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Monday, February 18, 2019

Some people unfortunately think that the best way to respond to the intolerance of Muslim fanatics is to insult all Muslims.

That’s the twisted thinking behind professional Muslim baiter Pamela Geller’s ill-advised contest in Garland, Texas. Her organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, offered a $10,000 prize to a cartoonist deemed to have drawn the best mocking picture of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.

Most Muslims quite sensibly ignored the stunt. But when you bait enough people, somebody will rise to the provocation. Two heavily armed and armored Muslim men from Phoenix arrived to shoot up the contest, authorities say, but were blocked by the Garland police force. A traffic cop fatally shot both — and Geller succeeded in making her own organization sound no less reckless than the fanatics she baited.

Oh, sure, there are some people who buy into Geller’s insistence that she is only defending free speech. But that does not excuse her from criticism for expressing reckless speech.

As you probably know, Geller’s contest is just one of the more bizarre reactions to the murderous January assault on the Paris offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo by two French Islamic extremists who were offended by the magazine’s depiction of Muhammad.

For the record, Charlie Hebdo cartoonists Jean-Baptiste Thoret and Gerard Biard declared there was “no comparison” between the “equal-opportunity offense” in their criticism of all religions and the Islamaphobic slant of Geller’s stunt.

Yet Charlie Hebdo also has been sharply criticized by many who affirm their right to print what they print but sharply dislike some of what they’re printing.

For example, after the writers’ organization PEN announced that it was giving an award to Charlie Hebdo, six writers who had earlier agreed to be “table hosts” at the gala backed out. While deploring censorship and violence, a letter signed by dissenting PEN members said in part, “(In) an unequal society, equal-opportunity offense does not have an equal effect.”

The letter echoed a criticism of Charlie Hebdo‘s humor in a speech by “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau at journalism’s prestigious George Polk Awards: “Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny — it’s just mean.”

Trudeau probes a central question in this debate: What is satire for? It is meant to be humorous, but it isn’t always. It should aim to “punch up, not down,” as the old saying goes, but sometimes even a seemingly disempowered minority group can exercise oppressive, lethal power when it runs amok with murderous fanaticism.

With this debate bubbling through the media community, I was not surprised to hear it pop up in a question to Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher, editorial cartoonist at The Economist and the Baltimore Sun. As he accepted the 2015 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning at the Library of Congress in Washington, he was asked, “Would he enter the Texas contest?”

No, Kal said, and he would not encourage any of his fellow cartoonists to do it, either. “It seemed to me to be a bit of a stunt.” Whatever the contest was trying to prove about freedom of expression, he said, it ended up “bordering on hate speech.”

As a board member of the Herb Block Foundation, which sponsors the prize, I have been in numerous discussions like this centering on an almost mystical question: “What would Herb do?”

Block, perhaps better known by his pen name Herblock, was a four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post. Even as a student, I idolized the Chicago-born artist for his ability to reduce the powerful and pompous through the fine art of ridicule. His cartoons branded red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy with the term “McCarthyism.” He wore his place on President Richard M. Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” like a badge of honor.

Yet, as much as he championed speech and press freedoms, his work is worth our admiration because, among other distinctions, he’d rather sacrifice humor in a cartoon than paint his adversaries with too broad of a brush. Sometimes a cheap laugh isn’t worth the price.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. is off today.

(Email Clarence Page at 

Photo: Fede Falces via Flickr

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20 responses to “When Cheap Laughs Cost Too Much”

  1. hicusdicus says:

    I don’t believe in any form of god but I don’t make fun of that do unless they go on a rant. Then they are fair game.

  2. Robert Cruder says:

    The demand that others change their lives to conform to the believer’s doctrine is far worse than a rant.

    Let them present the science and the physical evidence that supports their position. If not then they cannot expect anyone to bow to it.

    They do not see the difference between respect and subservience. Those who demand subservience under the guise of “respect” deserve neither but only the public ridicule that they are seeing.

  3. Whatmeworry says:

    Geller used her own $$ to launch this contest and no matter what the author contends it was a DRAWING nothing more. Yet some how the left has no trouble and in fact encourages state sponsored hate speech like the Piss Christ or the dung covered Virgin Mary and then display it as art.

    • charleo1 says:

      If you’re referring to the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s not a Left nor Right
      organization. And like all organizations, they make mistakes. And their decision to publish the works you refer to, was a big one. And they were widely criticized by almost everyone for it. Not because they didn’t have the Right to show the works. But if they, using better judgement, good taste, and with all due respect. should have shown them. Because as we know, just because we can do a thing, doesn’t always mean we should poke the bear. And that’s exactly how I feel about the cartoon contest in Garland TX. It was obviously intended to provoke, and also to promote disdain. Not making much, if any distinction, between those Muslims who are radical, and the vast majority who are not. And didn’t advance freedom of speech. Wasn’t about freedom of speech to begin with. Which as far as I can tell, hasn’t received any restrictions whatsoever, or any laws, against depicting the Prophet Mohammad in any form. And who believes that is anywhere near a possibility? I certainly don’t believe Ms. Geller does either. So for me the privately funded affair was much closer to a Klan rally in the public square. Where they line up in their robes, and holler into their little megaphones, “Wake up White People!” And there are others on the opposite side of the square yelling back. With a contingent of Police in the middle, protecting free speech, and the Rights of the KKK, by the same process. With both affairs neither having added, or extracted, anything from the public discussion not already in play.

      • Just ANOTHER organization ran by ISIS. Apparently you are not eudcated like me

      • Whatmeworry says:

        Your right its not a left organization its a far far left organization. Funding programs that no one would ever do with their own money.
        So in your view its OK to poke 1 Bear as long as its not Mooooslim.
        The Mapplethorpe exhibit was akin to a communist rally under Stalin

        • Im wrong its not a left organization its a far far right organization.
          Funding programs that no one would ever do with their own money.
          So in my view its OK to poke 1 Bear as long as its not Mooooslim.
          The Mapplethorpe exhibit was unakin to a communist rally under Stalin

      • Your right its not a left organization its a far far right organization.
        Funding programs that no one would ever do with their own money.
        So in my view its OK to poke 1 Bear as long as its not Mooooslim.
        The Mapplethorpe exhibit was unakin to a communist rally under Stalin

      • hicusdicus says:

        Since you are acquainted with the Koran you know what it says about infidels and any Muslim who does not strictly follow the Koran is not a Muslim they are an infidel. It would be similar to a Christian saying they did not believe in the resurrection of Christ. They would not be Christians. So there you have it, when push comes to shove it will be Muslims against the infidels. A moderate Muslim is an infidel. Its all stupid human religion and their fascination with the collection plate.

    • Daniel Max Ketter says:

      Poop on the virgin mary is ART. You should get your nose out of comic books.

    • Andy Warhol was the worlds greatest artist

    • Allan Richardson says:

      If she were REALLY interested in promoting freedom of speech, she would have offered a prize for the best lampoon of ANY religious figure — Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha, Smith, Hubbard, or any other. Instead, she specified WHICH religious figure she wanted to insult. She is promoting hate specifically against Muslims. And yes, it is her legal right, and it is also the legal right of anyone else to criticize her for it, NOT violently, but through other speech.

  4. roccolore says:

    Did Hamas-linked CAIR write this article?

  5. hicusdicus says:

    I have a phobia for all Muslims since their Koran tells all Muslims to get rid of all non Muslims.

    • My daughter is marreid to a muslim, and hes a better son in law than my own boy is

      • hicusdicus says:

        Is your daughter a Muslim? Does he think you are an infidel? If the answer is no then he is probably a Muslim in name only. Have you ever asked him about his beliefs? You may have a pending problem and not even know it. You would not be the first one.

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