December 14, 2018

Why give Muslims a Pass?

If a Christian fundamentalist holds a provocative conference attacking abortion and two violent liberal protesters show up and start shooting, do we accuse the preacher of being too provocative and igniting the violence?

If a Muslim preacher gives a nasty public sermon calling for the killing of Jews and eradication of Israel, and two Jewish protesters show up and start shooting, do we accuse the preacher of being too provocative and igniting the violence? Of course not.

And yet, in the wake of the attempted shootings at a “Draw Muhammad” event May 3 in Texas, much of the media reaction centered on the anti-Islamic nature of the organizer, Pam Geller.

The media wanted to know: Was it really necessary for Geller to be so provocative and insensitive toward Muslims? Wasn’t she painting all Muslims with the same dark brush? Didn’t she know she’d risk attracting this kind of violent reaction — especially after the murders a few months ago at Charlie Hebdo?

In other words, the conversation was not so much about Geller’s freedom to offend, but about her obligation to show respect.

We saw a similar sensitivity toward Muslims last month from Gary Trudeau, creator of the satirical comic strip “Doonesbury,” when he received the George Polk Career Award.

Trudeau, whose brilliant career has been based on satire, eviscerated the French satirists of Charlie Hebdo, who were murdered in their office in Paris by Islamic gunmen, because of their mocking cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

“By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, ‘Charlie’ wandered into the realm of hate speech,” Trudeau declared. “Well, voilà — the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world.”

The two words here that especially bother me are “powerless” and “triggering.”

Seriously, where is it written that violent Muslims are powerless? Muslims in France or elsewhere may indeed feel part of a “powerless” minority, but do you know where real power comes from? It comes from the willingness to take a machine gun and shoot people who upset you.

“Trigger” is another word that triggers my outrage. It assumes a certain moronic quality in those being triggered, a lack of human agency or ability to think things through.

It’s the ultimate insult. When Trudeau says the cartoons “triggered” violent protests across the Muslim world, what he’s basically saying is that these violent protestors can’t think things through.

They can’t balance the feeling of being insulted with the devastation of extinguishing a human life. They can’t think through the lifelong pain they inflicted on the family members of the French cartoonists they murdered. You see, according to Trudeau’s way of thinking, these people can’t think things through — because they’ve been “triggered.”

When we use language like “powerless” and “triggered,” all we’re doing is pouring oil on the fire. When we walk on eggshells for fear of offending a bully, all we do is empower the bully.

The freedom to offend is the true test of freedom. The ability to swallow an offense in the interest of a higher value is a sign of human enlightenment.

When I see a cartoon that insults Jews, I have a choice: I can either take it personally and react violently, or I can see the insult as the price to pay to live in a free society. I always choose the latter. Most people do. We expect them to.

If one day we see an American Jew start shooting people at an anti-Israel rally, I can assure you the media reaction will be about the shooter. That is as it should be. It’s one thing to express outrage at offensive speech, it’s quite another to start killing people when you get offended.

But when it comes to Muslims, it’s a whole other ballgame. We see the same pattern each time. Offended Muslims get violent, the media get the obligatory caveat out of the way — “nothing justifies violence” — and then they proceed to attack the offensive speech that “triggered” the violence. We’ve all seen how well that’s worked.

The bottom line is this: If we don’t focus single-mindedly on the wrongness of the violent reaction, instead of the wrongness of the offensive speech, we invite more violence. And that goes for all offensive speech, whether from Pam Geller, Charlie Hebdo or any joker with bad taste.

It’s time to stop patronizing Muslims who react violently to insults. The new message must be: We expect the same from you that we expect of everyone else. In the same way that you have the right to offend non-Muslims without expecting violence, non-Muslims have the same right.

Do gooders such as Trudeau who single out Muslims for kid glove treatment are not doing anyone any favors. If the great satirist expects Jews or Christians not to be triggered into violence by offensive cartoons, he should extend the same respect toward Muslims.