Chris Cuomo to Pam Geller: We don't show Mohammed cartoons for the same reason we don't use the N-word

Via the Blaze, the key bit starts at 3:50. This is transparently false, of course, but it’s telling that he’d reach for this analogy for the cartoons instead of another obvious example of blasphemy like “Piss Christ.” The word “nigger” became taboo because Americans became more conscious of the injustices of racism. It’s been expunged from polite society due to a cultural consensus that blacks were treated shamefully and that equality requires eschewing words that had been used as tools of intimidation. The power dynamics behind the Mohammed cartoons are the opposite of that. The fear isn’t so much that the minority will feel intimidated by the majority if the taboo is dropped, the fear is that members of the majority will end up being machine-gunned by fringe members of the minority. That’s why the media never thought twice about showing “Piss Christ” or giving rave reviews to “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway. Christians and Mormons might have been offended but they weren’t intimidated by the insult, and there was next to zero risk that any of them were going to go blow up theaters and art galleries in protest. That’s why Cuomo couldn’t use that analogy: If he did, he’d have been forced to argue either that a crucifix submerged in piss isn’t, or shouldn’t be, as offensive to Christians as a garden-variety drawing of Mohammed is to Muslims or he’d have to acknowledge that the risk of offending Christians is, shall we say, different from the risk of offending Muslims. Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t fall back on an “intimidation” theory just to avoid that trap. Presumably that’s the next phase in trying to pooh-pooh Geller’s Mohammed cartoon exhibitions — they shouldn’t be held because they’re intimidating, not merely offensive, to the Muslim minority. We need to make America a “safe space” for them by observing, as a nation, their religious taboos. Trigger warning, literally.

You can see, though, why the Mohammed/N-word analogy would appeal to a guy who thinks the “fighting words” doctrine might be used to carve an exception for hate speech out of the First Amendment. If there’s any word in the language that’s now broadly regarded as so toxically insulting as to be worth fighting over, it’s calling a black man a “nigger” to demean him. Language like that really might be bannable under the “fighting words” doctrine, even though that doctrine’s been narrowed by courts over time. Once you make that move, where the N-word is banned because it’s a de facto invitation to fight, then maybe you can expand the doctrine to include language or images that aren’t quite as broadly regarded as so hatefully incendiary that punches are in order. I wonder how far Cuomo would go.