Knee-jerk liberalism and me

I tend to describe myself as a knee-jerk liberal.  But free speech seems to be an issue where conventional liberalism and me have parted company.  The recent incident in Garland, Texas is a case in point.  Pam Geller, as far as I can tell, is a creep, and her “Draw Muhammad” contest was a deliberate provocation.  On the other hand, here is the New York Times:

Those two men were would-be murderers. But their thwarted attack, or the murderous rampage of the Charlie Hebdo killers, or even the greater threat posed by the barbaric killers of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, cannot justify blatantly Islamophobic provocations like the Garland event.

Actually, sure it can.  Here is the conservative David Frum (inventor of the phrase “Axis of Evil”) in response:

Anti-Muslim bigotry is a real and ugly phenomenon. But there’s a necessary distinction to be drawn between vilifying people and repudiating their beliefs. Blasphemy isn’t bigotry. Applying the single term “Islamophobia” blurs that difference: conflating the denial of a belief with discrimination against the believer.

Is that such a difficult distinction to make?  And later:

We owe equality and respect to persons. Ideas and beliefs have to prove their worth. Pamela Geller, the organizer of the Garland, Texas, “Draw Muhammad” contest, attracts criticism because she so often pushes up to and over the line separating criticism of ideas from vilification of groups of people. She’s an uncomfortable person to defend. But that’s often true of the people who test the rights that define a free society.

This all seems perfectly sensible to me.  I don’t think I’m becoming grumpy in my old age.  I think conventional liberalism has lost its way here, and that’s bad for the country.

Here’s another long-time liberal who is having problems with this.

I don’t think Geller’s goal was to provoke a murderous attack. Perhaps verbal attacks, but of course that’s Charlie Hebdo’s goal, too, for the reaction to its mockery of all religions was absolutely predictable. Charlie Hebdo existed to mock and provoke. By all means, says the Times, let’s not publish cartoons of the prophet, for whatever one’s motivation, it will “serve only to exacerbate tensions and to give extremists more fuel.” That goes for both Geller and Charlie Hebdo. What is the newspaper saying here? Apparently, that we should keep our hands off religion, at least those faiths whose adherents become murderous when offended.

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2 thoughts on “Knee-jerk liberalism and me

  1. I see absolutely no difference between drawing pictures of the prophet and Serrano’s Piss Christ back in the 80s. Both are insulting and blasphemous. But liberals were happy to defend Serrano because the target was Christianity and that’s fair game. There is something about Islam that turns liberals into spineless wimps.

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    • Coyne makes the same analogy in the post I linked to. Of course, we can accuse conservatives of precisely the same hypocrisy in the other direction. But I expect better of liberals.

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