CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 8, 2015 – If Pamela Geller’s purpose with her Muhammad cartoon-fest in Garland, Texas, was to stir debate about freedom of speech, she was a roaring success.
On the other hand, the event created multiple layers of controversy, some of which had much to do with Islamic perceptions and still others that had little or nothing at all to do with Islam or Islamophobia.
FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly responded to the Muhammad Art Exhibition with this statement:
“If this is where American sentiment stands on this issue, then the jihadis are officially winning. The terrorists’ point was to shut us up, not just the organizers of this event, but any American who deigns to disagree with their way of life or thinking.”
Kelly and other Geller supporters, however, are only partially correct. Islam is already winning. But not because of a cartoon contest.
Western ignorance of Islamic jihad and the tenets of Islamic teachings is far more integral to the success of extremism than free speech. Unfortunately, much of that ignorance is derived from an administration that refuses to acknowledge a problem exists and is further perpetuated by a liberal media that, for the most part, accepts that premise.
One thing that has been overlooked in the recent firestorm is that Pamela Geller conceived of the cartoon contest shortly after the terror attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. Geller promoted the contest on her website for months, but none of the media, liberal or conservative, mentioned a word about its potential for controversy until attacks took place at the exhibition.
Pamela Geller is far too savvy not to understand what the consequences of her efforts would be. In that sense, she did provoke the violence that occurred and more that will almost certainly happen in the future.
Does it not make Geller’s free speech similar to shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater? No rational person would kick a rattlesnake to see if it will bite.
Nor would anyone throw rocks at a hornets’ nest without understanding that something bad could follow.
Consider that following the Charlie Hebdo attack, leaders from around the world walked defiantly through the streets of Paris arm-in-arm to demonstrate their solidarity against Islamic extremism.
In the end, and not unnoticed by Geller and her advocates, nothing happened since to stop or even begin to prevent further terrorist activity.
Therefore, Geller’s objective to create greater awareness of global terror should not be condemned.
In the aftermath of the Muhammad event, Geller has become an overnight celebrity defending herself and her efforts on numerous broadcast networks. Which brings to the surface yet another question: Has Geller herself become more the focus of the story than the negative causes she is attempting to make more public?
If publicity for Pamela Geller becomes the primary focus, then the Muhammad cartoon event cannot be perceived a success in the way it was intended. The founder of “Atlas Shrugs,” her website, is a dedicated critic of Islam who has been fighting on a daily basis for years to instill greater awareness of the problems Islamic extremism has created and will create.
Geller’s efforts are probably sincere in her desire to elevate concerns about Americans’ giving up basic rights in order to be politically correct. That said, she was also keenly aware that the exhibition would not go without incident, and in preparation she spent thousands of dollars for security.
It is a delicate balancing act, to be sure.
Making a point is one thing, but the method in which that point is made is another. Using a drastic tactic such as a Muhammad cartoon exhibit was almost certain to provoke the negative response it received.
Then again, perhaps it takes something profound to establish the necessary awareness you are seeking.
As conservatives are always saying when speaking of Islam, “All Muslims are not terrorists. There are millions of Muslims who love peace just as much as Christians do.”
If that is true, then an in-your-face event such an art show designed to insult Islam is also disrespectful of those “peace-loving” Muslims who do not participate in terror.
How often have we heard the argument that a woman who walks into a bar with a low-cut top and a skimpy mini-skirt is a provocation for rape? Is she asking for it or not? The question is not much different from the Muhammad cartoon exhibition.
Sadly, the present occupant of the White House is an advocate for Islam. Until Barack Obama is gone, the debate will rage and controversy will continue, but the awareness of free speech and Islamic jihad will still be a political football that is largely misunderstood by most Western observers.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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