No, actually, not exactly what you’d expect. I would have given even odds that they’d not only dismiss Pam Geller’s event as “hate speech” but call for similar events to be banned in the future in the interest of “public harmony” or whatever. But, as it turns out, they haven’t reached that point. Yet.
Alternate headline: The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.
But it is equally clear that the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Tex., was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom…
Charlie Hebdo is a publication whose stock in trade has always been graphic satires of politicians and religions, whether Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. By contrast, Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam campaigner behind the Texas event, has a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims…
Those two men were would-be murderers. But their thwarted attack, or the murderous rampage of the Charlie Hebdo killers, or even the greater threat posed by the barbaric killers of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, cannot justify blatantly Islamophobic provocations like the Garland event. These can serve only to exacerbate tensions and to give extremists more fuel.
Some of those who draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad may earnestly believe that they are striking a blow for freedom of expression, though it is hard to see how that goal is advanced by inflicting deliberate anguish on millions of devout Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism. As for the Garland event, to pretend that it was motivated by anything other than hate is simply hogwash.
The first step on the path to banning “hate speech” is distinguishing it from free speech. Free speech is vital to society; “hate speech” harms society. They’re different things entirely, not one a subset of the other. Once you make the conceptual break, you can get down to the important business of weighing whether the harm from hate speech is sufficiently great that it’s worth trying to carve it out of the body politic. The Times is on the path, whether they realize it or not. You’re also seeing here a nice example of the point I made yesterday about the Charlie Hebdo editors distancing themselves from the Texas event. Most of the western literary class, a few cretins at PEN aside, is willing to celebrate Charlie Hebdo and its “racist” Mohammed cartoons provided they’re not also forced to celebrate sincere critics of Islam in the process. Charlie Hebdo draws Mohammed because it refuses to accept limits in a free society on what it can satirize, not because it disdains Islam. Its murdered former editor, Charb, criticized French culture for scapegoating Muslims. Geller also refuses to accept limits in a free society on what she can satirize, but for her that’s part of a broader confrontation with Islam’s illiberal norms. The NYT doesn’t accept that confrontation so a distinction must be drawn. Charlie Hebdo is free speech, Geller’s cartoon contest is hate speech. They’re both protected legally, for now, but don’t mistake one for the other. Even if they do share a common goal of trying to desensitize enforcers of the Mohammed taboo so that they assimilate western values on speech.
What makes this editorial extra special is that the Times has been famously hypocritical about reprinting blasphemous images over the last few decades. They had no problem with “Piss Christ” or Chris Ofili’s elephant-dung portrait of the Virgin Mary, both of which “inflicted deliberate anguish” on million of devout Christians, but they wouldn’t touch the Danish Mohammed cartoons 10 years ago and they wouldn’t touch the Charlie Hebdo Mohammed cartoons this winter even though both were at the center of major international news events. When pressured to account for that, NYT editor Dean Baquet argued that some of the Charlie images were simply too obscene to be published in a respectable paper like the Times, which doesn’t explain why not one of the many cartoons that weren’t obscene failed to make the cut. Later Baquet compared cartoons of Mohammed unfavorably to anti-semitic cartoons (some of which the Times has published, for purposes of illustrating anti-semtism) by suggesting that the former are more offensive as a religious matter to Muslims than the latter are to Jews. Never once to my knowledge has he or the Times acknowledged the plain fact that Mohammed cartoons are verboten within the paper because publishing them would risk an attack on NYT HQ. In fact, per Andy Levy, when it came to “Piss Christ” the threat of violence was actually a reason to show the image, according to the Times:
— andy levy (@andylevy) May 6, 2015
Some provocations are more equal than others. And the punchline is, it’s because papers as widely read and esteemed as the Times refuse to share the risk by publishing the Mohammed images themselves that Charlie Hebdo — and Pam Geller — stand out in the crowd being surveyed by jihadis. The attacks in Paris and in Garland were each made a bit more likely by the fact that businesses with greater resources and defenses declined to take sides. And now, in order to maintain its facade that this is all about not offending religious readers rather than self-censoring out of fear, the Times will need to take care going forward not to reprint any images like “Piss Christ” that might offend Christians either. That’s the alleged free speech/hate speech distinction in a nutshell. Mohammed cartoons, which are so damaging to Muslims that they need to be suppressed, are de facto hate speech whereas “Piss Christ,” high art to Times readers, is free speech. But one will need to be suppressed now simply because the other is, for the sake of consistency. Good luck with your “hate speech” legal regime, progressives.
Oh, and by the way, now that I’ve spent a few hundred words dumping on the right’s favorite media whipping boy, let’s just note for the record that Fox News — apart from Megyn Kelly and a few others — has been awful on this lately. Awful.