Warnings about the threat that radical Islam poses to America are often greeted with sneering and mocking by cultural elites — as if anybody who expresses concern is a paranoid nut who believes that Sharia law is soon going to replace the U.S. Constitution after an EMP attack destroys civilization.
Radical Muslims are succeeding in eroding fundamental American values, but the reality is more nuanced. Through a combination of fear, intimidation and exploitation of the liberal reflex to sympathize with supposedly marginalized groups, radicals have been steadily eroding our long-standing conception of free speech.
In the most recent example in Garland, Texas, two men with body armor and assault rifles shot up a community center that was holding a cartoon contest to draw the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Luckily, they were shot dead by police before they could harm anybody.
Yet, in a horrendous case of mass victim-blaming, media figures across the political spectrum have been pointing fingers at the contest organizers — and worse, suggesting limits on offensive speech.
The New York Times ran an editorial distinguishing between "free speech" and "hate speech" writing that the event "was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom." CNN's Chris Cuomo wrote on Twitter that "hate speech is excluded from protection," later claiming it was a "clumsy tweet." Fox's Bill O'Reilly got into the act, saying the organizers of the event "spurred a violent incident."
Alia Salem, executive director of the Dallas and Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, floated restrictions on the First Amendment freedoms, stating, according to the New York Times, that, "The discussion we have to have is: When does free speech become hate speech, and when does hate speech become incitement to violence?"
But as First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh wrote, "incitement" is defined as trying to persuade people to carry out an attack imminently: "Generally condemning Islam (or condemning capitalism or condemning the police or condemning evangelical Christians), even in harsh terms, doesn't constitute incitement. Even if people think the speaker is trying to foment violence, there's no advocacy of imminent illegal conduct."
Let's be clear: the only reason the Texas event was associated with violence is that there are radical Muslims who are willing to shoot people over cartoons. To shift any blame for violence to the conference organizers is to reward this violent action. If Christians responded to an art show that they found offensive with violence, the media would call for a national conversation on Christian fundamentalism. But when radical Muslims do it, the national conversation is on hate speech.
This is for two reasons. One reason is that people are afraid of becoming the next victims of radical Muslims. The other reason is that Muslim pressure groups have been effective at portraying adherents of the religion as a uniquely marginalized group. But this is not supported statistically.
In 2013, 60 percent of religious hate crimes were motivated by anti-Jewish bias, according to FBI data, compared with less than 14 percent that were motivated by anti-Islamic violence. This discrepancy cannot be explained by the demographic makeup of the U.S., as Jews represent only about twice as much of the population. Yet there's much less hypersensitivity about anti-Semitism.
On his show's "Talking Points Commentary," O'Reilly framed the controversy as one about whether organizers did "a foolish or a noble thing." But that's a false dichotomy. One doesn't have to honor the organizers as noble heroes to think the content of the event is irrelevant. The important part of the story is that people were targeted with violence in America for exercising free expression.
If the takeaway from this incident — even among those who depend on free expression for their livelihood — is that people shouldn't offend radical Muslims, than the radicals have succeeded in undermining American values by creating a chilling effect on free speech.