The recent Muhammad cartoon contest, sponsored by activist Pamela Geller and punctuated by a thwarted Islamic terrorist attack, raises an important question for conservative Christians, namely: What is a right and wise use of free speech?
For activists like Geller or Robert Spencer (of JihadWatch.org fame) or Geert Wilders (of Dutch parliamentary fame), it is essential that we look Islam in the eye and say, “We will not be intimidated. We will not be silenced by your rules, your beliefs, or your threats. And if you tell us to be quiet, we will only shout louder.”
That’s exactly why Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, held the provocative cartoon event, defying radical Islam’s violent attacks on those who depict their prophet and, quite specifically, sponsoring the contest in memory of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Responding to the deadly incident that followed the event, in which two Americans with alleged ISIS ties were killed by police when they opened fire on an unarmed security guard, Geller wrote, “Here’s what the enemies of freedom sought to crush last night. Truth and freedom. But they went up against the wrong kuffar [unbeliever], and they were crushed instead.”
She also commented, “This shows the need for such conferences. The jihad is raging.”
Her critics, naturally, accuse her and her colleagues of being Islamophobic and of provoking the ire of Muslims, but she denies such charges in the name of free speech, also pointing out that for 1,400 years, Muslims have drawn and painted images of Muhammad. She even bristles at the charge of being “anti-Islam.”
But is the charge accurate? Or is it even a negative charge if you believe Islam is a false religion?
Without doubt, it takes tremendous courage to take the stands Geller has taken, and I commend her along with others (including those mentioned above) for refusing to bow to intimidation and fear. They must surely know that there are Muslims who would love to have the privilege of executing them with their own hands. (In fact, ISIS has now called for the “slaughter” of Ms. Geller.)
I’m also quite sympathetic to the general mindset that refuses to capitulate to unjust demands and that will not surrender essential freedoms.
On a regular basis, I embrace this attitude in other cultural arenas, and my AskDrBrown Facebook page has been wrongly shut down a few times over the years because of complaints from gay activists, Muslims, or others. (Thankfully, each time, Facebook apologized to me, reinstated the page and assured me that every effort was being made to stop this from happening.)
When it comes to Islam, I have often linked stories from JihadWatch.org and have given a platform to guests on my radio show like Robert Spencer, Walid Shoebat and Brigitte Gabrielle.
But there’s another side to the story, and it’s one we must also consider.
The cartoon that won the contest was drawn by a former Muslim named Bosch Fawstin, and it depicted an angry Muhammad with raised sword in hand saying, “You can’t draw me!” At the bottom of the cartoon, there was an artist’s hand with the caption, “That’s why I draw you.”
Again, I appreciate the sentiment and applaud the courage it took to enter the competition, knowing it could make the winner a marked man.
Ironically, however, an article about the contest and featuring an image of the cartoon asked if the cartoon justified mass murder, followed by an image of Andres Serrano’s infamous “P-ss Christ,” depicting Jesus hanging on the cross in a jar of urine.
And that’s the whole point.
How do we, as followers of Jesus, feel about “artistic” trash like Serrano’s?
None of us would entertain thoughts of hurting Serrano (God forbid), but we were certainly glad to protest his work, especially since it “won a competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.” As noted by Thomas Lifson, who wrote the short article for the American Thinker website, “All the people who denounce Pamela Geller for sponsoring the contest in Texas should stop for a moment and consider Serrano and his many defenders and funders.”
But again, that’s the whole point. If what Serrano did was wrong, why encourage others to do something unnecessarily offensive?
And so, while I defend Geller’s right to hold the contest and, to repeat, while I commend her courage and boldness, I personally believe it is an unnecessary provocation of Muslims, not just the radicals but others who believe that it’s not right to depict Muhammad (or other prophets in Islam, which would include Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, which is why some Muslim nations refused to show the recent “Noah” movie).
Naturally, Pamela Geller is not thinking in terms of being a Christian witness (since she is not a follower of Jesus), and I understand that, in her mind, being sensitive to the feelings of Muslims is another step down the road of cultural surrender.
But I believe we need to ask ourselves how we would feel if Jews or atheists sponsored a Jesus cartoon contest, knowing that some of the participants would be mocking our Lord. Would we welcome this as a freedom of expression issue, or would we critique it as yet another example of the wrongness of our ideological opponents?
So, just as I would not want Muslims to intentionally provoke the ire of Christians by attacking their beliefs, I would not do the same to them.
It’s one thing to renounce the outrageous Charlie Hebdo massacre. It’s another thing to provoke a conflict.
That’s my take. What’s yours?
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