Freedom of Speech

Thirty years ago I had a friend whose dad was a judge in New York City.  He told me that one day his father had a black man in his courtroom who had been indicted for trying to steal a brick.  As part of a sting operation an undercover policeman, dressed like a hobo and pretending to be asleep, had been sitting on the steps of a subway station with the box of a ghetto-blaster in his lap.  Instead of a radio the box only contained a brick, just in case a thief might be able to get away with it.  The man who appeared in front of my friend’s father was not so lucky.   When he tried to grab the box the policeman slapped handcuffs on him and he was summarily arrested.  Since there was no radio in the box the only charge could be the attempted theft of the brick.  My friend’s father felt that the police was just as responsible for the crime as the culprit, even though they had every right to set up a sting operation any which way they wanted, and he let the man off with a month’s probation, much to the chagrin of the arresting officer who testified.

I was reminded of these events when I heard about Pamela Geller’s latest sting operation.  Wikepedia calls Geller an American political activist and commentator, but her activism is only directed against Islam and Muslims. She vehemently opposed the proposed construction of an Islamic Community Center near the former site of the World Trade Center, and a couple of years ago campaigned to keep Al Jazeera off the air in the US.  Her viewpoints have mildly been described as anti-Islamic or islamophobic, while bigoted and racist would be better characterizations.  Her most recent accomplishment was having advertisements posted in subway cars in New York City showing a man in a headscarf and the words:  “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.  That’s his Jihad, what is yours?” Geller is convinced that Sharia law will slowly creep into the US, and her life’s mission is to prevent that from happening, which puts her intellectually on the same level as someone who is trying to sell heaters in the Sonoran desert.

Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative organized a ‘Draw the Prophet’ cartoon contest on May 3rd, at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, where the winner would get $10,000 for the best picture.  As could have been expected, two dumbasses took the bait and tried to shoot up the place, but they were only able to wound a security guard before they were killed by police bullets.  Since then, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the assault, which is rather surprising considering that it was a completely idiotic enterprise.  In the meantime Geller is elated with the result of her provocation.  In interviews and on her blog she triomphantically declares that the violence proves that Islam is ‘savagery’ and ‘thuggery.’

Geller was assisted in her efforts by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, who leads an anti-immigrant and anti-Islam political party in his (and my) home country.  In the Netherlands Wilders is somewhat handicapped by laws that prohibit insulting, intimidating and discriminating against segments of the population because of their race or religion, activities for which he is currently being prosecuted by the government.  To escape those limitations he occasionally comes to the US, where the absolute freedom of speech allows him to spill his venom however, wherever and whenever he wants.

The Garland shooting has started a very tentative debate about freedom of speech in the US.  Some compare Geller’s contest with the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, but often fail to mention that that magazine made fun of all religions, not just tried to insult followers of one of them.  The dominant opinion is that hate speech also qualifies as free speech, but it is also frequently noted that although Geller has the right to operate from her mental gutter as she does,  that doesn’t make it right.  Some have correctly observed that her Islam-baiting puts American troops in the Middle-East in more danger than they already are, but that won’t stop Pamela Geller’s crusade of hatred, because in the end she is crazier than even the craziest Mullah.

Hugo Kijne

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