Although Feldman begins by condemning the terrorists, he quickly cautions his readers not to be “distracted” by either the crime or the First Amendment; the real question, he argues, is whether Geller was “morally right or wrong” to stage an event featuring offensive caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. But it’s Feldman who’s been distracted, by Geller’s long history of repulsive anti-Islam activism (for example, her despicable campaign to prohibit the so-called “ground zero mosque”). Blaming her, even partially and conditionally, for an act of terror stretches moral reasoning beyond the breaking point.
Feldman’s premise is that the “provokers in Texas,” as he calls them, “almost certainly… wanted to get a reaction from Muslims.” Thus, Geller could be held “morally responsible for the foreseeable consequences of her provocation,” by which he means the armed attack. The implication here is staggering. In the wake of threats of murder for the exercise of free expression—and lately, they have been much more than threats—Feldman claims that the correct moral response is to shut up. In this contest, the bullies always win, so long as their violent reaction is sufficiently predictable—which, as Feldman does not acknowledge, gives the bullies a strong incentive to strike early and often (thus making their threats more credible).
There comes a point, however, when defiance is the only feasible response to censorship. In a better world, we would all respect the religious sensitivities of others, and no one would have cause for offense. Alas, we live in a world where atheist bloggers are hacked to death in the streets of Bangladesh, and Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris has been forced into hiding for four years after being placed on an Al Qaeda hit list. Self-silencing—at the point of a machete—is not the answer to this problem.