Like most people, I reacted to the news of the terrorist attack on the cartoonists' conference in Garland, Texas with weary discouragement and outrage. It lent fuel to my increasing belief that we are currently in a new form of World War, with radical Islam battling pretty much the rest of the world. The definition of a World War, after all, is a conflict "involving most of the world's most powerful nations." The 15-year "war on terror" seems to qualify, given the involvement of the US, Great Britain, France, etc. etc. (It does seem to me, though, that calling this a "war on terror" is slightly misleading. Let's call it what it really is: a war of Judaic/Christian culture vs. that of fundamental Islam. It's really a particular subcategory of terror that we're fighting here.)
Like many westerners, each time a new such episode occurs, I have the slightly shameful thought that the west should go whole-hog and stamp this thing out once and for all; a small, rarely vocalized thought that if radical Islam wants jihad, then the west ought to respond in kind and get this thing over with. After all, they started it. But then I tell myself that this group represents a small faction of a religious philosophy that includes many, many innocent people. I'm a bit ashamed of the angry knee-jerk reaction I sometimes harbor.
It also bears consideration that we (meaning some members of the west) have a role in this. Somewhat lost in our outrage is the fact that a principle organizer of this event, Pamela Geller, turns out to be a hate-monger of the most dedicated and profound ilk. In her recent history, she has made a tidy career of persecuting all manifestations of Islam, including organizing successful opposition to the construction of mosques and Islamic culture centers. A key organizer of the American Freedom Defense League Initiative, as well as a highly visible supporter of the English Defense League—both organizations seeking the virtual extinction of Islam—her blog "Atlas Shrugs" has been labeled a hate site by PayPal and government watch groups. (Ironically, given her own Jewish heritage, members of the English Defense League often appear in public wearing swastikas; the passion here is not ideology but pure hatred). Her response to the Texas shooting was something akin to jubilation—it proved her point and justified her career of hate-mongering. Violence was the goal of organizing the event.
None of this excuses this or any other Islamic terrorist activity in any way. Our culture is based on freedom of speech, and much the way Westboro Church has the right to scream hate messages about gay people, this woman has a right to organize a conference aimed, really, with hopes of a violent response from Islamic radicals. But neither can we ignore the full reality of the situation. If police officers had been killed in this operation, Pamela Geller and other organizers would have borne some moral responsibility for inciting violence.
And before we automatically trumpet the rights of expression for a conference aiming to caricature the prophet Mohammed, we should make sure that we'd be equally comfortable if Ms. Geller had organized a conference awarding a prize for the best depiction of Jesus Christ fornicating with the Virgin Mary. I wonder how serious we'd be about defending freedom of speech in that instance.