Bill O’Reilly of Fox News Channel fame is on a mission: destroy Pamela Geller as stupid and not Jesus-like. His argument (at least the “stupid” argument) is as follows: while there might be grounds to criticize what he calls “Radical Islam,” since we need the “good” Muslims to fight against the global jihad to win the war, we must be extra-sensitive and not insult the “good” Muslims lest they turn their backs on us. This argument is wrong, I would argue, because it is empirically and logically unsupportable. (I will use Bill O’Reilly as the model for this critique since his television audience is huge. But, he has many on the Left and Right echoing his position.)
Let’s first understand Pamela Geller’s argument. When bullies or madmen or just evil men threaten your liberty and your life, you do not sanction or encourage that conduct by self-censoring your liberty. Indeed, you get in their face defiantly and say “No way!” or “Never Again!” Moreover, Pamela Geller does not criticize Muslims qua Muslims. She criticizes elements of Islam that are mainstream across the Muslim world among hundreds of millions of Muslims (such as, death for blasphemy and apostasy, what we in the West term free speech and freedom of religion).
Presumably, Bill O’Reilly would agree with Pamela Geller’s tactic of poking the bear to show her resolve to protect liberty (if not life itself) as a general principle. For goodness sakes, Bill O’Reilly has turned calling out bad men and poking them publicly in front of his multi-million viewing army into an art form and financial empire.
But what Bill O’Reilly says in this instance is that this poking of the “Radical Islam” bear is stupid and immoral because “good” Muslims will be insulted as well, and they will get so angry at the West that they will stop working with us to rid the world of the scourge of global jihad. On its face, that argument is weak at best. It seems to me, and to Pamela Geller (for she has taken this position publicly for a decade), that good (no need for scare quotes now) Muslims might not like the defiance of drawing a cartoon of Mohammed, but that would and should only spur their resolve to get rid of the cancer of the jihadists among their ranks, not abandon an existential war to preserve the West from the evil that is “Radical Islam.” Are “good” Muslims so fickle that if they get their feelings hurt they will either join the other side in this war or opt out and decide to be just spectators? Good Muslims (and even many bad Muslims who just happen to be not as bad as the most bloody of the jihadists) are more likely to be murdered and dismembered by their bad Muslim brethren than by any U.S. bullet or drone. Do good Muslims want their children recruited for murder-suicide attacks via the Internet? Of course not. It is in their self-interest to fight with us.
In other words, Bill O’Reilly’s first argument that the cartoon contest is stupid because it will make it harder to rally the “good” Muslims to our side may be true among the really not-so-good Muslims, but it also means our allies will be fickle in their support and not real allies. In a battle as difficult and existential as the one we are in with so many hundreds of millions of jihad sympathizers in the Muslim world (as Bill O’Reilly himself has pointed out), I want the good Muslims (no scare quotes) who I know are committed to liberty on my side; not those who are with us only when we walk the anti-blasphemy line drawn by Islamic law (i.e., sharia).
Bill O’Reilly’s newest ploy is to enlist Jesus and literally say that Jesus would never have sponsored the event. Well, I am a Jew and that statement is meaningless to me. But it is mostly hubris and absurd. We as a country fight wars and put people to death for capital crimes and put people in prison for all sorts of white collar crimes, notwithstanding that Jesus might have taken another view. Would Jesus have gone to war in Vietnam? For that matter, would Jesus have carpet-bombed Germany and dropped atomic bombs on Japan to end WWII? Bill? (You seem to have some keen insight here.) At the end of the day, it seems to me that the question is whether those acts were necessary to protect U.S. lives. I don’t want to hurt innocents unnecessarily, but if given the choice, I’ll drop a bomb on the enemy’s city if I know I will save U.S. military men from harm they need not suffer.
As a post-script, I am fascinated by Reverend Franklin Graham’s hypocrisy. On the Bill O’Reilly link above, it shows a clip of Rev. Graham criticizing Pamela Geller for “mocking” Islam. (I’ll ignore the invitation to make the point that she was not mocking Islam but rather Islam’s position on death for cartoon drawing.) Mocking Islam? What was the good Rev. Graham doing when he said: “Islam has not changed in 1,500 years and has ‘not been hijacked by radicals,’ but is ‘a religion of war’”? And what precisely was Bill O’Reilly doing when he called the terror of the global jihad “Muslim terror”? Why would he use such a supercharged adjective like “Muslim” to characterize the global jihad? President Obama and his administration refuse to use the terms Muslim or Islamic to describe the global violence because he says, like O’Reilly, that it plays into the hands of the terrorists and causes “good” Muslims to hate or fear us. It seems that Bill O’Reilly does not mind attacking Islam and thus “good” Muslims at some level, but just not by drawing cartoons. Where and how does he draw the line? Who knows . . .
David Yerushalmi, Co-Founder & Senior Counsel of the American Freedom Law Center