In the following guest-essay, Paul Green summarizes last Sunday’s events in Garland, Texas — in which mass murder was averted by the courage and superior marksmanship of a single police officer — and its implications for our First Amendment rights.
Terrorism in Texas: Free Speech Under Fire
By Paul Green, a.k.a. Papa Whiskey
May 4, 2015
In January they struck in France, killing twelve people, including two police officers, in an attack on the Paris office of a satirical magazine.
In February, they struck in Denmark, killing a film director and wounding three police officers at a debate on “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” at a Copenhagen coffee house.
Now they have struck in America, wounding a security guard at an art exhibit and contest at a Dallas-area school district’s rented event center. Two of them attacked the facility just as the event was scheduled to end, evidently seeking to maximize the carnage they intended to inflict with their weapons on the emerging attendees. But Garland, Texas police officers guarding the event were “prepared,” as their chief told a TV news reporter, and one of them shot both assailants dead before they could carry out their sanguinary plan.
Who “they” are was not in question, even when the details were still sketchy. The event they sought to turn into a tragedy was an exhibit of cartoons caricaturing the Muslim prophet Muhammad, drawn by entrants of a contest held by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. A New York-based group led by the activist Pamela Geller, AFDI held the contest in reaction to the Paris attack as a way to push back against Muslim zealots demanding adherence to their creed’s ban on any pictorial depiction of their prophet — or any mockery of him.
That the assailants were indeed Muslim zealots was indicated by a message posted to a Twitter account entitled “Shariah is Light”, belonging to a user named “atawaakul.” The tweet read, “The bro with me and myself have given bay’ah to Amirul Mu’mineen. May Allah accept us as mujahideen. Make dua” and used the hashtag “#texasattack.” As reported by the news site Breitbart.com, whose correspondents were covering the event, it was posted twenty minutes before the attack took place.
The terminology in the tweet is straight out of Islamic parlance: “bay’ah” is Arabic for “allegiance,” “mujahideen” are jihad fighters, “dua” means “invocation,” a supplication to Allah, and “Amirul Mu’mineen” translates to “Commander of the Faithful,” a traditional honorific title conferred upon ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by the terrorist organization’s “shura council” in 2010. After ISIS declared itself the “Islamic State” in the wake of its conquest of several Iraqi cities in June 2014, it proclaimed al-Baghdadi the caliph of all Muslims. Since then it has achieved notoriety through its videos of decapitations of hostages and butchery of prisoners.
Accordingly, the attackers — who have since been confirmed as two devout Muslims from Phoenix, Ariz. — were pledging their allegiance to al-Baghdadi and his head-chopping, mass-murdering ISIS terror group.
Sunday’s attack was only the latest in a decade-long campaign of vituperation and violence touched off by a Danish newspaper’s publication of several drawings of Muhammad in 2005. The paper’s cultural editor had solicited the images from artists after learning of the difficulties an author of a children’s book on Islam’s prophet encountered in trying to find an illustrator. He sought to explore the extent to which self-censorship and deference to Islam’s dictates had permeated the country’s arts community. Evidently it was considerable: of 25 artists from whom he sought contributions, only 12 responded. European publications that later reprinted the Danish drawings as part of their coverage of the developing furor were targeted as well, among them the Parisian satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose office was firebombed in 2011 — and whose editorial staff was nearly wiped out in the attack last January.
Such Islamic ire has had a chilling effect. Only three major American newspapers, for example, had the courage, integrity, or journalistic solidarity to print any of the Danish images in February of 2006 to illustrate their coverage of what was then the top story of the week. The rest demurred.
Why is it that cartoons about Islam’s prophet rouse an anger in some of its adherents so intense as to be murderous? They tried to kill Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish cartoonists. They tried to kill the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who depicted Muhammad as a “roundabout dog” and who was present at the Copenhagen event that was attacked in February. They did kill four cartoonists and several other staffers of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and they were bent on a saturnalia of slaughter in Texas last Sunday.
The answer was actually given by a notoriously corrupt American politician: William M. Tweed, known as “Boss” Tweed, who ran the Tammany Hall political machine in New York during the mid-19th century. Tweed’s plundering ways came under attack by the cartoonist Thomas Nast, whose most famous drawing depicted the portly politician in a fancy suit and a tie bearing a huge diamond stickpin, with a head that was a big moneybag emblazoned with a dollar sign. The cartoons upset Tweed, who said, “Stop them damned pictures! I don’t care so much what the papers say about me — my constituents don’t know how to read. But they can’t help seeing them damned pictures!” That is the key to the cartoon’s power: its instant accessibility. All it takes for a cartoon to deliver its truth and take its target down a peg is one glance — and one laugh.
In an article I wrote for my newspaper in 2006, decrying the near-unanimous capitulation of American journalism to Muslim demands for self-censorship on the Danish cartoon story, I predicted that we had “set a dreadful precedent, one certain to haunt us all in the years ahead.” Seldom have I ever written anything so prescient — and seldom do I so fervently wish it hadn’t been.
Paul Green was the assistant editorial page editor of the East Valley Tribune of Mesa, Arizona. He resigned in protest in 2006 over the paper’s refusal to print any of the Danish cartoons.