Many media outlets have spent more time condemning Pamela Geller’s “draw Mohammed” contest as unnecessarily provocative and “hate speech” and little time condemning the jihadists who planned to massacre the attendees at the Texas event.
In the 1990s, the mainstream media led by the New York Times took a very different view toward supposed “art” that was offensive to Christians: a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a vat of urine and a painting of the Virgin Mary that was smeared with elephant dung and surrounded with pornographic images.
In October 1999, when then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tried to pull funding from the Brooklyn Museum for displaying these works, the New York Times condemned him for engaging in politics and said museums are obliged to challenge the public. A few days later, New York Times columnist Frank Rich compared Giuliani’s efforts to defund the museum to the Nazi’s 1937 “degenerate art” exposition of modern art.
While the Times championed these works of “art” offensive to Christians and published images of them, it declined to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoon lampooning Mohammed that led to the deadly Paris shootings last January. The Times also has refused to publish the winner of Geller’s “draw Mohammed” contest.
Americans can disagree over whether Geller’s event was unnecessarily provocative. I did not agree with it and would not participate in such an event intended to offend Muslims just as I oppose events and artwork intended to offend Christians. However, I don’t support violence against anti-Christian art and events since modern society’s response to offensive speech is peaceful protests, not violence.
I remember in 1992 when Sinéad O’Connor, an Irish rock singer, tore in half a photo of Pope John Paul II during a Saturday Night performance. Due to angry phone calls and letters by viewers, she was never on the show again. There are many American art museums that will never show the offensive anti-Christian works displayed by the Brooklyn Museum because they would cause reductions in funding from government and private contributors.
That’s how we deal with offensive speech in a free society.
The global jihad movement sees things differently. It wants messages that it deems offensive to Islam exempted from free speech protections and to murder people who engage such speech.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali can attest that this goes far beyond “draw Mohammed” contests. Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch parliament, fled the Netherlands for the United States in 2007 because of death threats due to her involvement in a film titled Submission on the mistreatment of women in Islamic society. The film’s director, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by jihadist terrorists on November 2, 2004.
There are many others who have been targeted for death because they wrote or drew something jihadists didn’t like. Salman Rushdie, Lars Vilks, Geert Wilders and others are on ISIS and al Qaeda death lists This week, ISIS added Pamela Geller to a death list.
The most famous quote on the defense of free speech (often mistakenly attributed to Voltaire but actually written by his biographer, Beatrice Evelyn Hall) is “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This is the standard the news media must use in the “draw Mohammed” story. The press should be aggressively defending free speech rights today just it did in the 1990s when it defended anti-Christian art in New York. The media cannot led jihadists get away with using violence to weaken our right to free speech and stop piling on Geller for exercising her free speech rights.