I detest Pamela Geller and I expect that she spent her Monday morning traveling from news appearance to news appearance chortling over her seemingly successful baiting last night of a couple of insane gun-toters who apparently were going to use a particular religion as justification to shoot up an event she had created for just the purpose of baiting any and all insane gun-toters who might want to use that particular religion as justification for violence. I detest her and all she claims to stand for.
(Yes, she did. She did spend it chortling.)
The cartoonists she was hosting had and have a right in the United States to free speech, including speech that offends. They have a right to draw cartoons, and I have a right to say, “Buddy, that is effing offensive and evidence that you are a sick race- and religion-baiting lover of violence.” They have a right to reply, “But you don’t understand my art. It’s about that religion’s intolerance of my intolerance of it!” That is a debate, a pointless one I think, but a debate anyway.
For over two hundred years, this country has debated the location of a shifting demarcation point between “offensive” and “acceptable,” but we have agreed again and again on a core right: We have a right to be jerks in speech and in print. But the freedom of speech includes the right to reply, also. We are free to reply to hate speech and hate sentences with our own ideas, too. The debate sometimes gets heated simply because we are not consistent in the application of how to find the demarcation between offensive and not offensive.
A gun does not have veto power over speech. It is not a reply. The gun-wielder thinks it does but is sickeningly mistaken.
I live in the United States. In January, cartoonists and writers were gunned down in their offices in Paris. France is a country that is embarking on a similar existential debate about free speech and freedom … and the freedom to offend and the freedom to be offended. I am not a French citizen, but it seemed to me that the violence trumped location of residence. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I wrote this (apologies for the long quote):
When violence is used as a form of literary criticism, it gives to the words and images that it dislikes a kind of power, but a different sort of power than the words or images actually possess. Words and images convey ideas in the most intimate way: from inside one human mind to another. They carry little in the way of power or anything like power. When violence is a response to words and images, violence is revealed as the nullity that it is, and the philosophy that believes that violence is a reply to words and images is revealed as a nullity, too. The words and images did not reveal that.
Even if a writer, in the writer’s intimate my-mind-to-your-mind way, writes something provocative like, “Kill me,” you can’t. Even if the writer names you in the request. Even if the writer irritates you in the writing. A bullet as a reply gives the writing a power it does not deserve and did not request or demand or require: the power to reveal the vacuum of violence inside any brain or ideology that sees the bullet as any kind of viable reply. It is an unequal exchange, even if the dead once said and wrote that they “would rather die standing than live crawling.”
In attempting to explain what happened in Paris last night, I finally found myself offering a what-if: What if everything that happened last night happened, but here, in Los Angeles, say. Someone offended by a certain animated comedy program that specializes in irking the church-, temple-, and mosque-going religious among us decides to hunt down the creators of that show in revenge for perceived insults. My listener got it, and then we shook our heads, because we live with the amnesiac’s belief—rightly or wrongly, and I hope rightly—that “it can’t happen here.”
I say “amnesiac” because it can, and it has, and it quite possibly might happen here again.—January 8, 2015, “Suis-je Charlie?”
At first glance, it seems that tomorrow arrived yesterday in Garland, Texas. Oh, how naive I was in January. A massacre happens in France and I am all over it; a (possible) massacre is (maybe) averted in Texas and we have what I described above, don’t we? Should I not be defending the odious Ms. Geller?
No, we do not have what I described above, a fantasized revenge against “South Park.” (My analogy was pretty obvious.) Pamela Geller provided a platform for people who happen to hate one particular religion to pose as the writer I posited above, the writer who pokes someone, names them and prods them and taunts them and then demands violence from them in order to … To what end, exactly? To do what Ms. Geller has been doing today: Cry wolf. Cry that “they,” the Muslims, are the violent ones. Claim that this was almost another Charlie Hebdo. She is a wannabe victim demanding a victim’s rights. I hope real victims of real violence find her antics offensive.
Inviting violence from those who use a religion as cover for violence proves little about anything other than violence and nothing about said religion. No one at that event yesterday deserved to be shot; thanks to one police officer, no one was.
The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists made an effort to offend every one; an editorial in The Economist last week pointed out that “of the 523 Charlie Hebdo cartoon covers from 2005 to 2015, a mere seven concerned Islam.” This is not to say that the Charlie Hebdo massacre could have been a real-life “Murder on the Orient Express,” in which many aggrieved parties participated in the murder (apologies for the spoiler).
Every single one of the cartoons at Ms. Geller’s hate-schrift was against Islam, specifically. That is called baiting. It was the entire reason for her event, which she charged money to attend. Muslims in Dallas knew exactly how much Geller’s event was worth protesting: Not one protester showed up at the thing. (Last night’s shooting took place outside the event and as it was winding down.)
— Jobin Panicker (@jobinpnews) May 3, 2015
Geller has a right to hate and express that hate; her cartoonists have a right to their hatreds; the alleged gunmen did not have a right to shoot the place up, but thanks to a heroic police officer, they did not get anywhere near the event. But Geller’s only point in her career of late has been to use her freedom of speech to demand the silence and silencing of Muslims in this country, to deny them their freedom. Hers is an empty and violent philosophy; it just does not carry a gun. Yet.
The only reasonable people this weekend were the Dallas-area Muslims who loudly ignored the whole thing.
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