Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Difference Between Defending Free Speech and Being an Asshole

By now you've likely heard of the shootings that took place in Texas at a contest centered on drawing the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). The shooters are suspected to have committed their crimes due to being upset by these depictions of the Prophet (something not technically forbidden by Islam, but strongly discouraged).

Quite predictably, many people have latched on to this event as an example of the savagery of Islam and its followers, as opposed to the decent, freedom-loving people of America. The organizer of the event, Pamela Geller, trotted out the idea that to not have a "Draw Muhammed" contest would be abridging "our freedoms so as to not offend savages." She went on to call the two attackers "enemies of freedom" to drive the point home (she apparently borrowed George W's hyperbole thesaurus).

But as I've noted previously, any time someone this far on the right is loudly talking proclaiming themselves to be defenders of Free Speech, there's almost always some sort of other agenda present. In Geller's case, it's clearly her desperately trying to provoke some sort of negative reaction to justify her world view.

If a quick perusal of her website, which looks like it was designed by a very racist 9 year old, doesn't fill you in on her views, maybe the fact that her organization is designated a hate group and that she is not allowed entry to Britain because of her support for neo-nazis will tell you what you need to know. She was also the driving force behind the effort to stop the construction of the so-called ground zero mosque in NYC*.

So she's a racist hack. That in itself is not terribly surprising, but is definitely something that should be central in any discussion of this event or its results. In fact, her rabid racism is really what belies the whole idea that she's somehow doing any of this for the cause of protecting free speech.

For one, she claims the event was to "sound the alarm about Muslim encroachment into Europe and America." Seriously. "Muslim encroachment." That's the kind of wording I would use if I were attempting to satirize racists.

But the real heart of the matter is a simple question: why? Why does she feel the need to have drawings of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)? What purpose do these drawings serve? While she keeps asserting that not doing this would somehow damage freedom of speech, she never actually specifies why or how it does that.

Probably, I would venture, because it doesn't. Heck, look at me -- I've never once drawn any prophets of any religion, and I sure feel pretty comfortable saying whatever the hell I want!

That's the point I'm getting at -- she (nor any of the other people involved in this) are creating pictures of the Prophet for any reason other than to provoke people. These pictures just aren't serving any other purpose (seriously -- what the hell does anyone need a picture of Muhammed for?). They're just like the infamous cartoons in the Danish newspaper a few years back that provoked a similar reaction, cartoons which the editor of that paper fully admitted were published solely to provoke Denmark's Muslim community.

Really, this strikes me more as the same argument employed by white people who are just desperate to be able to use the n-word. There's no compelling need for any white person to ever use that word (outside of maybe some sort of very specific academic discussion) and not using it causes no harm to anyone. But that's the whole point, as it's not actually about using the word, it's about the problem so many white people have with the idea that "other" people are allowed to have views and opinions. Views and opinions which may even be *gasp* different than those of white people! After literal centuries of brutal, genocidal slavery, Black Americans have asked white people to not use one single, highly-insulting word. Seems less like an attack on their freedom of speech than asking them not to be raging assholes.

The continued demand from these same types of white folks that they be allowed to engage in the highly-offensive practice of drawing the Prophet comes from the same place. It's not enough that white Americans have slaughtered tens of thousands of Muslim people in the last decade alone. No! They must also be free to insult Muslims while they're at it. Anything else would be an affront to freedom!

As the Supreme Court famously noted, freedom of speech does not allow one to shout fire in a crowded theater, basically meaning that one should just maybe consider the effect of their words and then weigh that likely effect against their need to say them. In this case, Geller damn well knew the event would provoke people (in fact, it's really hard to argue she was putting on the event for any reason other than to provoke people) and yet she went ahead anyway and now two people are dead.

But hey, at least some rich, racist white lady has a bunch of drawings of a religious figure. And isn't that the true meaning of freedom?

*Not totally related, but back when that controversy was in full swing, a friend of mine summed it up perfectly, noting that it's a bit hypocritical to say you can't build a mosque next to ground zero when we've been building ground zeros next to mosques for decades.

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