Interpretations of radical Muslim terror attacks tend to fall into two camps. One is dismissive of the deeper political resonance of such events, tending to frame them as “lone gunman”-style incidents while the other camp holds a very rigid (and, one could say, un-nuanced) understanding of the international dimensions of Islamic extremism. As happens when views about important subjects polarize, each side becomes identified with a particular political discourse.
The blood is barely dry on the pavement of Garland and already a social media war has erupted over interpretation of the incident. When New York Times foreign correspondent Mukrini Callimachi tweeted a characterization of the shooting in Garland as an attack on an anti-Muslim event, right-wing novelist Brad Thor fired back in a predictably acrimonious fashion and a flame war ensued wherein we saw two sides writ large: one attacking the other for offering what amounts to an apologia for abridging free speech.
“Free speech” is now used as a pejorative term by some on the left who conflate supporting this ideal with intolerant attitudes toward Muslims. The recent PEN dust-up wherein six writers declined the role of table hosts for the forthcoming PEN gala honoring Charlie Hebdo is one example. The writers withdrew, claiming an anti-Muslim bias on the part of CH. In fact, the honor had less to do with the magazine’s politics (which, believe me, are more akin to Alfred E. Newman than David Duke) and more to do with celebrating its perseverance in the face of terror. Yet these writers emphasized a PC interpretation of the proposed award (i.e., “how Muslims might see it”). It was a political gesture, intended to highlight the divide separating these two contrasting takes on the present cultural tension between freedom of speech and radical Islam.
Not only contrasting, but also irreconcilable. We either have free speech in our culture, or we do not. We cannot abridge or water-down or temper a political principle. We can temper our behavior, our own reaction to things that offend us. But when we water down a political principle, we deprive the individual exercise of his own rights – and of his own right to judge.
Put another way – you have the personal choice whether or not to offend Muslims by drawing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, but you do not have the right to make that choice for me or anyone else. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of free expression.
There is an emerging sense in our culture that if we just refrained from expressing certain ideas, drawing certain cartoons, saying certain things, then perhaps we wouldn’t have to cope with lethal terror attacks. It amounts to a softening of the line on free expression, a courting of censorship, a willingness to deal away portions of that freedom in exchange for a kind of fuzzy détente (“we don’t draw cartoons of Mohammed and you won’t try and kill us, ‘kay?”). This sounds reasonable to some on the Left. It also sounds good to British jihadi apologist Anjem Choudary.
It’s comforting to know that Choudary’s Sixth Century world-view does not preclude his using Twitter, where all of us (including, presumably, members of Special Branch) can keep an eye on him. A quick glance at his Tweets gives you the totality of the man’s views, and they are as tedious as they are clear. Choudary stands ready, hand extended, to seal the deal. Do what he wants – temper your political principles and artistic culture to suit his beliefs – and you can take the jihadi-approved first steps toward peace with the disciples of his god.
It’s your move.