Until We Draw Mohammed, We’re All Silenced
The cartoon portrays a sharp-toothed, sword-wielding Mohammed warning, “You can’t draw me!” and an unseen illustrator saying, “That’s why I must.” Rather than allow this ad to appear in a few subway stations and on buses, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) voted unanimously last month to ban all issue advertising until 2016.
Metro’s board acted on the wrong principle: equal treatment by denying all potentially controversial advertisements. The right principle, as I failed to persuade transit officials several years ago, is truth in advertising.
“My view is, you put that ad up on the side of a bus, you turn that bus into a terrorism target,” a top Metro official – speaking anonymously – was quoted as saying. Prudent, since the cartoon in question won a “draw Mohammed” competition in Texas attacked by two rifle-firing American jihadis that were shot dead by police.
“These cowards [Metro board members] … are making it far more dangerous for Americans everywhere,” asserted Pamela Geller, head of American Freedom Defense Initiative, the group behind the contest and the ad. “Rewarding terror with submission is defeat.”
The threat of an exploding bus is plausible. But the United States, land of the free and home of the brave, at least according to the national anthem, requires freedom of speech and expression. A “terrorists’ veto” destroys that liberty. Squelching the ads contributes to freedom’s erosion.
That erosion, at least initially, will be – like steadily rising water temperature to a lobster in a pot – painless. Not until freedom of religion, dress, entertainment, academic inquiry, and political choice recede due to Islamists’ homicidal threats will some reconsider their hostility to Geller, the provocateur.
Hypothetical? The administration of Barack Obama has refused to acknowledge that Islamic extremists, or perhaps better, puritans of both Sunni Muslim (Islamic State/al Qaeda) and Shi’ite Muslim (Iran) varieties are at war with the United States. We are not fighting anonymous or unreligious terrorists. Denying the reality of religious war – jihad – and its powerful motivation renders our responses ineffectual. Cartoons or no cartoons, the director of the FBI has warned that Islamic extremists may strike almost anywhere in this country.
The First Amendment prohibits Congress from, among other things, making any law abridging freedom of speech or press. Yet when Islamic fundamentalists are believed, with reason, to threaten those exercising freedom of speech and anyone else who might be nearby, that’s just what happens.
Metro, Chris Core – a commentator on top-rated WTOP radio – the Washington Jewish Week, and others normally given to a liberal reading of the Bill of Rights begin banning or slamming Geller.
In the June 1 edition of National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke (“Free Speech without Apologies”) writes “unless one believes that it can sometimes be right to shoot people for expressing themselves, the content of these cartoons is immaterial, and the relevant question is whom we are going to blame for the violence: the victim or the perpetrator?”
The Book of Mormon? A Broadway hit. A figurine of Christ in a jar of urine? A museum piece. Defamation of Jews by lunatic callers to C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal”? At least a weekly phenomenon. Mocking Islam and its prophet? Intolerable.
Remember Mollie Norris, the Seattle, Wash. cartoonist, and her 2010 “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” poster? She changed her name and went into hiding after an FBI warning of threats against her life by Muslim terrorists. That’s where all of us are headed if we see Geller, not jihadists, as the problem.
The writer is a Washington, D.C.-based media analyst and former editor of B’nai B’rith’s International Jewish Monthly and the Washington Jewish Week. Any opinions expressed above are solely his own.