistently vilifying the Islamic faith under the guise of fighting radical Islam.” The British government refused to let her enter that country in 2011. She has characterized other Jews who criticize her as worse than “21st-century kapos,” a reference to Jews who served as guards in Nazi death camps.

Astonishingly, after extreme-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik murdered 70 people at a Norwegian Labour Party summer youth camp in 2011, he credited Geller with inspiring him. She then assailed the Scandinavian left for harboring anti-Israel sentiments, posting a camp photo on her Atlas Shrugs website captioned: “Note the faces which are more Middle Eastern or mixed than pure Norwegian.”

Non-Aryan Untermenschen, Hitler would have called them.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 13, 2015

May 14, 2015 Posted by | Free Speech, Pamela Geller, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Who’s Soft On Terror Now?

By the time U.S. Navy SEALs shot Osama bin Laden dead in his Pakistan hideaway, he was already becoming a historical anachronism. During his 10 years of running and hiding, events had passed him by. In the end, he appeared more David Koresh than Hitler or Napoleon — a religious zealot imprisoned by his own homicidal delusions, and little more.

“I am confident that Muslims will be able to end the legend of the so-called superpower that is America,” bin Laden once said. Like most fanatics, however, he failed to grasp the resilience of our democracy. America had largely recovered from the terrible strategic blunders that fear and outrage over the 9/11 atrocity had driven it to.

Al-Qaida’s hope was to lure the United States into Afghanistan, where they imagined it would destroy itself like the Soviet Union. That the neoconservative cabal inside the Bush administration would use the attack to justify invading Iraq provided an unanticipated propaganda boost.

The U.S., bin Laden told a CNN interviewer in 1997, “wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents on us to rule us and then wants us to agree to this … If we refuse to do so, it says we are terrorists.”

But images of Abu Ghraib faded as Iraq’s fratricidal strife yielded to steadfast military and diplomatic effort; America’s intention to leave Iraq became clear. Recent political tumult across the Arab world has owed nothing to bin Laden’s fever dream of a restored Islamic empire.

Writing from Benghazi, Libya, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen celebrated the liberation of “the captive Arab mind.”

“Bin Laden’s rose-tinged caliphate was the solace of the disenfranchised, the disempowered and the desperate,” Cohen added. “A young guy with a job, a vote and prospects does not need virgins in paradise.”

None of which should diminish our satisfaction at bin Laden’s death. I happened to be watching the Phillies-Mets game Sunday night when spontaneous cheers of “USA, USA!” broke out as fans got the news on their cellphones. For once, ESPN delivered a non-sports headline at the bottom of the screen.

My brother the Mets fan called the next day to express his feelings. Thirteen people from our New Jersey hometown, he reminded me, died on 9/11. I didn’t know any of them personally, but he knew several victims. Nothing can bring the victims back or erase their loved ones’ pain. Avenging those deaths, however, brought exactly what President Obama said it did: justice.

Bin Laden could have surrendered. Instead, he took the easy way out. Good riddance to him.

Everybody’s got their own way of remembering. Me, I get out my “Concert for New York” DVD and watch the Who turn Madison Square Garden upside down with a thunderous rendition of “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” — maybe the most powerful rock anthem ever written — for an audience of uniformed New York cops, firefighters and EMTs.

Announcing themselves honored to be invited, the English band played in front of a huge projection of the U.S. flag, the Union Jack and the World Trade Center. I can’t watch it dry-eyed. Everybody in the crowd looks like my cousin or somebody I grew up with.

No doubt you’ve got your own 9/11 memories. The question is: What to do with those thoughts and emotions now? Will the feelings of unity — those cheering fans in Philadelphia were Democrats and Republicans alike — bring about a lessening of partisan political anger?

President George W. Bush was quick to offer congratulations. Even Dick Cheney was gracious for once. It was Cheney’s classless accusation that President Obama was risking national security by dropping the “Global War on Terror” trope that set the tone for strident rejection of his legitimacy.

Soft on terror? Obama not only accomplished what the previous administration hadn’t done in eight years of trying, he’d put his presidency on the line. Had the SEALs’ mission in Pakistan failed like President Carter’s 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran, the recriminations would never have ended. Instead, it revealed Obama as one tough, shrewd cookie.

“For most Americans,” writes the New Yorker’s George Packer, “the killing of Osama bin Laden is the equivalent of a long-form birth certificate in establishing Barack Obama’s bona fides as commander-in-chief.”

Realistically, however, not much has changed except American self-confidence. The truth is that the nation panicked somewhat after 9/11. Anxious to find an opponent worthy of their own revolutionary romanticism, Bush administration neoconservatives turned Osama bin Laden into a virtual Hitler to suit their own Churchillian fantasies.

“Islamofascism” they called it. Enraged and distraught, many Americans bought it. Except that bin Laden’s deluded followers posed no military threat to the integrity of the United States or any Western nation. At worst they were capable of theatrical acts of mass murder like the 9/11 attacks.

And that was sufficient evil indeed.

By: Gene Lyons, Salon War Room, May 4, 2011

May 5, 2011 Posted by | 911, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Muslims, National Security, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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