By Steven Nelson at US News
Organizers of the Muhammad-drawing cartoon contest attacked by jihadi gunmen Sunday are planning to host more events showcasing depictions of the Muslim prophet.
The organizers tell U.S. News it’s essential to stand up for their First Amendment rights against pressure from religious fanatics, brushing off criticism they are recklessly provoking Muslims.
“We must hold more,” says Jihad Watch blogger Robert Spencer, who organized the event near Dallas, Texas, with activist Pamela Geller.
“That seems to be essential,” Geller agrees. “Otherwise the message is sent that violence works and will silence free people.”
Observant Muslims generally consider depictions of Muhammad offensive, and Western artists who thumb their nose at the taboo risk paying with their lives.
Jihadi brothers in January murdered 12 people at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication that on several occasions featured cartoons of Muhammad on its cover. Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose cartoons launched global protests by Muslims a decade ago, survived an ax attack in 2010. Earlier this year, Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who drew Muhammad’s face on the body of a dog, avoided an assassination attempt that killed an audience member at a cafe where Vilks was delivering remarks about his work.
The Texas attack ended quickly. Event organizers had hired guards, and one of them – an off-duty traffic policeman – fatally shot both gunmen, roommates from Arizona, before they could kill attendees.
The Sunday event attracted about 200 artworks featuring the Muslim prophet. The winning entry, by ex-Muslim Bosch Fawstin, showed a turbaned man, sword in hand, saying “You can’t draw me!” Less respectful submissions showed him juggling heads and wearing a wind-blown dress.
Spencer and Geller have yet to settle on precise plans for future cartoon contests.
Geller, formerly famous for edgy ads supporting Israel and for rallying opposition to a planned mosque near ground zero in New York, has pushed back aggressively on media exhortations that she voluntarily cease her provocative commentary on Islam.
“I will not abridge my freedoms so as not to offend savages,” she told NBC News. “We should be holding these meetings every month.”
Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief Gerard Biard on Friday urged Western media to take a less timid approach to showing Muhammad cartoons. The risk to Westerners increases, he said, as journalists voluntarily self-censor in response to threats of violence or claims of offense.
Geller agrees with Biard, and says mainstream media’s approach to political Islam “emboldens the jihadis, as they see that the West is weak and unwilling to face reality, instead of determined and realistic.”
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the largest Muslim-American organizations, says more cartoon contests are certain to happen following the attack, though he doubts mainstream free speech supporters will host any.
“It’s an inevitability,” Hooper says. “Once these hate mongers find a winning formula for free publicity, they’re going to milk it for all it’s worth.”
Hooper says he can’t imagine outrage among American Muslims dimming if such events become routine, and he encourages opponents to ignore them. He says he doesn’t expect more attacks against the anticipated “hate roadshow.”
Though he personally detests what he sees as an effort to offend Muslims, Hooper concedes the U.S. Constitution allows such speech to happen. “I haven’t seen a legal argument that would stand up to scrutiny” against the legality of the events, he says.
An often contentious battleground of speech rights, college campuses, are emptying for the summer, but they are likely to see squabbles over students’ rights to host Muhammad-drawing events, should any seek to do so.
Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, says “if a group did decide to host such a contest, I’m sure there would be a lot of pushback.” At public schools, he says, “student groups have powerful free speech rights that administrators limit at their peril.”
In a case that may be a cautionary tale for controversy-wary administrators, FIRE on Monday won a $35,000 settlement from Western Michigan University, which blocked a student group from hosting Marxist rapper Boots Riley on campus by demanding the group pay for private security.