Dear Freedom of Speech,

In front of you is a large red button. It is your Constitutional right, given by the First Amendment, to press this button.

Maybe you want to press this button, you want to use it to make your point in the morass of public debate, to make certain people will hear what you have to say. This button will absolutely do that. If you press this button, the world will stop and listen. But there are serious consequences to pressing this button.

What exactly would you be willing to pay to exercise your freedom of speech, of that certainty people will have to listen to what you would say?

If you press that button, you have the world forum. But it is 100 percent guaranteed that more than one person will be seriously injured and more than one person will be killed. Are you still willing to press that button? Is what you have to say that important? Do you trust that anyone has to say is that important? When they say it, you could be the one killed. Or anyone you love. It’s guaranteed.

That button is sitting in front of city hall, downtown. Anyone can press that button. It’s their Constitutional right. Are you okay with that? Should there be some discussion about access to the button? Maybe a fence around it? Maybe a committee to decide if your topic is worth the death of a neighbor.

But good ol’ Bob, is a little drunk and feeling like he needs to talk about how Obama’s coming for his guns and digging secret tunnels under the abandoned Wal-Mart, and he’s staggering toward that button.

Should you stop him? You’re in that town square. You could be the one killed. Your kids could be the ones injured. It’s a certainty. Someone, maybe several people, will be injured. Someone, maybe several people, will die. But Bob has the Constitutional right to press the button.

This is how I feel about the “Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,” held in Garland, Texas May 3. The host of the event, Pamela Geller, knew full well her event would be dangerous. Every time there’s a public event surrounding artistic renderings of the Prophet Muhammad, people die. People are injured. It’s a big red button.

Geller later told the Washington Post she was “prepared for violence,” and the group was required by the Garland Police Department to spend $10,000 on security. Uniformed officers, SWAT, FBI, and ATF were all guarding the event.

Residents of Garland objected to the event, some area Muslims calling it blasphemous while others cited concerns about public safety. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, however, chose not feed the flames. The representative went so far as to say, “The thing [Geller] hates most is being ignored.”

But Geller knew exactly what the big red button would do when she pressed it. She knew she wouldn’t be ignored if she pushed it. Claiming that freedom of speech was threatened, claiming that she was defending it, she chose to hold the event.

And it happened. Red button, pushed. Men with assault rifles attacked, shooting at police. One officer was injured and the two men were killed.

It probably won’t shock you, dear reader, that Geller feels no guilt or shame for her actions. She says nothing about the men who died, about the officer who was injured because of her event. In fact, she’s proud of the result, claiming she really showed those jihadists. In fact, she feels her event actually helped police, getting those two attackers off the streets.

I find Geller’s argument about defending her right to free speech specious, spurious and deceptive.

Muslims have, as a tenet of their religious beliefs, a taboo about depicting the Prophet Mohammad. The prohibition is because the Prophet is cherished, and the images drawn are seen as critical. Much like Americans find the idea of flag burning repugnant, so do Muslims find the idea of drawing the Prophet. The majority of Americans support an amendment to the Constitution to ban flag burning. Some Muslim extremists are willing to kill and die over this taboo. I’m in no way saying they’re equivalent, but I’m offering a perspective. Both of these, the flag and the Prophet, are symbols of our faith.

In this of all countries, respecting another person’s religion should not be too much to ask. Don’t set a flag on fire; it’s your right, but it’s disrespectful and unnecessary. You can make your point in a million other ways. Most of us will never have a need to draw the Prophet, and knowing how disrespectful it is to another religion should be a consideration if such a need ever arose.

For artists, journalists, cartoonists, and similar professionals, this is a whole different discussion about freedom of the press. These were not the people lured by a $10,000 prize to participate in Geller’s small town event.

Geller, who is not a artist, a cartoonist, a journalist, or anything other than a racist rabble rouser, is standing on a soapbox screaming that her freedom of speech was hindered by absolutely no one telling her she could not draw the Prophet. No one told her she couldn’t do it. What they did tell her was that it was dangerous, that people could get hurt, that in France and Denmark, lots of people died because someone drew the Prophet. What she did know were the consequences of her actions.

Geller didn’t want to protect freedom of speech by pushing the big red button. If she had, there are so many other ways she could have addressed this issue. Instead, she picked the most incendiary, the one most likely to cause bloodshed. I can only guess that she wanted the horrible consequences that came with pushing the big red button; that she wanted people to die, people to be injured. She wanted this terrible chaos so she could say, “Pay attention to me! Listen to the racist, evil things I say!”

Her own words show this. “I expected that people would come to realize how severely the freedom of speech is threatened today, and how much it needs to be defended,” she told The Washington Post. “We were prepared for violence.” Indeed, her group’s website said “we know the risks.”

Geller, widely known as an Islamaphobe, is a member of what the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls a hate group. Some of the other organizations labeled as “hate groups” by SPLC are white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and racist skinheads. It’s an illustrious list she’s joined. The SPLC called her the “anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead” and said,

Geller has mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists, spoken favorably of South African racists, defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps.

Geller is known for saying things like, “Muslims ‘pray five times a day … they’re cursing Christians and Jews five times a day.’ and in a column published at World Net Daily that public schools had produced “goose-steppers like the Hitler Youth” who were violently imposing their “leftist/Islamic agenda.”

Geller, however horrible I find her politics and agenda, had every right to push the big red button. But shouldn’t she be held accountable for the deaths she caused? Shouldn’t she be responsible for the injuries the police officer sustained? The Garland Police Department shouldered a heavy burden cleaning up the mess Geller made; shouldn’t she be fiscally accountable? Her actions directly and knowingly led to two deaths and an injury. Shouldn’t she be charged with a crime?

I believe strongly in the right to free speech. I just believe equally strongly that we must then be held accountable for what we’ve said. Geller has a lot to answer for, and no one is hammering on her door, demanding she answer in legal and fiscal ways for her actions.

Instead, we’re letting her get back in line for her next turn at that big red button.

As for me? I’m not in line, but I’m still

Payne.

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5 thoughts on “Dear Freedom of Speech,

    • It’s this abuse of freedom of speech that concerns me so much. We all know you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. Isn’t that what Geller is doing? She’s inciting violence directly. The Charlie Hebdo folks are distancing themselves from her; they don’t want what they did for freedom of the press and speech compared to what this woman did.

      Like

  1. While I’m not a huge fan of Charlie Hebdo, I doubt they drew any of those cartoons to incite violence, though they certainly sowed ignorance in a country where Muslims are already deeply stigmatized. Geller’s bullshit wouldn’t fly most places outside the US because, she wasn’t really making a statement but baiting radicalized Muslims to shore up her ignorant generalized opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

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