Judgment is an underrated component to knowing when, where and how to exercise one’s Constitutional rights.
Yes, yes, yes, Constitutional purists will sneer at the suggestion that one should consider social conventions, a normative understanding of tact and the wider implications of one’s actions before exercising a right, but I think the majority of us would agree that sound judgment — an amalgam of those considerations as well as others — is important in this particular context.
To take an example from the gun community, I support the right of the lone open-carry advocate to strap on an AK-47, don fatigues and a flak jacket, and walk into the local supermarket to grab some brown sugar and a gallon of milk. But do I think that individual is exercising sound judgment? No. Do I think that individual is forwarding gun rights for the gun community? Probably not. In fact, one can make a pretty strong case that the opposite is occurring, i.e. that individual is alarming responsible gun owners, scaring non-gun owners and perpetuating the Obama narrative that gun owners are militant extremists and “bitter clingers.”
For the record, I’m not against open-carry advocacy. But I think there is an intelligent way to go about doing it. I think open-carry advocates should notify police before holding a demonstration, carry banners and signs to delineate their message to bystanders and onlookers, travel in groups to avoid the “lone gunman” distinction, follow local laws and be respectful and polite to everyone they encounter: business owners, law enforcement, the non-gun owning public, etc.
By talking about open-carry advocacy I’m attempting to draw a parallel to the free speech rally this past weekend in Garland, Texas, where two men were killed and one was injured following a thwarted terrorist attack.
Though the investigation is still ongoing, one doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what motivated the attack. As part of the free speech rally, The American Freedom Defense Initiative put on a “Muhammad Art Exhibit” in which cartoonists got to compete for a $10,000 prize for the best depiction of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. As many of you know, it’s a great offense to Muslims for one to draw or render an image of the prohpet, specifically if it’s done in a satirical or derogatory manner. Cartoons, of course, fit that description.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative certainly has the First Amendment right to put on a Muhammad Cartoon Contest, but just because they have that right, should they do it? Is the organization exercising sound judgment?
Just like with the open carry advocate I described, I question not only the group’s methods but its motives as well. The AFDI claims it wants to promote free speech, the freedom of conscience and equal rights, but a contest that deliberately and unapologetically offends millions, perhaps billions, of muslims is not the best way to go about achieving those objectives — just as carrying a long arm openly near a school is not the best way to galvanize support for the Second Amendment.
So if the AFDI is not really out to win hearts and minds, what is it doing? From the looks of it the AFDI is trolling. That is, the AFDI is sticking the proverbial broom handle into the beehive to get a reaction. And there’s no doubt that the AFDI succeeded on that level.
As mentioned, two armed suspects were preparing to gun down the events’ 200-plus attendees. Thankfully, local police introduced these would-be murderers to their maker before they could carry out a deadly attack — but not without sustaining at least one casualty, a security guard received a non-life threatening wound to the leg; which raises yet another question, is putting innocent lives at risk by sponsoring a cartoon contest really the best way to make a point about the discriminatory aspects within Islam? Maybe it is if you want to go to war.
Consider what Pamela Geller, the co-founder of AFDI, had to say following the incident.
“This is a war. This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters? Two men with rifles and backpacks attacked police outside our event. A cop was shot; his injuries are not life-threatening, thank Gd. Please keep him in your prayers,” Geller wrote on her blog.
“The bomb squad has been called to the event site to investigate a backpack left at the event site,” she continued. “The war is here.”
What?! That’s not agitating for social reform! That’s beating the war drums quite stridently. All this makes me wonder if Geller has something material to gain from going to war with Islam. It’s sounds crazy, but is she a cog in the military industrial complex? I haven’t researched her enough to make a connection but it wouldn’t surprised me if one existed. As with all divisive actions and lightening rod events, sometimes it helps to stand back and ask yourself, “who is behind this and what is really going on?”
In any event, what I’m trying to convey is that the organizers of the event did not exercise sound judgment, as evidence by the wounded guard. There are many peaceful and culturally sensitive ways to bolster free speech, equal rights and freedom of conscience that are compatible with Islamic cultures. Needless to say, paying for sketches of Muhammad isn’t one of them. Sure, I’ll continue to support AFDI’s right of free speech just like I’ll support the lone open-carry advocate, but I’d just like to ask them to think more critically about the consequences of their actions. After all, lives are on the line. And the next time they disenfranchise mainstream muslims and stir up the radical element they may not get away virtually unscathed.
On another note, just so there is no confusion about me being “soft on terrorism,” I’m all for ferreting out and killing terrorists, especially those that are currently living amongst us. But baiting them with 200 civilians and cartoonists is not the optimal strategy for doing so. I think we should leave that job for the federal government and the U.S. military.
What are your thoughts on this situation?