Free speech and anti-Islam in Garland: ‘Never assume that you can outgun an art show in Texas’
Thoughts on the Garland, Texas, shootings. Was it a show of free speech to host a let’s draw Mohammed art show? Was it deliberate provocation? I’d say, yes and yes.
For civil libertarians, it is clear that when leaders insist that they “Stand with Charlie” it does not mean actually standing with free speech. To the contrary, the greatest threat facing free speech today is found in Western governments, which have increasingly criminalized and prosecuted speech, particularly anti-religious speech. Once the defining right of Western Civilization, free speech is dying in the West and few world leaders truly mourn its passing.
Around the world, speech is under attack under an array of hate speech and anti-discrimination laws… The result is a growing, if not insatiable, appetite for speech regulation that only increases after violent responses to controversial publications.
The most recent tragedy in France follows an all too familiar pattern from publication to prosecution. Consider what happened in 2005 with the publication of the Danish cartoons and the global riots leading to the murder of non-Muslims and burning of churches and homes. The West rallied around the right of free speech, but then quietly ramped up prosecutions of speech. It happened again in 2012 when a low-budget trailer of a low-grade movie was put on YouTube. The “Innocence of Muslims” trailer was deemed insulting to Mohammad and Islam and led to another global spasm of murder and arson by irate Muslims. Again, Western leaders professed support for free speech while cracking down further on anti-religious speech. Even in the United States, President Obama insisted that the filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula had every right to make the film. However, the next image that the world saw after that speech was filmmaker being thrown into a police car in handcuffs for technical violations of a probation on unrelated charges..
“Garland did a terrific job. Obviously, they were concerned, because there rumblings on the Internet about ‘It’s time for the brothers to come out and show these people they can’t say anything about the Prophet or about Islam.’ If you can’t host an effort where there’s going to be open speech and debate about controversial issues, then we’ve already lost our freedom,” he said. “They’ve won without having to put forward their agenda on a legitimate basis, much less on an illegitimate and violent basis.”
Today brought out the HATE in innumerable tweets about the Garland TX shooting, intent on letting everyone know that the authors weigh intentions over freedom when it comes to speech. The percentage that said “I am in favor of free speech BUT the event was provocative” exceeded the reverse formulation by 200%, it seemed, because A) the target was on the wrong side, and B) the victims – being the people who were offended – belong to a group that must be protected lest the roiling waters of hatred boil over had flood the land, which they’re due to do any time now…
The most pathetic excuse I keep reading attacks the event for being provocative. Not just because it turns the objects of its muted sympathy into bulls who cannot resist the fluttering flag, but because it pretends that the entire point of the last 100 years in art hasn’t been provocation. It’s been the safest kind, of course; the arts have been poking beehives for years with the confidence of someone who knows they are vacant or otherwise occupied. For decades a thing has been judged less on its artistic merits than its intention, and if its intention is pure – that is, a handful of mud in the face of those who use the word “pure” without the requisite ironic inflection – then its demerits are waved away in favor of an enthusiastic endorsement of its transgressive nature, or how much rubble of the old paradigm it produced…
All I’m saying is that when you find the need to equivocate when people decide to kill human beings over a drawing, you’ve elevated offense and subjective perception over freedom of expression. But chances are you’ve been doing that for a while anyway.
The shooting last night was not caused by the free-speech event any more than the Charlie Hebdo murders were caused by derogatory caricatures, or the rioting after a Danish newspaper’s publication of anti-Islam cartoons was caused by the newspaper. The violence is caused by Islamic supremacist ideology and its law that incites Muslims to kill those they judge to have disparaged Islam.
Free speech has not buts.
The LA Times says there is line between free speech and hate speech. In other words, free speech has limits. In which case, how can it be free?
Attendees at the cartoon contest emerged as defiant as ever after the shootings. The winning cartoonist, Bosch Fawstin, posted a tweet shortly after the attack: “They came to kill us and died for it. Justice.”
Fawstin’s winning cartoon portrayed Muhammad as a wild-eyed zealot brandishing a sword and proclaiming, “You can’t draw me.” The hand of an unseen cartoonist responds, “That’s why I draw you”…
K.M. Lessing, a Texas resident who attended the event, said there was no panic in the building after the shooting. She said she had expected an attack.
“We have a right to have these kind of events, and we shouldn’t have to live in fear of a shooting happening,” Lessing said. “And of course it did, which proves the whole point.”
The shooting, she said, “is exactly why I’m anti-Islam.”
We hear from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who are a ray of light amid the negativity:
“Violence in response to anti-Islam programs like the one in Garland is more insulting to our faith than any cartoon, however defamatory. Bigoted speech can never be an excuse for violence.”
Indeed. Debate it. Or ignore it.