The West’s muddled reaction to the anti-Islam video The Innocence of Muslims and its inadequate response to attempts by Muslims to carve out a special, protected niche for Islam under the guise of prohibiting Islamophobia, suggest that the First Amendment’s freedom of speech is being curtailed out of fear of Muslim threats and violence.
Events of last week involving a New York City subway advertisement seem to confirm this concern.
The sign in question was created by Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative. Geller is a blogger who operates the pro-Israel website Atlas Shrugs.
After a court battle with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Geller’s group was allowed to post an ad which read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
Geller is expanding her anti-jihad campaign across New York and the country. Some versions will include support for America, Baha’is, Copts, Hindus, Nigerian Christians, and Thailand — all victims of jihadist terror — in place of Israel.
Among those calling Geller’s campaign hate speech is Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, director of North American Programs for Rabbis for Human Rights. In an op-ed on the CNN website, she claimed, “The coded message makes clear who the savages are: those who support jihad, which in Geller’s mind includes all Muslims.” Going beyond the ad, Kahn-Troster writes that Geller has called Islam “an extreme ideology, the most radical and extreme ideology on the face of the Earth.” While supporting the First Amendment, she condemns the ad as “words of hatred.”
Similarly, Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said, “The message of these ads may be protected speech, but that does not make it good speech. The fact that ads have been placed in the subway attacking Israel does not excuse the use of attack ads against Muslims…. The remedy for bad speech is good speech, not more bad speech.”
But to accept that these ads are anti-Muslim one must accept the logic of its critics. However, while all roses are flowers, not all flowers are roses. Yes, all jihadists are Muslims, but it does not follow that all Muslims are jihadists.
Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn provides a more logical reading of the ad. “[M]ost Americans probably read it the way it is written: Israel is a civilized nation under attack from people who do savage things in the name of jihad,” he wrote. “Whatever the agenda of those behind this ad might be, the question remains: What part of that statement is not true?”
Addressing the converse logic, McGurn asks why so many people associate jihad with murder and brutality. Two factors are the acts jihadists have committed and that some use jihad in the names of their terrorist organizations.
McGurn believes, that in light of jihadist atrocities, “savage” seems inadequate. “The point is that what makes someone a savage is not the religion he professes. It’s the actions he takes,” noting that the brunt of jihadist savagery has been borne by innocent Muslims who belong to the wrong political party or religious tradition.
To handwringing PC advocates, who condemn the subway ad as hate speech, McGurn says the First Amendment’s “glory, however, is as the cornerstone for a self-governing, free society whose citizens know that someone saying something disgusting about your faith is no excuse for murder.” McGurn’s op-ed appeared during a week in which the administration was slowly shifting from calling the attack on America’s Libya mission a spontaneous reaction provoked by the anti-Islam video, to acknowledging it for the premeditated terrorist attack that it was.
In closing, McGurn points to the strange ramifications of political correctness.
What a curiosity our new political correctness has made of our public spaces. Let your sex tape loose on the Internet and be rewarded with your own TV show; photograph a crucifix in a jar of urine and our museums will vie to exhibit it; occupy someone else’s property and you will be hailed by the president for your keen social conscience. But call people who blow up, behead and mutilate “savage” — and polite society will find you offensive.
Geller is on firm ground contrasting the civilized to the savage. Merriam-Webster defines savage as “lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings.” It lists civilized as the sole antonym.
The ad states “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” I don’t think there should be any controversy over that statement.
So when it comes to differentiating between Israel and jihadists, which is civilized and which is savage? Or are both civilized; or both savage? Muslims are not the issue.