[A letter I sent to my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, links added to text.]
To the Editor:
I was disappointed in Robert Azzi's May 10 op-ed column, in which he discusses the recent attempt by two wannabe mass-murderers, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, to shoot up "The First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest", an event organized by Pamela Geller of the "American Freedom Defense Initiative" (AFDI), held earlier this month in Garland, Texas. Simpson and Soofi were thwarted by the fortunate intervention of an off-duty traffic cop; things could have easily gone much worse.
Azzi's slant is obvious: the terrorists are unnamed, and perfunctorily written off as Muslims who "felt compelled to try and use violence to stop the AFDI event."
Geller and her cohorts, on the other hand, get a fusillade of invective, personal insult, and innuendo: "fanatics", "bigots", "conspiracy theorist", "provocateur", who "spewed hatred", "incited", and "provoked". (And also "extremely well-compensated"; I am at a loss as to why that's relevant.)
I don't know that much about Pamela Geller, and definitely lack the insights into her motivations that Azzi and the people he quotes claim to have; perhaps she really is the personification of Satanic evil that Azzi paints. People I trust find her shrill and obnoxious. But I've seen far more hatred directed at Geller than I've seen go the other way. Her main offense seems to be her steadfast refusal to submit to terroristic threats, at considerable personal risk.
Geller herself described her motivation for the event beforehand: “They’re just cartoons. We’re holding this exhibit and cartoon contest to show how insane the world has become — with people in the free world tiptoeing in terror around supremacist thugs who actually commit murder over cartoons. If we can’t stand up for the freedom of speech, we will lose it — and with it, free society.”
It's possible, but difficult, to argue with that. It's so much easier to concentrate on Geller's alleged character flaws!
In short, Azzi's column is yet another example of what has been called "victim-blaming and victim-shaming". He would like to point the finger at Geller for her "intellectually unsustainable provocation". We are invited to imagine that her would-be murderers would never have harmed a fly if not for her brazen blasphemy.
Refuting that view is the plain fact that recent homicidal fanaticism has not only been triggered by artistic expression: it's equally likely to be "provoked" by daring to frequent a kosher deli in Paris; being too close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon; presence at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood. It's extremely likely that if Simpson and Soofi hadn't shown up in Garland, they would have made the news days or weeks later with a possibly much more deadly effort aimed at a different target. Azzi wants to obfuscate that with misdirected and irrelevant attacks; we shouldn't be misled.