Terrorists assaulted a “Muhammad cartoon” event in Texas sponsored by activist Pamela Geller, and the response has been, in part, soul-searching over what’s wrong with Pamela Geller.
Geller is an attention-hungry provocateur who will never be mistaken for Bernard Lewis, the venerable scholar of Islam. Her Texas gathering to award a cash prize for the best cartoon of Muhammad — depictions of whom are considered offensive by many Muslims — was deliberately offensive, but so what?
Two armed Muslim men showed up intending to kill the participants, and were only thwarted when they were shot dead by a police officer who was part of the elaborate security arrangements.
Absent the security, we might have had a Charlie Hebdo-style massacre on these shores, in Garland, Texas, no less, a suburb of Dallas. (The world would be a safer and better place if the forces of civilization everywhere were as well-prepared and well-armed as they are in Texas.)
That horrifying prospect didn’t stop CNN from interrogating Geller the morning after the attack about her views of Islam and her decision to have as the keynote speaker for her event the anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders (who has to live under 24-hour protection). The implicit assumption was that Geller and her cohorts were as much of a problem as the fanatics who planned to censor them at the barrel of a gun.
Geller refers to her meeting as a free-speech event while her critics prefer to call it an anti-Islam event. They are really one and the same. In today’s circumstances, criticism of Islam is at the vanguard of the fight for free speech, since it is susceptible to attack and intimidation by jihadists and calls for self-censorship by the politically correct.
“Yes, but …” defenses of Geller don’t cut it. She had a perfect right to do what she did, and it’s a condemnation of her enemies — and confirmation of her basic point about radical Islam — that the act of drawing and talking elicited a violent response.
If cartoons of Muhammad may seem a low, petty form of speech, they are only the fault line in a deeper clash of civilizations. A swath of the Muslim world doesn’t just want to ban depictions of Muhammad, but any speech critical of Islam.
There was much tsk-tsking after the Charlie Hebdo attack about how France had made itself vulnerable to domestic terrorism because it has failed to assimilate Muslim immigrants. The critique carried a whiff of self-congratulation about how much better the U.S. is as a melting pot, and so it is.
Yet two Phoenix roommates were still prepared to commit mass murder to keep people from drawing images they don’t like. One of them, an American convert to Islam named Elton Simpson, had been convicted of lying to the FBI about discussions about traveling to Somalia allegedly to engage in terrorism. He evidently took inspiration from ISIS calls to attack the Garland, Texas, event, in another sign that the poisonous ideology of radical Islam knows no borders.
It will ever be thus until all of Islam accepts the premises of free society, as have other major world religions. The day there can be the Muslim equivalent of “The Book of Mormon” without the writers, actors and audience members fearing for their lives will be the day that Islam is reformed. Then, and only then, will mockery of Islam by the likes of Pamela Geller and her ilk be a tasteless irrelevance, rather a statement from atop the ramparts of free speech.
Yes, there is such a thing as self-restraint and consideration of the sensibilities of others, but it shouldn’t be the self-restraint of fear. Pamela Geller is a bomb-thrower, but only a metaphorical, not a literal, one. That’s the difference between her and her enemies — and between civilization and barbarism.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com.