Free Speech and counter-jihad activist Pamela Geller took a lot of criticism from all sides when she organized the “Mohammed Art Exhibit and Contest” in Garland, Texas in May of last year. Like many others, I thought Ms. Geller’s “stunt” was, while technically legal, needlessly provocative and offensive to Muslims. In a country where some Muslims already felt the discomfort of being associated with horrific terrorism being perpetrated in the name of their religion, I asked myself what need there was to manufacture offense and possibly violence?
The May 3, 2015 event played out fairly predictably: two men attempted to attack the gathering by pulling up to the Curtis Culwell Center in a car and opening fire. They were thwarted by a four-man SWAT team who shot and killed the two assailants, and the event continued without any loss of life to the participants.
So what did any of this prove?
To some observers it showed both that there are terrorist crazies out there who see it as their moral duty to kill people who draw the Prophet, as well as provocateurs willing to taunt those crazies. The whole episode seemed unnecessary to me.
But Geller defended her art exhibit both before and afterwards by discussing the concept of “Creeping Sharia” or “Dhimmitude“, a term coined from the arabic word for non-Muslim subjects in Muslim nations. According to Islamic law all dhimmi – that is, Jews, Christians, and other “people of the book” who refuse to convert to Islam – must live under a set of burdensome regulations from which Muslims are exempt. Dhimmi must pay the jizya (a costly annual tax), dress so as to be visibly distiniguishable from Muslims, must keep to the side of the street, may not build or repair churches, and many others. The sum and substance of these restrictions is to maintain a perpetual sub-class of citizens with significantly curtailed civil rights.
The ‘thin end of the wedge’?
Geller and others use the term “Dhimmitude” to refer to the current western deference to Islamic demands that goes beyond any respect or privilege accorded to other religions or people groups and suggests, in her view, a presumptive path towards total submission to Islam. The question posed by her Mohammed Art Exhibit: are we to approve Sharia’s concept of justice that declares that drawing the Prophet is a capital offense? In other words, should it be effectively legal in America to murder someone for drawing Mohammed?
If our answer is yes, says Geller, we are relinquishing our right to free speech, conferring legitimacy on Sharia law, and setting a dangerous precedent. To support her argument, she and other alternative news media report almost daily on the “Dhimmitude” of European Union governments such as in France, the UK, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany where there has been a steady increase in acquiescence to Muslim demands for Sharia law. The evidence for this growing compliance is incontrovertible, both in the form of formal regulations (the segregation of students in public schools, forbidding the selling of pork, abolishing cultural festivals, etc) as well as informal considerations. This latter group forms the much larger, more consequential changes taking place in Europe. Among these are the well-documented existence of “no-go zones” where law enforcement will not (or cannot) enter, tolerance of relationships between Muslim men and pre-teen girls, and an unprecedented epidemic of rape and child abuse that routinely goes unacknowledged or highly under-reported by government and media.
Pointing to the “Islamization of Europe” as a look into our own possible future, Geller notes that Europe’s attempt to meet Islamic demands has only led to more demands, more aggressively demanded.
How twelve months can change things
In the last year there have been fast-moving developments in the western world – some would say the entire world – regarding Islam: the continued growth of ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and now Libya; the largest mass migration in the history of the modern era from Muslim nations into the EU; the first mass Islamist attacks in Europe (Paris, Cologne, and Brussels); and the rise of lone wolf Islamist attacks in the U.S. such as in Garland and San Bernardino. (The Garland attack on Ms. Geller’s event was, by the way, the first attack on U.S. soil for which ISIS claimed responsibility.)
At least in Europe and America, both Islamist violence and demands for legal accommodation have largely been met with politically correct hand-wringing or a befuddled indifference. Moderate Muslims, whoever or wherever they are, do not appear to be dictating terms to radical Islamists or controlling the international message of Islam. The message from Islam’s current movers and shakers seems to be: You Will Submit.
I don’t see any point in offending people for no reason. But I’ve begun to agree with Pamela Geller, Bosch Fawstin (whose drawing appears at the top of this article), and a growing chorus of others that tolerating murder in America for drawing Mohammed, essentially saying that offenders “get what’s coming to them”, is a passive betrayal of freedom of speech, and we must reject it. Especially in the larger context of international affairs, we need to stand firm for peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic democracy.
And that means you can’t kill people for drawing cartoons.
As Federalist writer Mark Hemingway recently phrased it, “If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said.”