At first it appears that the attacks on Charlie Hebdo staffers in Paris, and the attack on a Muhammad drawing contest in Dallas are over the same principles. Both shootings were over drawings of Muhammad. Both are about free speech. Yet, there is a significant difference.
Charlie Hebdo offered free speech in its purest. Both Christians and Muslims, as well as just about every other religion, have been highlighted and ridiculed in Charlie Hebdo’s pages. It was about satire, which is sometimes the most dangerous and threatening of speech. Charlie Hebdo is secularist and far left, but no one is truly safe from it. It picks on most everyone, especially those who complain the loudest.
The attack in Dallas on a Muhammad cartoon contest conducted by Pamela Geller is about free speech too, but not in the same sense as Charlie Hebdo. While Charlie Hebdo is all over the place at times, the Muhammad cartoon contest was for one purpose: to ridicule only Islam.
If Geller and her group had directed their drawings towards Christianity as well, then it would have been the same as Charlie Hebdo. The shootings would have been purely about free speech and censorship. As it stands, Geller and her supporters are trying to pretend they are the new Charlie Hebdo. They aren’t. They are rabble-rousers seeking to agitate, not to stir thought as Charlie Hebdo does. Regardless, Pamela Geller and her supporters also have the same free speech rights.
In the minds of the Muslim fanatics, none of this makes a difference. It doesn’t matter if it is a contemporary drawing of Muhammad or a sixteenth century illustration. To them it is blasphemy, and no real thinking is necessary.
The truth is that there is a big difference. While both are free speech and must be allowed, the only one to praise for its message is Charlie Hebdo. Their purpose is to make everyone question the status quo. When the purpose is solely to antagonize one group, Muslims, as tried by Geller, there isn’t a lot to praise. It is important to stand up for free speech, but that doesn’t mean that anyone needs to embrace the messenger. This isn’t the time to say “Je suis Pamela Geller.”
Geller and supporters are a hate group. They don’t try to provoke thought, but emotions. The spirit of free speech must be defended even if repulsive in the likes of the KKK, Nazis or even Muslim radicals. Keeping the message of hate public alerts everyone to the haters. It forces social criticism on them. Driving them underground drives them from the light of society and allows them to flourish in shadows and innuendo. Prohibiting hate speech also opens the door to compromising the free speech that does not have its roots in hate. It is as dangerous a notion as the terrorist criminals who kill because of it.
Geller and her supporters must be defended in their right to express themselves. However, no one needs to support her message meant to insult and inflame masses. That is a major difference with Charlie Hebdo, which sought only to provoke the mind to think a little differently. While free speech should be celebrated, not all free speech messages should be.