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Thursday, January 17, 2019

It’s still a radical document, the U.S. Constitution, no part of it more so than the First Amendment. Almost everybody’s for freedom of speech, particularly for themselves and people who agree with them. However, the part about no establishment of religion vexes True Believers of every persuasion. How can government possibly remain neutral in matters of faith?

But what really confuses people is an episode like the recent failed terrorist attack in Garland, Texas. Does our commitment to freedom of expression require that we condemn Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, the two self-proclaimed ISIS jihadists who got themselves shot to death during an abortive attempt to massacre participants in a well-publicized contest to draw ugly cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad?

Absolutely it does. Those two murderous dimwits got exactly what they came looking for. Although nobody’s saying so, something tells me the police officer who took them down wasn’t just the average traffic cop. That fellow would have been all over TV by now. This guy has remained anonymous. Amateurs are ill advised to get into gun battles with professionals.

But are we therefore also required to admire Pamela Geller, co-founder and president of Stop Islamization of America, the organization that sponsored the cartoon contest? No, we are not. The right to free speech does not include the right not to be criticized.

I’m glad nobody shot her. However, Geller’s actions were deliberately and characteristically provocative, coarse and contemptuous of others’ beliefs; in short, the very definition of bigotry. In the final analysis, those actions are also damaging to this country’s ability to prevail in its long twilight struggle with radical Islamic terrorism.

The amazing thing is how observers find this hard to see. Writing in his Washington Post media column, the normally sensible Erik Wemple takes issue with Geller’s critics. “And who’s being treated as the public enemy on cable?” he asks incredulously. “The woman who organized a cartoon contest.”

I’m pretty sure Wemple would take a different view of a Stormfront competition to caricature the ugliest hook-nosed rabbi.

But hold that thought.

“To her enduring credit,” Wemple adds “Fox News’ Megyn Kelly has been screaming all week about the folly of the ‘too-provocative’ crowd.”

Indeed she has. Interestingly enough, the lovely Ms. Kelly’s antagonists include Fox News luminaries Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump, along with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, CNN’s Jake Tapper, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and others Wemple characterizes as “folded into a crouch of cowardice and rationalization.”

Megyn Kelly’s thunderous rebuttal to O’Reilly was couched in melodramatic terms Geller herself would find appropriate: “You know what else the jihadis don’t like? They hate Jews. Should we get rid of all Jews? That’s the path we’re going to go down catering to the jihadis. There’s no satisfying them.”

Holy false dichotomies, Batman! So the choices are deliberately offend the religious sensibilities of millions of peaceable Muslims or get rid of Jews?

This kind of black-and-white thinking is pretty much the stock in trade of propagandists like Geller intent upon persuading Americans that not only ISIS and al Qaeda extremists but Islam itself and Arabs in particular are terrorist enemies of the United States. All Arabs, everywhere.

The problem, argues former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, is that the worldwide battle with Islamic fundamentalism

can’t be won without Muslim allies — loyal U.S. citizens who report suspicious activities; allies and proxies who fight against violent Islamism; hundreds of millions of people around the world who repudiate Salafism by the peacefulness and tolerance of their daily lives.

When Americans engage in high-profile, attention-seeking acts of blasphemy, they are not joining U.S. military and intelligence forces at the front line; they are complicating and undermining their work.

President Obama has said much the same thing.

Things might also be different if Pamela Geller didn’t have such an extensive track record. “On her website,” reports the Jewish Daily Forward “Geller has denounced President Obama as ‘a third worlder and a coward’ who ‘will do nothing but beat up on our friends to appease his Islamic overlords’ and as ‘a muhammadan’ who “wants jihad to win.

The Anti-Defamation League has criticized Geller for “consistently vilifying the Islamic faith under the guise of fighting radical Islam.” The British government refused to let her enter that country in 2011. She has characterized other Jews who criticize her as worse than “21st-century kapos,” a reference to Jews who served as guards in Nazi death camps.

Astonishingly, after extreme-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik murdered 70 people at a Norwegian Labour Party summer youth camp in 2011, he credited Geller with inspiring him. She then assailed the Scandinavian left for harboring anti-Israel sentiments, posting a camp photo on her Atlas Shrugs website captioned: “Note the faces which are more Middle Eastern or mixed than pure Norwegian.”

Non-Aryan Untermenschen, Hitler would have called them.

Screenshot: Pamela Geller debates Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary on Sean Hannity’s show, May 6, 2015.

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33 responses to “The Freedom To Provoke”

  1. Theodora30 says:

    My parents were very devout Irish Catholics and dedicated citizens of our democracy who strongly supported separation of church and state because they understood it protects that democracy. For example they believed abortion should be legal because, even though they believed that abortion is the taking of a human life, they understood that their belief was based in faith, not science. The Church teaches that God infuses a soul at conception – hardly a provable fact that everyone should accept. They also opposed vouchers for religious schools because they thought it was wrong to force taxpayers to pay for religious teachings they do not accept.
    There are a lot of people who think like this but they need to speak out and stop letting the religious right control the debate – or define what it means to be a true Christians.

    • FireBaron says:

      Why, Theodora, don’t you realize that Catholics are only “marginally” Christian according to the religious right? That is except when the US Bishops agree with them on any given issue.

      • Daniel Jones says:

        Well, Baron, that’s because those maniacs have *Malleus Maleficarum*, thus everything not them resembles a Wiccan nail.

      • hicusdicus says:

        Who ever gave them the handle of the religious right when they are with out doubt the religious wrong.

      • Theodora30 says:

        When I was young it did not matter what the bishops said, Catholics were all statue worshipper who were going to hell – and Kennedy was going to build a tunnel from DC to the Vatican which shows these folks were scientifically illiterate back then, too. But they were not politically active. In fact most shunned politics as too worldly. That changed when the Repunlican leaders decided to get them involved. From what I have read the tipping point was Pat Robertson’s run. By the time he bowed out he had amassed a huge number of supporters which Bush Senior (the “nice one” ha!) and company decided to exploit, Now that tail is wagging their dog.

        • Allan Richardson says:

          Half of the “conservatives” believed Kennedy would give the US over to the Pope, and half believed he would give it to the Soviets (Bircher propaganda after his assassination claimed the Russians had him killed for breaking that promise). And the third half probably believed the Pope and the Soviets were the same thing, just as the RW wackos today think there is such a thing as a Muslim Communist.

  2. FT66 says:

    I have two words for Pamela Geller: “A BIGOT”. She should thank god that there were no catastrophe which happened. I don’t think she could had said it was about “Freedom of Speech”, if lives could had been lost.

    • hicusdicus says:

      Tha’ts the same two words you have for anybody who disagrees with you.

      • FT66 says:

        Me and you we disagree all the time. I have never ever called you “A BIGOT.”

        • hicusdicus says:

          Well every body else does you might as well join in. Lets see if we really do disagree. I don’t want people running my government who are dishonest and incompetent. I want the government to stay out of my business as long as I live an honorable life. I want the welfare part of our system to start winding down and tightening up..I want illegal aliens to go home and straighten out their own country. I want the black people to realize that white people are not their real problem I want a military that is so fearsome that nobody will attack us…I want the government to shut down the medical monopoly that is pushing people into bankruptcy, Pharmaceuticals and hospitals. I want everyone to agree with me and give me money because I am such a great guy. If you don’t believe me just ask my dogs. But remember they lie a lot.

          • JPHALL says:

            Once again you prove the point. All Black people do not blame White people for their troubles. That is merely the picture painted by the media for more viewers and readers.

          • hicusdicus says:

            I did not say that.

          • JPHALL says:

            OF COURSE YOU DID. HERE IS A DIRECT QUOTE: “I want the black people to realize that white people are not their real problem “. THAT IS WHY I OFTEN SAY THAT YOU ARE SPOUTING BS. Subject: Re: Comment on The Freedom To Provoke

          • hicusdicus says:

            I did not say all black people blame white people for their troubles.You are a retired teacher. You must be one of the reasons our schools are so screw up.

          • JPHALL says:

            I guess you just cannot help lying. It seems to be the only thing you have going for yourself. You wrote what I quoted and usuall when caught in a lie you deny what is obvious. So sad!

  3. CPAinNewYork says:

    The Pope is right: If you insult somebody’s religion, you’re asking for trouble. A lot of trouble.

    Pamela Geller, like many ultra liberal comedians of the sixties, believes that she has the right to insult anyone’s religion. She doesn’t. If she continues to insult Islam, she may be killed by an enraged Muslim. Such is the risk that she’s taking. It’s her choice. If it happens, I hope that no uninvolved bystanders get hurt.

  4. bhndr says:

    Geller should be muzzled. She’s yelling fire in a crowded theater and should be stopped before she gets a huge number of people hurt. Her bigotry is so blatant as is her ignorance about religion, nationalism and the constitution.

    For the benefit of society, remove her from society. Lock her up or ship her off, strip hrr citizenship and ban her from living in or near America and American territory.

    • Elliot J. Stamler says:

      She can no more be muzzled or shipped off or banned than you can.

      • bhndr says:

        Prove that her actions and her words are directly responsible for causing harm and you can indeed “muzzle” the woman.

        • Elliot J. Stamler says:

          You’ve erred-my comment was that she CAN’T be muzzled. Nor should she be. Free speech = Americanism.

          • bhndr says:

            There is no error. She a be and should be muzzled. Think you have absolute freedom to do or say anything anytime? Yell fire in a theater and watch the stampede. When speech or action leads to direct harm, it is no longer covered under Free speech.

          • Elliot J. Stamler says:

            You are entirely uninformed about the constitutional law pertaining to free speech. I don’t have space or time to explain it; I am fairly expert in it although I am not an attorney. First, you most assuredly DO have the right to shout fire in a crowded theatre; what you don’t have the right to do is to FALSELY shout fire in a crowded theatre, In order to legally suppress speech you, meaning the gov’t, must prove with strong evidence, that the speech is so incitatory of imminent violence that it can be suppressed. Even the advocacy of the VIOLENT overthrow of the gov’t is protected so long as it is deemed a philosophical advocacy disconnected to any imminent threat… read YATES v UNITED STATES which while upholding the Smith Act nonetheless substantially revised its application.
            Pamela Geller has not ever advocated immediate violence against American muslims. Some of what she advocates I strongly agree with; some I do not. I dislike her a great deal; she is an obnoxious extremist but nothing she has ever said or written is such as can be acted against by law. IT IS AND SHOULD BE, CONSTITUTIONAL TO BE A BIGOT AND EXPRESS BIGOTRY. Whether she is a bigot or not is another, arguable matter. There is a constitutional right to use insulting and offensive speech so long as it does not constitute “fighting words” which can be deemed incitement to imminent mayhem. In conclusion, please read FREE SPEECH FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE by (the great) Nat Hentoff…it will inform you greatly. You can get it in the library-and there are plenty of other books too.

          • bhndr says:

            (first, keyboard acting up so misspelling confuses then please ask)

            First, you most assuredly DO have the right to shout fire in a crowded theatre; what you don’t have the right to do is to FALSELY shout fire in a crowded theatre..

            and COURSE we are taking about FALSLY yelling fire, HOWEVER, I will make sure to specify further.
            Yet that brings up a valid point, disseminating false information intentionally to invoke hate, fear, violence, and repression is always wrong. Geller may not make the sounds of violence herself but she KNOWINGLY spreads information that will inflame violent behaviors. No more different from the lies about Black men being animals controlled by lust and who will rape any white woman and ESPECIALLY young white girls. The reaction to that of course was a few lynching mobs that totally believed the lies they were told.
            Likewise, Geller doesn’t have to say she wants violence, her rhetoric makes the unspoken rather LOUD. There are plenty of people out there who are going to take her messages and act on them and Geller holds some level of responsibility, the perpetrator of course is ENTIRELY culpable.
            The rhetoric she spouts are PROVEN lies and have PROVEN detrimental effects that would not exist if Geller told the truth. It is the very knowledge that she is telling intentionally invented fictions that Geller is guilty of.

          • Elliot J. Stamler says:

            @bhrdr: First, you make an interesting and polite rebuttal. Thank you. Here is why I think you are wrong. I have read and heard Ms. Geller. I AGREE with a good many things she says and I do not consider myself and extremist. I in fact think a majority of what she says and writes is accurate so I do not agree they are lies. I agree some of what she says is untrue and certainly an exaggeration and I repeat she personally goes about her mission in a very obnoxious and offensive way. I know of no proven incident where her rhetoric has resulted in consequent violence.
            The law requires that there be a provable evidentiary link between speech that is sought to be suppress and imminent violence. There is even a doctrine that is looser and substitutes probable for imminent (see Dennis v United States) but even there an examination of what Ms. Geller does would fail to be actionable criminally. You fail to understand, I repeat, that the constitution protects the expression of bigotry however offensive without proven linkage to violence.
            In addition to Henroff’s book you should read Aryeh Neieh’s (I hope I’ve spelled the name right) DEFENDING MY ENEMY.
            Your view is based on your very strong dislike of what she says and writes and not upon the required evidence that she does and has incite crime. There is plenty of speech in this country each of us may individually find extremely upsetting and offensive. For myself I go with Justice Holmes: that we have in our great country a free marketplace of ideas and that all forms of speech must be heard and that hopefully the better ones will prevail.

          • bhndr says:


            Thanks for returning the civility, its refreshing to find.

            I would like to sate that I agree with you about even Geller being allowed to say whatever she wants if she is harming no-one. AND it is also true that I am more emotionally involved since being a member of a minority group I know what words do an don’t do and how EASY it becomes to become inured to such abject and irrational stupidity. I do not for one second believe her to not be linked to intentional harm as her devotees swallow that bile. AND yes, the best liars will tell MOST of the truth.

            I would LOVE Geller to be FULLY investigated and then gagged and jailed as is appropriate.

            As for Islam, it is a religion of peace, and just like other fundamentalist ideology, has its fanatics that corrupt the faith. AND the Islamic terrorists are the minority just like the Westboro Baptisits are a minority of Christianity and if one judged ALL of a faith by that one group, then Christians would be worse that Muslims. Point being that religion of any type is ripe for being corrupted by greed and drunk on power. And while I wouold agree that often the “phobia” accusation (meaning islamophobia, homophobia,zenophobia) is bandied way too often, it does exist and actaully exists in much more quiet and seemingly innocent methods, the slight shirk, namecalling (even under your voice), the refusal to acknowledge a prescence, discrimination at work or home, outright violence…..

            Geller is praying on this human behavior and is feeding off it. Now I am sure she has some very good things to say, BUT the danger lies in what she holds dear, an irrational hatred towards and desire to destroy muslims. Its a safe bet she hasn’t actually READ the Quran herself and so really hasn’t teh faitest ideas of what she is talking about. And I doubt Geller has a major in arabian histories or religious studies to have any real ability to talk with intelligence, so she has an opinion as does everyone else, hers just happens to have negative consequences.

            Anyway, I am sure you will have more to say and I look forward to hearing it, certainly makes a person think.

  5. Robert Cruder says:

    The cartoon contest was a honey-pot. It was meant to attract unstable individuals who cannot tolerate others having different opinions.

    One can believe the superstition that breaking a mirror causes seven years bad luck. Those who would bans cracks in the sidewalk or kill concrete workers to protect mother’s backs have crossed the line. (Are anti-choice and anti-gay activists listening?)

    Neither Christianity nor Islam has any backing except for the word of the previous generation who had no backing except for the word of their previous generation back to the humans who invented each story for their own benefit.

    Because of the way both control, misuse and waste the lives of human beings as well as damage the other occupants of our planet, they deserve to be called the charlatans that they are.

  6. ma says:

    Geller is embarrassing. She appears to be ok with mouthing anything that gets her attention.

  7. Whatmeworry says:

    and when the left wing nuts like Mapplethorpe use Tax payer $$$ to make even more scurrilous “art” the bastions of freedom cheer them on

  8. and when the right wing nuts like Mapplethorpe use Tax payer $$$ to make
    even more scurrilous “art” the bastions of freedom cheer them on

  9. Dominick Vila says:

    What needs to be established is a clear definition of what constitutes freedom of speech. For many of us, it means the freedom of expressing our opinions without fear of retribution. For some, it includes the freedom to insult others, and provoke violent responses to strengthen the negative perceptions they have created of anyone who looks or sounds different than us.
    The most important requirement to preserve one of our most cherished rights is to treat others with the same respect we expect from them.

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