Brilliant piece, and no doubt provocative to the cowards who control the public discourse today — not that they will do anything but heap more opprobrium upon Pamela Geller and others who are fighting to defend freedom. Those who say “Yours was a gratuitous event that was needlessly provocative” don’t realize that Islamic supremacists are endlessly offended, endlessly provoked, and endlessly demanding, and those who think that if we just don’t draw cartoons of Muhammad, all will be well, are ignorant (willfully or not) of what Muslims are forcing non-Muslims to stop doing in other countries around the world today, because these actions offend them. Those new demands are coming, lemmings. Get ready to bow down again.
The backlash has been considerable.
Pam Geller, whose American Freedom Defense Initiative organized the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest that sparked an armed assault by two self-appointed jihadis in Garland, Texas, has come under a withering assault for her actions. From Donald Trump to a crew at Fox that includes Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Greta Van Susteren, Martha McCallum, Alan Colmes, ex-Bush aide and Fox contributor Brad Blakeman as well as liberal radio host Richard Fowler and doubtless more, Geller has been subjected to a firestorm of criticism.
I respectfully dissent.
According to Newsmax, Ms. Geller has now received an ISIS death threat. Or, as they say in the world of Islam, a “fatwa”:
“The attack by the Islamic State in America is only the beginning of our efforts to establish a wiliyah in the heart of our enemy,” the message reads. “Our aim was the khanzeer Pamela Geller and to show her that we don’t care what land she hides in or what sky shields her; we will send all our Lions to achieve her slaughter.”
Note well the word “khanzeer.” The translation is “swine” — as used in the Islamic world when Jews are called “the descendants of apes and pigs.”
Geller has been making the necessary media rounds to defend herself, including this post in Time magazine. Sean Hannity has come to her defense, saying: “You can’t draw a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad without expecting this violence? Is this how far we have sunk? That we’ve got to capitulate in this way?” Rush Limbaugh has leapt to her defense.
Megyn Kelly was blunt in her defense. “Even if you hate her message, she was promoting free speech,” Kelly said and told a guest critical of Geller that he was “fundamentally confused and wrong” and that “I’m concerned about the America you would have us live in.”
The notion that any American anywhere should restrict their own freedom of speech because to do otherwise would provoke violence is a certain path to ending freedom of speech. Let’s go with one of the favorite criticisms of Geller — that what Ms. Geller did holding that conference in Garland, Texas, was the work of a “provocateur.” OK. And?
American history is littered with “provocateurs” whose words or actions “provoked” violence. From the Boston Tea Partiers in 1773 to the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, time after time after time words and actions provoked violence. The Declaration of Independence, in fact, didn’t just provoke a little violence — it provoked a seven-year-long war with Great Britain that was said to have produced 25,000 American casualties. That’s before one gets to the estimated 4,000 British soldiers who were killed. Not to mention that the mere election of Abraham Lincoln provoked a string of events which in turn launched the Civil War. Killing some 600,000-plus Americans. Now there’s a provocation.
Just two months ago President Obama and former President Bush joined together in Selma, Alabama, to celebrate the work of “provocateurs” who knew — and were warned — not to march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge in support of black voting rights in 1965. As history records, Selma’s Sheriff Jim Clark faced the protesters at the head of a collection of billy-club wielding, horseback-riding troopers and used a bull horn to warn that the protesters “are ordered” to return to their homes or churches. Thus warned — quite specifically warned — that they were in danger of provoking violence, the marchers refused to turn back and kept coming. At Clark’s signal the troopers launched — and so ruthlessly inflicted violent beatings on the protesters that the event became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
In the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, a Geller-esque white Detroit housewife named Viola Liuzzo heard the call of Dr. Martin Luther King for Americans to come to Alabama and join the fight for voting rights. Liuzzo did so. And on the night of March 25, 1965, Liuzzo was driving a fellow marcher — a 19-year old black youth named Leroy Morton. Liuzzo’s car was spotted by the Ku Klux Klan. They were white racists who saw the fact of a white woman driving a black man as a provocation that violated the social mores of segregation and white supremacy. In response to this “provocation,” Liuzzo’s car was overtaken by a car filled with Klan members. They fired at Viola Liuzzo, shooting her twice in the head and killing her instantly. The car crashed, Morton played dead and once the Klan had departed went for help. This same white woman-black man combination was exactly the same social provocation cited in the killing of Emmett Till, the young black teenager who was murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman.
Today Viola Liuzzo and the marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge are seen as heroes. In fact, during his visit to Selma for that fiftieth anniversary tribute the President specifically said: “If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done.” Really? Is the President saying he wants more racial provocations around America? Was he himself acting as a Geller-style “provocateur”?
Should Viola Liuzzo have not gone to Alabama? Should she not have protested for voting rights or had a black man in her car — because what she was doing was “provocative” to the white supremacist view of society and would provoke violence? To listen to today’s chorus of critics of Pamela Geller, apparently the answer is no, Viola Liuzzo should never have gone, and yes, in the end she provoked her own death.
The entirety of the civil rights movement and quite specifically the words and actions of its leaders — most prominently including Dr. King himself — were seen in the day as provocative of violence. In fact, King himself would pay for all those words and actions with his life, shot to death while in Memphis for a 1968 march. Should Dr. King never have marched, spoken, and protested? Should the Civil Rights Act of 1964 never been enacted because it was the result of provocative, violence-inciting Freedom Riders and marches across the South?
There’s another fact here that is ignored. Forget the threat of Islamic radicalism. Take the issue off the table entirely. The uncomfortable fact of life today in a 21st century America drenched in television, films, and social media is that people of prominence, whether they are candidates for office or simply media figures or celebrities, are all too frequently targeted by those who are provoked by their words and actions.
Bill O’Reilly — and I’m not picking on him here but since he has raised the subject himself — is a case in point. Mr. O’Reilly, famously, is the host of Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, a show with a huge popular following. Five nights a week for 19 years O’Reilly has been delivering a show that is filled with controversial views and frequently controversial people. To his credit, he never holds back in saying what he thinks.
Is what Bill O’Reilly does every night “provocative”? Does Bill O’Reilly invite violence? Well, catch this 2008 CBS interview with O’Reilly himself, as reported by CBS:
“My life is dangerous now,” he said. “You know, I have bodyguards and security. I can’t go many places. I can’t be in certain crowd situations. When I do a book signing, I gotta have a phalanx of state troopers there because there are crazy people. And then there’re the Web sites and all of that, which are just totally out of control.
“They encourage these nuts. You know, I was thinking about John Lennon, you know, and John Lennon was tryin’ to be a nice guy, signing the guy’s thing and [Chapman] pops him. So, that is the worst part of the whole ‘Factor’ experience.”
Got that? What Bill O’Reilly does on his television show is so provocative to some people that his life “is dangerous now” and he has to have “bodyguards and security.” What O’Reilly is saying here is that yes, he too is a “provocateur” — just like Pam Geller. Should O’Reilly quit his show? Should he be seen not as a television host with an interesting show but rather condemned as a deliberately provocative public danger whose very presence anywhere in public could result in violence to innocent bystanders? Should he curtail his First Amendment right to say what he wants on his own television show? Should he be condemned for nightly doing something that is, to use O’Reilly’s description of Geller’s actions, “dumb”?
Absolutely not. That would be dumb.
The disturbing reality here is that, as mentioned, this “provocateur’ phenomenon isn’t limited to Bill O’Reilly or Pam Geller. All kinds of people in the public eye who are not the President of the United States with a retinue of Secret Service agents are targeted by someone Out There as a “provocateur.” As O’Reilly himself mentioned, former Beatle John Lennon’s celebrity alone was enough to provoke a killer. Just the other week, the news brought a recording of a 911 call from a frantic actress, Sandra Bullock. Bullock was locked in a closet in her own home — while a crazed stalker prowled though her home looking for her. Why? For no other reason than Bullock’s movie celebrity had provoked this nut into violently breaking into her home. Should Bullock halt her acting career because it has provoked violence?
What Pamela Geller is about — courageously and boldly — is standing up for freedom. That’s it. That’s all. “My country is in danger,” she said to Sean Hannity on his radio show yesterday — and she is right. When O’Reilly says “Insulting the entire Muslim world is stupid… It does not advance the cause of liberty or get us any closer to defeating the savage jihad,” he is, as Megyn Kelly said, confused. It isn’t Geller’s job to defeat ISIS. That’s the President’s job. It isn’t her job to provoke — or not provoke. It isn’t her job to be smart — or stupid. It is her God-given, constitutional right to stand up for freedom of speech — and she exercises that right. It is her job, as it is that of every American, to work to see that our country is not endangered by gradually giving up our freedoms one by one in a constant backsliding down the slippery slope of tyranny.
What concerns with all this criticism? In effect what the critics are saying is that we should start curtailing American freedoms — the Constitution — to avoid “provoking” or offending someone. Muslims today, gays yesterday, rioting Baltimoreans last week. And so on through some catechism of political correctness.
Where does this stop? Just as Islam forbids images of The Prophet, so too does it forbid homosexuality. If Americans are not supposed to “provoke” Muslims by doing something that offends their religion, does this mean the push that is on now for gay marriage should come to a screeching halt? Should the Supreme Court make gay marriage illegal because to recognize gay marriage would deliberately provoke Muslims across America and around the world? Indeed, isn’t an American approval of any gay “right” a deliberate provocation of Muslim sensibilities?
This is, I would suggest, an untenable place for conservatives to be. It’s an untenable place for liberals to be. It’s an untenable place for Americans to be. It isn’t enough to say some version of “oh sure Pam Geller has the right to do it but she’s provocative and what she did is dumb.” As Sean Hannity has said, Americans cannot slip into the habit of saying “I’m for free speech…but…”
What Pam Geller is doing is bravely standing where so many Americans celebrated today once stood. She is following in the steps of those Sons of Liberty in the Boston Tea Party of 1773 or the signers of the Declaration in 1776 Philadelphia or the civil rights marchers on that Edmund Pettus Bridge or Viola Liuzzo in 1965….