“Piss Christ” and Garland

Piss-Christ

Ethics Alarms participant Other Bill raised “Piss Christ” on the comment thread to my post about the Garland, Texas attack, progressives’ and news media’s “hate speech isn’t free speech” confusion, and Geller’s supporters’ “gratuitously uncivil speech is laudable” delusion. He posted a column by George Parry, published under the heading “Think Tank” on a Philadelphia site. I’m grateful to Bill for raising the column, which he neither endorsed nor criticized. Titled Double Standard on Offending Christians and Muslims, Parry’s argument was…

  • “Christians objected to “Piss Christ” and the feces-covered Holy Virgin. And they rightfully wondered why their tax dollars had been used to promote these blasphemies. But their objections and questions were condescendingly dismissed by the secular left in the media and intelligentsia. …
  • “As if in one voice, the mainstream media and self-anointed intelligentsia argued that antiquated religious sensitivities must not be allowed to interfere with either an artist’s free expression or his right to government funding regardless of how offensive his work may be to Christians….”
  • “In Garland, Texas, on Sunday, two radical Muslims died trying to replicate the Charlie Hebdo massacre by mounting an armed attack on a “draw Mohammed” cartoon contest. We are not talking about drawings of Mohammed dunked in urine or smeared with animal dung. No, the gunmen apparently deemed the mere drawing of Mohammed to be an offense punishable by death…The overall media consensus has been to blame the intended murder victims for recklessly provoking the terrorists. Such provocation, we are told, is unacceptable and irresponsible behavior given the risk of retaliation by offended radical Muslims…”
  • “Better to question the wisdom of cartoonists exercising their rights than to acknowledge and vigorously confront and expose the elephant in the room, i.e., that there is a disturbingly large number of radical Muslims in this country who oppose our Constitution and who believe that murder is an appropriate sanction for those who offend Islam….”
  • “All of which leads to this question: Given their pusillanimous double standard, why should any reasonable or serious person believe, respect, or credit the self-serving mainstream media?”

That’s not the question. First of all, there is already no reason to believe, respect, or credit the mainstream media. Second, while Parry is correct that the analysis of the issues in the Garland attack have been largely incompetent and tainted by media dislike of Geller and journalism’s own cowardice (most news outlets were afraid to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, even though they were essential to reporting on the Paris massacre), his analogy with “Piss Christ” is no better.

The questions are

1. Was “Piss Christ” genuinely intended as art rather than a political statement?

If so, the First Niggardly Principle applies…

“No one should be criticized or penalized because someone takes racial, ethnic, religious or other offense at their conduct or speech due to the ignorance, bias or misunderstanding of the offended party.”

… and not the Second:

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

2. Does it make sense for conservatives and Christians who were furious over “Piss Christ” to applaud Geller?

No. It’s hypocritical.

3. Is it hypocritical for pundits to condemn Geller’s cartoons, which are motivated by anti-Islam animus beyond question, when they didn’t condemn “Piss Christ,” when the artist never said that he regarded Christianity as “the enemy”?

No, it isn’t. One was art and commerce (Serrano made a lot of money on “Piss Christ”) and the other an organized mass insult to a world religion.

4.Does one well-publicized and sensational piece of artwork 28 years ago—justify hundreds of anti-Muslim cartoons?

No. That’s ridiculous.

5. Is is even fair as a “tit for tat” (which is still unethical)?

Well, did “Piss Christ” creator Andres Serrano threaten South Park? Attack Charlie Hebdo? Is he a Muslim? No. It’s like bombing Bangor, Maine now to get back at the Germans for bombing Dresden.

6. Would it be ethically defensible even if he had? Offending millions of Muslims to “get back” at one?

Of course not.

7. Are most Muslims peaceful, non-radical, and non-violent?

Yes.

8. Does it make sense to offend them to show contempt for the minority who are?

Well, does it actually accomplish anything positive? If it radicalizes a single peaceful Muslim, then it’s a net negative.

9. Is mass communication of contempt and hate for any group or sub-group for its own sake ever ethical, justifiable or rational?

How could it be?

10. Is Geller’s contest “stupid,” in Bill O’Reilly’s words, because it infuriates lawless, vicious nut case religious fanatics who have ordered artists and others not to offend their faith for any reason and might inspire these villains to violence?

No. It’s stupid because it has no other purpose but hate.

11. Is Geller’s stunt “stupid” because there was an attack?

No, that reasoning is consequentialism, which itself is stupid. Geller’s stunt is wrong because it’s a nasty mass insult pretending to be a protest. Yes, it’s free speech—free dumb, irresponsible speech. Yes, no matter how insulting it is,  the crazy Islamic radicals’ response is criminal, irrational, and not “provoked.”

12. Is Parry’s analysis helpful?

No.

68 thoughts on ““Piss Christ” and Garland

  1. “3. Is it hypocritical for pundits to condemn Geller’s cartoons, which are motivated by anti-Islam animus beyond question, when they didn’t condemn “Piss Christ,” when the artist never said that he regarded Christianity as “the enemy”?

    No, it isn’t. One was art and commerce (Serrano made a lot of money on “Piss Christ”) and the other an organized mass insult to a world religion.”

    This is why Christians feel there is a war on Christianity. The government can use money taken from Christians (tax money) and give it to someone to insult and mock Christianity and it is called ‘art’. Please don’t pretend this wasn’t anti-Christian. Why do you put a crucifix in urine if it isn’t to offend Christians? If I smear the Gay Pride flag in feces and set it on fire, can I legitimately say it is ‘just performance art’ and I had not intention of offending anyone or making a political statement? Can I cover a Koran in bacon and shoot it with a .50 BMG, call it art and pretend it has no religious or political significance? To pretend art isn’t politicized has as much validity as saying that the education system an the mainstream media don’t have any ideological bias. Also, why is money made on art different from money made on political cartoons? Are they paid in different currency?

    • “Why do you put a crucifix in urine if it isn’t to offend Christians?”

      To juxtapose powerful images and make an audience try to make sense of it. This is Art 101. I’m sure he knew it would offend Christians, but I doubt Christians were the intended audience. Were homophobes the intended audience for “The Boys in the Band”?

      “If I smear the Gay Pride flag in feces and set it on fire, can I legitimately say it is ‘just performance art’ and I had not intention of offending anyone or making a political statement?”

      Sure you can. It’s also a legitimate protest. If you do it as art, it’s art. If as protest, it’s protest. If just to insult gays, then you’re just being an asshole.

      The Campbell Soup can was art because it was painted as art. The can itself wasn’t art, because it was made to hold soup.

      “Can I cover a Koran in bacon and shoot it with a .50 BMG, call it art and pretend it has no religious or political significance?”

      Same answer. Being political doesn’t take it out of the category of art. I never said that art isn’t politicized. But every political statement isn’t art, and hate isn’t even politics.

      But it is protected speech.

      • I think this is right.

        Rather than the Koran example, it might be more interesting to envision a photograph of JFK and Martin Luther King in urine. It would guaranteed inflame US liberals, but I think the same arguments you make about art and politics would apply as well, yes?

    • Why is it necessarily offensive to Christians to put a cross in urine? The crosses the Romans nailed people to certainly saw their share of the stuff released onto them by their occupants. It could, for all you know, be a powerful (or inept) statement about suffering. A burning rainbow flag covered with human waste could be as well, a symbol perhaps of the horrific attitudes so many held during the height of the AIDS crisis, that many still hold today…

  2. I guess I should have said “If a currently-edgy artist had done any of these things…” would the media approve of it? Would people be saying”it is just art!” or would there be mass condemnation and a LBGT or ISIS backed fire-bombing of the gallery? That is the double standard.

  3. “1. Was “Piss Christ” genuinely intended as art rather than a political statement?”

    “No, it isn’t. One was art and commerce (Serrano made a lot of money on “Piss Christ”) and the other an organized mass insult to a world religion.”

    Perhaps this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of art on my part but why are those two categories are mutually exclusive? I’d love to see an argument on how Piss Christ wasn’t a political statement. I believe it was meant to offend, it was meant to offend Christians, all of them, and so I don’t think either Niggardly principles apply, I think the criticism is apt, and the aim of the artist (creating art that offended Christians in order to capitalize on media uproar) could not be achieved without offending Christians.

    But I think you’re right on the money when you talk about tit-for-tatism, and hypocrisy, but if I can carry it one step further, when you said “Does it make sense for conservatives and Christians who were furious over “Piss Christ” to applaud Geller? No. It’s hypocritical.” Could someone turn that around and ask if it is hypocritical for the liberals who applauded Piss Christ to condemn Geller?

    • They are mutually exclusive because the ultimate intent of one is art—which always carries messages, political, intellectual and aesthetic—and the intent of the other is just to enrage. What would you call a contest called “Paint the Madonna Being Raped by a Goat-Man”? Would you say it was seeking art?

      By the way, “Piss Christ” was attacked more than once, and was ultimately destroyed by Christian protesters.

      • When I said “two categories” (and I apologize because I really wasn’t clear) I had actually meant ‘art’ and ‘political statement’. I think that there are a lot of things that are art only because they also have a political message, and that a political message doesn’t enrage per se. I’d still love an argument on how Piss Christ wasn’t a political statement. Would a block of wood in a jar of piss be art? Perhaps. But would it have gotten the same reception or price? Of course not. So both the cross and the audience are important, the outrage was directly intended.

        As to “Paint the Madonna Being Raped by a Goat-Man” I suppose it would depend on who the Madonna was. Are there political or religious connotations? Do those connotations add something to the art? in the case of “Paint the Madonna Being Raped by a Goat-Man” where the Madonna is nameless, I see that as trying for Art. In the case where the Madonna has Michelle Obama’s face photo shopped onto it, I see that as political art.

        • I’m also a little confused about the definition of “art”. To me, “art” is in the eye of the beholder, not the creator. “Piss Christ” is not art, if it is art, just because the creator said it was, but would be judged by the people who saw it. “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.”

          • “Art is in the eye of the beholder,” though, can’t be taken literally like that. If I say, “Bah! Finnegan;s Wake is pompous gibberish–that’s not poetry or literature, its a fraud!” that means it is to me, just as I may say that “rap isn’t music” or “heavy metal is just noise,’ but the artists define their art, and nobody has to agree.

            • OK, gotcha. Because I do not agree that “Piss Christ” is art. In my mind art requires some sort of a talent and the ability to piss people off does not qualify.

                • Unfortunately, I tend to do it unintentionally. There have been a few times when I really want to piss somebody off and have refrained, but not very often.

      • An interesting current example: sculptor Charles Ray has been working for years on what he intends to be one of this crowning achievements, a slightly more than life-size sculpture of Huck Finn and his buddy escaped slave Jim, from Mark Twain’s quintessential American novel Huckleberry Finn.

        The figures are realistic, and hew closely to the novel. The scene is from a moment in the book, a warm summer night on the raft, when they are looking at the moon. Huck is dipping his hand into the river to scoop up frog’s eggs. In the novel they are nude. And so the sculpture is as well.

        New York’s Whitney Museum contracted with Ray to make this sculpture specifically for its public plaza outside its new building in the Meatpacking District. And, it looks like it’s not going to happen – even in New York.

        Why? “…the museum’s growing concern that this particular image of a naked African-American man and a naked white teen-ager in close proximity, presented in a public space with no other art works to provide context, might offend non-museum going visitors—thousands of whom pass through the area every day on their way to or from the adjacent entrance to the High Line.”

        Art and politics are perhaps inseparable – even in a freedom-loving country like the US, even in a liberal city like NY, even when it comes to a fairly conventional statue referring to America’s (arguably) Best Novel of all time.

        You could even claim that all art is political.

        • A great example of how even though the first niggardly principle is a fair and ethical idea, it just doesn’t carry through to reality very well. For whatever reason, the ignorant masses and their hurt feelings seem to trump education and reason more often than not.

  4. Here is my problem…”Piss Christ” was done, probably as a response to a genuine dislike for Christianity, WITHOUT any reasonable expectation that his (the artists) life would be endangered (have you ever been shot at by a Baptist?), or that there would be a terrorist Christian attack on the original gallery. Geller, on the other hand, while also done as a response to a genuine dislike for radical Islam, KNEW from past experience that the event was going to be provocative and had a reasonable chance of provoking a violent reaction, a la Hebdo. While I am a firm believer in the First Amendment, and firmly believe that Texas is, perhaps, the safest place to make a statement like Geller’s, there should have been some sort of disclaimer indicating the true purpose of the event. It is one thing to get people to participate in an event designed to provoke a response if they are fully versed on what the consequences of their behavior may be. It is another to lure potential victims into such a situation without telling them what kind of shit-storm they might be walking into. There will be people who will say that the potential victims surely did know what they were getting into, but there is really no way to know that. Advance notification would fix that, and if folks still wanted to participate, then that would be their problem. As far as the Mayor of Garland blaming Geller, well, he’s partially right. Unfortunately, neither his city’s permit department nor whoever leased the venue for the event did due diligence or they would have known what was going to happen (or guessed) and could have not allowed the event to happen. They did not. And once it was going on, the Police had no choice but to do their jobs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the majority of the blame for the incident rests squarely with the two idiots who decided it was somehow their mission in life (or death) to shoot up a crowd of peacefully assembled (also a Constitutional right, I believe) people because of a warped religious belief. This was not something they had a right to do, nor was it something that any civilized peoples would countenance.

    • 1. ALL the blame—for the violence— is on the two Islamic idiots. 100%

      2. So what if dislike for Christianity was involved in Piss Christ? Great artwork is often motivated by dislike and criticism. So Dan Brown doesn’t like the Catholic church—so what? Shakespeare didn’t like Richard the Third. Tony Kushner didn’t like Roy Cohn (“Angels in America”) Rod Serling didn’t like boxing (Requiem For A Heavyweight). Picasso didn’t like the Spanish Civil War—so what? Criticism, satire and dislike have inspired great paintings, songs, symphonies, statue, operas and plays, but the intent is still, first, to make art, not to demonstrate hate.

      • YOU are not the arbiter of what is and is not hate – nor are YOU the arbiter of which “hate” is or is not ethical.

        • What ARE you blathering about?

          1. Sure I am. So is anyone.

          2. I have a very high standard for hate, as it happens. Criticism isn’t hate. Intentionally offending someone because you hate them is hateful. You think saying Geller hates Islam is unfair? She’d agree with that! What the hell are you trying to say?

          3. Hate, lucky, isn’t ethical or unethical. Hate is an emotion. Emotions are entirely our own. I don’t affect anyone or anything when I hate. I hate your comment for instance, but I’m not going to burn down your house. Ethics comes into the equation when you act on the hate, and that includes communication intended to harm.

          4. I am, in fact, an arbiter of what is ethical, since that’s my field, area of expertise, and people pay me to do it. My ruling: hate isn’t ethical or unethical. Hateful acts and words may be.

          Glad I could clear up that confusion for you.
          Get some coffee, your brain is offline.

  5. 5. “tit for tat.” No, of course it wouldn’t be right. Bombing Bangor could not make up for shattering all those charming little china shepherdesses.

  6. “…an organized mass insult to a world religion.”

    Jack, there is where you completely miss the faith-based (and First Amendment) boat. But no problem – that ship has already sailed.

    Geller has every bit as much right to have “her stunt” protected and defended as Whoopi Goldberg and that “stunt” of a movie, “Sister Act.”

    • The right to do something doesn’t mean it’s ethical. Geller clearly had the right to do what she did, and she didn’t deserve the attack.

      That’s a far cry from saying that Geller’s actions should be ethically defended. Sister Act wasn’t horribly unethical.

  7. I think more of the objection was over the use of tax dollars to fund “Piss Christ” (via the National Endowment for the Arts). In short, Christians saw their tax dollars used.

    OTOH, the “draw Mohammed day” and similar stuff was done AFTER the various death threats targeting cartoonists over the initial cartoons. So, in that case you have one ethical value (defending freedom of speech) conflicting with another (avoiding causing offense to others). Which triumphs in this case?

    At this point, I will side with Pamela Geller, and for one big reason: The moderate Moslems seem to be unable or unwilling to speak out (at a bare minimum) against the death threats and actual efforts to kill people over cartoons.

    • That’s a different issue, and one not unique to Christians. That issue is whether the government should subsidize the arts at all. It can’t just subsidize big eyes kid paintings, and if it pays for good art, someone will be offended and make the argument that their taxes are being used against them.

  8. Avoiding causing offense:

    I don’t find that to be a very good ethical value. In a vaccuum, sure, it’s a good idea, but it loses out to pretty much any other ethical consideration.

    Moderate Muslims:
    There tends to be plenty of speaking out by moderate Muslims. They just aren’t given the coverage that radicals are given. There’s no story in “person condemns horrible action.” http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2015/01/06/yes-moderate-muslims-do-condemn-terrorism-a-lot/

    • Yes, I see no need to avoid giving offense as long as there is some underlying purpose besides giving offense. If the same purpose can be accomplished while avoiding offense, it is fair, respectful, kind and responsible not to offend. Incivility—being offensive because you can and enjoy upsetting people is unethical

  9. “So what if dislike for Christianity was involved in Piss Christ? Great artwork is often motivated by dislike and criticism.”
    – – – –
    Perhaps one should distinguish between art that only expresses criticism of a religion, and art that attacks the symbols of the religion.

    Some years ago Hans Jacobse, an Orthodox priest, wrote an essay about what he called “desecration art.” Here is a selection:

    “The word symbol in the Greek means the place where two realities come together. Religious symbols have a particular power because religion speaks of the higher unseen things like meaning, purpose, value, and destiny, and thus represent a moral comprehension about how the universe is ordered and how man ought to live within it. In fact, the symbol itself can be said to contain this view. The symbol in other words, functions as a placeholder in space and time of eternal and timeless truths. . . .

    “Desecration is more than the destruction or misuse of the symbol itself. Desecration is sacrilege; the use of the symbol in ways hostile to its meaning and in ways that the tradition considers profane. By desecrating the symbol, the desecrator not only defiles the symbol, he also denies the legitimacy of the community to whom the symbol belongs. . . .

    “When the dominant religious symbols in the culture are desecrated, the beliefs and values that define and shape culture are weakened and can be overthrown. The overthrow of culture is why Lenin destroyed churches and Hitler destroyed synagogues (and why the Taliban blew up a 5000 year old Buddha). This is why a crucifix was submerged in urine and an icon of the Virgin Mary was smeared with feces.

    “There is contempt of the past, a senseless denial of any possibility of enduring meaning, in desecration art. Desecration art functions like the parasite; it destroys the heritage from which it draws its meaning. Ofili’s piece illustrates this. The icon gives the piece meaning, yet the icon is what the piece seeks to destroy. Destroy the meaning of the icon and the meaning of the piece is destroyed with it like the parasite that dies with its host. The artist is vandal and the museum the gate to this cultural barbarism.”

    • I respect the argument, but he’s making up that category of art: “desecration art” is just a loaded term. Deconstruction as art is old hat. It’s only blasphemous to those who worship the symbols—there are other audiences.

      • “It’s only blasphemous to those who worship the symbols—there are other audiences.”

        True, and then some. Rene Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images” famously showed a picture of a pipe with words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” The symbol is not the thing being symbolized. That

        Deconstruction of the symbol from the thing it symbolizes is also extremely old: if you want to get all Orthodox on the issue, recall Moses getting all ticked off at the Israelites for worshiping the Golden Calf. As a result, one of the Ten Commandments is the caution not to confuse “graven images” with the true God.

        In Jonathan Haidt’s fascinating book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, he suggests that liberals tend to anchor ethical issues around two principles, whereas conservatives generally recognize five. (A fact, he suggests, that gives conservatives much more power in political arguments). One of the three that liberals don’t put as much weight on as conservatives is the value of symbols: flags, statues, phrases, images.

        The Orthodox priest you quote is squarely in that tradition – placing great weight on the sacralization of symbols. It’s not for me to say that he’s “wrong” – clearly it’s his truth. But that truth’s far from universal, and leaves me, for example, cold. It certainly doesn’t constitute valid criticism of a piece of art like Piss Christ.

  10. “All of which leads to this question: Given their pusillanimous double standard, why should any reasonable or serious person believe, respect, or credit the self-serving mainstream media?”

    That’s not the question… The questions are…

    That reminds me of something to which my father once drew my attention, when I inadvertently slipped into a similar error. A journalist was once interviewing a French political thinker, who said “that’s not the question, the question is -“, only for the journalist to come back with, “yes, that is the question; I know it is because I asked it”.

    Those questions you list may well be your questions, but that in no sense means his question isn’t one. It is a question, because he brought it up. At most you can claim that it isn’t “the” question, or that it isn’t particularly important.

    • But, as I am sure you know, that’s an idiom that means “That’s a stupid question that isn’t the one should should be asking.” Similarly, if a teacher asks “What’s the capital of Bulgaria?”, the student says, “I don’t care,” the teacher says, “That’s not an answer!”and the retort is, “It’s my answer!”, I think he loses the argument.

      • No, that’s not an idiom in English (or not simply one), it’s a rhetorical ploy to change the subject – which is what I was pointing out. To the extent that it is in common use, it is a common failing, regardless of whether it is widespread. If the subject ought to be changed, it shouldn’t be smuggled in in that way but rather openly urged.

        Your reply reminds me of a couple of sayings, Oscar Wilde’s “two peoples divided by a common language” and “Americans are just Germans who think they speak English” (one of a family of related quips, all with a grain of truth – here, that Americans often impose German or other grammar on English, e.g. “he would have done A if he would have done B” rather than “he would have done A if he had done B”).

        • Language means what people decide to allow it to mean. “That’s not the question” means “that’s not the right question to ask,” and that’s exactly how I used it. You trivialize Oscar by attaching him to a silly cavill.

  11. Here’s the piece I probably should have posted rather than the Parry one. I get a kick out of the professor’s case law approach because it so subtly but cogently equates objecting to Geller’s event with one of the left’s favorite canards, “victim shaming.”

    And Jack, when is your joint venture with the Washington Post going to be finalized and announced?

    Two apparent would-be jihadists drove to the Texas Muhammad cartoon drawing contest and opened fire. They wounded a security guard, who is expected to survive; they were shot dead by police.

    Unsurprisingly, the organizers of the event — the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which has long been sharply critical of Islam — are being criticized for their “provocative” actions. Here, for instance, is a Twitter message from New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi:

    Free speech aside, why would anyone do something as provocative as hosting a “Muhammad drawing contest”?

    This reminds me of the old joke: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the theater?” There is no “free speech aside” here.

    But beyond this, I think there is a special kind of exercise of free speech here: speech as defiance. The organizers are sending a message that they are not afraid, either of those who would condemn us or even of those who would kill us — at least not so afraid that they will forgo their First Amendment rights.

    Harsh critics of Islam are often accused of “Islamophobia”; and while the suffix “-phobia” means “aversion to” as well as “fear of,” I think “-phobia” terms usually convey (and are often intended to convey) an allegation of irrational fear. Well, the critics say, our fear is actually quite rational; it makes sense to rationally fear dangerous ideologies. But with events such as this, I think the critics are saying: it is those who condemn us for being “provocative” who are relying on fear of Muslim extremists, and we are the ones who actually act contrary to the counsel of fear. The winning cartoon (which got both the “people’s choice” prize and the jury prize at the contest) reflects that:

    Reprinted with permission.
    Reprinted with permission.

    A different, more earnest and perhaps less catchy sort of defiance than that from Charlie Hebdo, and many of the original cartoons struck me as wittier. (Hey, everyone’s a critic.) But the message is pretty clear — and it’s an important message to have out there.

    I disagree with much that the harsh critics of Islam assert; for instance, I have publicly and in detail disagreed with much of the “creeping Sharia” argument, and argued that many supposed instances of Islamic law intruding on the American legal system are actually entirely sensible applications of longstanding American legal principles. (See, for instance, many of the posts in this thread, many of the posts in this one, this National Review Online article, and this Oklahoma Law Review article.) But I see the value of such gestures of defiance — even when the gestures do carry real risk, including to the speakers, to those whose job is to protect them, and even to bystanders.

    Advertisement

    Let me close with a very different story, but one that I think reminds us of the many contexts in which defiant speech — or, here, symbolic expression — can take place, of the dangers it poses, and of the value of legally protecting it. The story was litigated before the Alaska Supreme Court in Hurn v. Greenway (Alaska 2013), and it began this way:

    Simone Greenway and her friend Carrie Randall–Evans were dancing together in a suggestive manner and teasing Jeffrey Evans, Carrie’s husband, when Jeffrey left the room, returned with a pistol, and shot everyone inside, killing Carrie. He then shot and killed himself. David Hurn, the father of Carrie’s two minor children, sued, claiming that Greenway’s participation in the dance was negligent either because it breached her duty as homeowner to control her guests or because it created a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of violence.

    The court held for the defendant, “[b]ecause property owners generally have no duty to control the conduct of third parties in their homes, and because murder was not the foreseeable result of suggestive dancing.” Yet there really was a good deal of reason to think that some such attack was “foreseeable” — there often is, with abusive spouses (or adherents of abuse-promoting ideologies, such as extremist Islam):

    Greenway knew that Jeffrey had threatened Carrie with physical harm in the past; Carrie was afraid that Jeffrey would kill her; Jeffrey was a jealous man; on the night of the murder Jeffrey sometimes wore a “stone cold expression” that betrayed no emotion; and prior to Greenway’s dance, he had issued a veiled threat: “What would you girls do if someone came in that door right now, after you?”

    So I think the court was really motivated by something expressed in a different of the opinion — a part that discusses the value of defiance, and indeed applies even when one is defying violence that is quite foreseeable:

    Hurn asks us to reduce domestic violence in this state by imposing a duty to “refrain from teasing or bullying someone known to be potentially violent.” But we refuse to give victims the duty to prevent their own abuse and then hold them liable when they fail.

    The record suggests that Jeffrey was an abusive husband. And if Greenway is liable for taunting an abusive husband, it follows that victims themselves may be liable for provoking their partners if the result is harm to a third party.

    Some courts have already been asked to hold a recipient of domestic abuse liable under § 302B for the crimes of her partner. The Iowa Supreme Court held that a woman was not liable for the actions of her jealous and abusive boyfriend after he assaulted another man she brought home. [Footnote: See Fiala v. Rains, 519 N.W.2d 386 (Iowa 1994); cf. Wilkins v. Siplin, 13 Cal.Rptr.2d 634 (Cal.App.1992) (holding that a wife could be liable for inviting a co-worker to a remote cabin where he was attacked by her husband) (depublished by order of the California Supreme Court).]

    These requests are particularly troubling where, as here, the “provocation” is an act of resistance. [Footnote: The sparring, dancing, and teasing at issue were a direct response to Jeffrey’s not-so-veiled threat to Carrie and Greenway’s physical safety: “[W]hat would you girls do if somebody came in that door right now, after you?” In response, Carrie and Greenway laughed, gave each other a high five, said “[W]e’d kick his ass,” and started sparring to demonstrate how they would repel the intruder. While they were sparring and dancing and laughing at Jeffrey, Greenway was [implicitly] expressing to Carrie: “[T]his is my domain, you don’t have to be afraid here.”]

    We reject the idea that victims are responsible for the violence they endure in the home, and we will not blame them for their otherwise reasonable actions simply because those actions foreseeably result in violence.

    Naturally, there are many differences between the Texas attack and the incident in Alaska (for instance, between claims of moral responsibility and claims of legal responsibility). But I think there’s a structural similarity there nonetheless: a similarity that helps to express the value, moral, legal, and social, of defiant expression, whether in people’s personal lives or their political lives.

    For an approach that is in many ways the opposite of the Alaska Supreme Court’s, and one that I think is incorrect, see Touchette v. Ganal (Haw. 1996). For the thoughts of Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com, see here (I found the Callimachi tweet through the Reason piece). For more on just how tame many of the original Muhammad cartoons were — tame under any secular standard of fairness, as opposed to a standard that members of some religion might want to impose on others — and thus how much speech would really be lost if people avoid “provocative” speech of this sort, see here.

    UPDATE: I also disagree with the Council on American-Islamic Relations on many things, but at least part of this statement on the attacks strikes me as quite right:

    [V]iolence in response to anti-Islam programs like the one in Garland is more insulting to our faith than any cartoon, however defamatory.

    Indeed, it is the violent retaliation prompted by the cartoons (and by similar speech) that “defames” Islam in the sense of injuring its reputation — and not just insulting it — much more than the cartoons themselves do.

  12. The “speech as defiance” articulation is interesting, and makes some sense. The ACLU gets involved in such cases, I believe; and certainly Charlie Hebdo falls under this as well.

    But the difference I can’t get past is that Ms Geller is a one-issue pony. She’s not interested in free speech per se, else she’d seek it elsewhere – like the ACLU does. Nor is she interested in puncturing religious hypocrisy – otherwise she’d seek out flaws in other religions, like Charlie Hebdo does.

    Instead, she appears to have a monotonic viewpoint with a single, constant villain – Islam. Fair enough: and she’s fully entitled to First Amendment protection in this country as much as anyone else.

    But let’s not kid ourselves about what she represents. She herself isn’t a defender of free speech – she’s a hate-monger pure and simple. It’s not inconsistent to say she’s entitled to speak her mind and organize events, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hold our noses and call her bad names – both of which she fully deserves, IMHO.

    • I’ve got to do some research on this woman. “Hate” and “haters” have been so distorted (see, eg. “hate speech,” and “haters gotta hate,” and other Nike campaigns) that I’m very suspect of a person being a hateful person in any meaningful sense because they have a problem with a religion that prescribes (and gets its believers to carry out) death for apostates and blasphemers. And if being a monomaniac is a disqualifier, we’ll have to re-evaluate Elie Weisel, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Thomas Moore and at least a few others.

      • You beat me to that comment, OB.

        Still, Geller seems to hate Muslims and Islam, however, not just Islami jihaadists and terrorists. That puts her in the category of bigot, no?

        • Read her wiki page. She says she doesn’t hate Muslims, just the religion, which she thinks secular Muslims need to reform. She’s been slammed by the Southern Poverty Law Center but praised by others. I’d put her right there with Bill Maher. Is he listed as a hate group? I suspect not. I’m just not convinced she’s a bigot. In today’s environment, lefties reflexively label any and all criticism of Islam as Islamophobia. Which is wrong and a real problem. And hey, there’s no bigotry smoking gun, right? (Sorry, couldn’t resist tossing in that silly little squib. hahhahahaha).

          • To Islam, “secular Muslim” is a contradiction in terms as that religion holds that all of existence falls under the intimate direction of Allah, and so it admits of no separation into secular and religious. Not only does that mean that it is nonsense to think in terms of Muslims having an ideology – you really do have to look at it in terms of theology – but also any position always has some element of the religious as well as any civil function, e.g. a qadi isn’t just a mayor or J.P. but also has an element of vicar or priest (and, as a corollary, the reverse obtains as well; there can be no true Muslim clergy outside of heretical sects but only religious authorities who are also involved in “civil” matters like the Mufti of Jerusalem). So any attempt at reforming Islam to create a distinct secular and civil sphere counts as heretical, and that author’s wishes for that are vacuous – it would mean ending Islam, not reforming it, just as Christianity and Islam itself are not and cannot be variants of Judaism (their changes took them out of it). The nearest you can get to a secular Muslim is one who is “maidani”, citified, which by transference covers cosmopolitan and broad minded; but that only means letting go of the rigour of the faith, not denying it or changing it, and the underlying religious duties can always come back.

            • Well, then I guess it’s adios separation of church and state then. Great. We’ll just forget the Enlightenment then.

              • No, apart from that reference to “church” (which is also a misnomer for similar reasons, since it has narrowed in meaning since the King James Version of Exodus used it to refer to the whole body of the Jews; it then did mean the same as the “Umma” of Islam). You just have to remember that you can’t have your Islam and eat it. You could still get all the other things that you describe, as long as you give up Islam. Anything left after that might claim the name, but it wouldn’t be the same thing.

            • Same applies to Judaism and Christianity (First commandment, anyone?), but there are tons of secular Jews and Christian churches that back secular government.

          • Old canard: hate the sin, not the sinner. Geller is a horrible person who lies about Islam and Muslims to stir up hate.

            Here are some choice examples:
            * “That’s the jizya, that’s the poll tax we see all through Islamic history imposed upon Christians and Jews living under Islamic law,” she said of the settlement, accusing the Department of Justice of becoming the “de facto legal arm of many of these Muslim Brotherhood groups in the country.”

            What was she referring to? A court case where a local government refused to allow a mosque due to bigotry. Apparently, enforcing the first amendment is now Islamic law.

            * “Our troops must adhere to the Shariah during the Islamic month of Ramadan in Bahrain and other Muslim countries. Stars and Stripes reported last Thursday that “U.S. personnel accustomed to drinking their coffee on the drive to work will have to put that habit on hold for about a month. It’s one of a few lifestyle changes Americans will have to make during the holy month of Ramadan.”

            Stars and Stripes was reporting on the law in Bahrain. It’s weird, but Americans in foreign countries have to follow the local laws.

            * “[Obama] says ‘ISIL,’ and why ‘ISIL’ over ‘ISIS’? In my opinion, because it’s to distract, dissemble, deceive and disarm the American people,” Geller said. “The Islamic State of Levant, if anyone looks it up they see Levant and they are like, ‘What’s Levant?’ He knows this.”

            She’d get a pass for this, but she’d previously said:

            “As the Obama admin pretends jihad is a figment of the conspiratorial imagination of “fringe” counter jihadists and scrub our counter terror materials, his fantasy — the big lie — is exploding and isn’t containing itself to Syria and now Iraq. It’s not a news story that is going to disappear. ISIL has just begun.

            The media had amended the name of the Islamic army tearing through Syria and Iraq to ISIS (Islamic State of Syria and Iraq). But the correct name is ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant). What is the the Levant? The geographical area they mean to rule. The Levant includes Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus and parts of Turkey.”

            So, Obama does exactly what she did, use the proper name despite the media, and she calls it out as an attempt to dissemble, to back the muslims.

            These are pulled from the first page of a quick google search. Geller is an ani-muslim bigot and a proponent of Christian theocracy. She works with groups that pushed for the religious land usage act (to make it easier to build churches), but then started fighting against the law the second a muslim group tried to use it to build a mosque.

            Note that I don’t immediately think that criticism of muslims or Islam is automatically Islamaphobia. Unlike Geller, I’m equal opportunity in calling out religious overreach and equal opportunity in protecting the free speech and free exercise rights of religious people.

            Geller has the absolute right to stay stupid and bigoted things about Islam, but they’re still stupid and bigoted.

  13. “8. Does it make sense to offend them to show contempt for the minority who are?

    Well, does it actually accomplish anything positive? If it radicalizes a single peaceful Muslim, then it’s a net negative.”

    It would be wise to remember that radicalization runs both ways. In fact deliberate displays of contempt for a majority is probably more dangerous. Keep turning “majority rule with minority protections” on its head and things are going to end badly.

    I don’t feel any need to insult Muslims willing to live peacefully alongside me. But if the extremists elements keep attacking free speech (or kill Geller as they have threatened to do), then I believe I am ethically obligated to draw Mohammed and double down on “hate speech.”

  14. I’m not sure what to make of Islam, or what counts as “radical” Islam. I remember some years ago there was an Islamic conference in the U.S. During the conference Islamic clergy issued a fatwa stating that it was wrong to kill innocent people.

    On the one hand I was happy to hear that it is wrong to kill innocent people. On the other hand, I think most Americans have that one figured out by the first grade. I mean, can you imagine reading that announcement in your weekly church bulletin — “Just a reminder; it’s wrong to kill innocent people. And next week there will be a potluck dinner,” & etc.

    So I wonder who are these people who have to be reminded that it is wrong to kill innocent people, and what is this religion populated by people who need to be reminded of that?

    • Do you see the loophole? Osama bin Laden’s remarks nearly fourteen years ago both denied culpability for that specific incident and commended the incident on the grounds that those targeted were deserving of it, i.e. not innocent but complicit in both material and spiritual assaults on Islam. And it is only his premises we can disagree with, not the structure of reasoning he applied to those.

    • I mean, can you imagine reading that announcement in your weekly church bulletin — “Just a reminder; it’s wrong to kill innocent people. And next week there will be a potluck dinner,” & etc.

      You mean, like in Africa where Christians still kill women for being witches? Putting that in the bulletin would be a step up.

      The fatwa you mention was a repudiation of the clerics that back killing. Just like if a christian minister repudiated the killing of witches in Africa or abortion doctors in the U.S.

  15. So the key is the definition of “innocent.” But I suppose “innocence” can only be defined within Islam, by whoever happens to be interpreting the Koran at the moment. If so, then we could all be “guilty” because we live in a country that allows the drawing of Mohammed cartoons — even those of us who don’t draw the cartoons or oppose the drawing of such cartoons.

    • Otherizing nonbelievers is pretty common in religious dogma. For instance, the bible calls for the enslavery of people outside the chosen tribes. For a more current example, look at all the christian preachers who claim we’re going to bring death and destruction down on ourselves if we continue to legalize gay marriage. All that “remove God’s protection” bullshit. They’re saying the entire U.S. is going to be “guilty” in the eyes of the lord and punished for it.

      Your complaints about Islam are valid, but applying them solely to Islam is special pleading. Christianity has similar fucked up ideas. Other than bigotry, why apply the attacks to the brown skin a-rabs, but not the white Christians?

  16. “Other than bigotry, why apply the attacks to the brown skin a-rabs, but not the white Christians?”

    First, I never mentioned skin color, and Islamic violence extends far beyond Arabs.

    While one can find modern examples of violence in Christianity, the sheer volume of violence in Islam dwarfs anything going on in Christianity. For example, as near as I can tell, around 60 African witches are killed by Christians in a year. Let’s triple that number and round it up to 200. Two hundred killings by Muslims would be a very slow WEEK. And there is a huge difference between a centuries-old superstition that managed to attach itself to certain sects of African Christianity, and the Muslim idea of killing the infidel.

    People often talk about Christians killing each other during the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. But during the thirty years between 1970 and 2000 only around 3500 people were killed, an average of a little more than 100 per year. If Muslims were only killing 100 people per WEEK, I’d figure that most of the Islamic terrorists had retired.

    But the issue goes far beyond mere numbers of victims. Islamic terror organizations have a global reach. They are highly organized, with training camps, recruitment, public relations, international financing, intelligence, logistics, planning, and sometimes even with governmental support. I suggest to you that Christians have no comparable capabilities.

    “Your complaints about Islam are valid, but applying them solely to Islam is special pleading. Christianity has similar fucked up ideas.”

    I’m not talking about ideas. I’m talking about actual violence.

    • First, I never mentioned skin color, and Islamic violence extends far beyond Arabs.

      You didn’t have to. The otherization of Islam is pretty closely tied with racial bigotry. From attacks on Sikhs because they look Muslim (dark skin, turban – which, incidentally, muslims don’t wear) to legislator’s saying Muslims can’t go back to their own countries.


      Most of the rest of your comment is simply saying that Islam is, currently, a couple orders of magnitude worse in the killing than Christianity. I don’t see anyone disagreeing with that. Then there’s:

      But the issue goes far beyond mere numbers of victims. Islamic terror organizations have a global reach. They are highly organized, with training camps, recruitment, public relations, international financing, intelligence, logistics, planning, and sometimes even with governmental support. I suggest to you that Christians have no comparable capabilities.

      Are you really trying to claim that Christians aren’t highly organized, don’t have training camps, tons of recruitment, public relations, international financing, intelligence, logistics, planning, or governmental support? My god! I guess pretty much everything I know about the U.S. is false! All those Christian summer camps and retreats don’t exist; there aren’t billboards, tv ads, and preachers on television telling people to repent; there aren’t conferences where Christian leaders plan with other Christian leaders; people don’t tithe ridiculous amounts of money to their churchs; and, definitely, no legislator would ever attend a prayer breakfast or push legislation designed to give money to christians or exempt them from otherwise applicable law.

      I’m not talking about ideas. I’m talking about actual violence.

      Really? Didn’t you just say this:

      “I’m not sure what to make of Islam, or what counts as “radical” Islam. I remember some years ago there was an Islamic conference in the U.S. During the conference Islamic clergy issued a fatwa stating that it was wrong to kill innocent people.

      On the one hand I was happy to hear that it is wrong to kill innocent people. On the other hand, I think most Americans have that one figured out by the first grade. I mean, can you imagine reading that announcement in your weekly church bulletin — “Just a reminder; it’s wrong to kill innocent people. And next week there will be a potluck dinner,” & etc.

      So I wonder who are these people who have to be reminded that it is wrong to kill innocent people, and what is this religion populated by people who need to be reminded of that?”

      That’s damn sure talking about ideas. As are your comments about interpretation of the Koran.

      You’re moving the goalposts and engaging in special pleading. That more Muslims are currently acting out large scale violence than Christians doesn’t say anything about either religion. Go back a couple hundred years, and the barbarism was strongly tilted toward Christianity. That didn’t say anything about the relative merits of Christianity or Islam either.

  17. “Are you really trying to claim that Christians aren’t highly organized, don’t have training camps, tons of recruitment, public relations, international financing, intelligence, logistics, planning, or governmental support? My god! I guess pretty much everything I know about the U.S. is false.”

    But those things are not in the service of terrorist attacks. The Baptists are not recruiting people to bomb an Indonesian night club. The Lutherans are not plotting to assassinate Catholic archbishops. Evangelicals are not blowing up Methodist churches.

    “All those Christian summer camps and retreats don’t exist,” & etc.

    What exactly do you think they are teaching in these camps and retreats?

    I am confused by your comment. You seem to think that some church camp where people are singing hymns and reading the Bible and paddling canoes is equivalent to a Muslim camp where people learn the use of explosives, automatic weapons, and rocket launchers.

    “Typically recruits are given lessons on how to handle small arms such as AK-47s and PK machine guns as well as rocket-propelled grenades, tactics for attacking military convoys, and instructions for planting mines. . . . Students found to be quicker learners are given more specialized training in skills such as bomb-making or operational security.” — Foreign Policy online magazine.

    “That more Muslims are currently acting out large scale violence than Christians doesn’t say anything about either religion. Go back a couple hundred years, and the barbarism was strongly tilted toward Christianity.”

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t stay awake at night worrying about whether Henry VIII is going to throw me in the Tower of London and put me on the rack. However I am concerned about where and when the next Muslim terrorist attack will happen. Maybe Islam was all hearts and flowers a thousand years ago, but that doesn’t do us any good today. I’m concerned about what religions are up to today, right the frack now. Fortunately most Muslims aren’t involved in terrorism, but unfortunately a relatively small number are. And with today’s modern technology and weapons, even a small number can pose a significant threat.

    “Didn’t you just say this: . . . ”

    Let me help you out. In my first comment I was talking about ideas. In a subsequent comment I was talking about actions. As the discussion develops the context changes, and each comment needs to be understood in its own context. See how that works?

    • “Maybe Islam was all hearts and flowers a thousand years ago,…”

      Not so much A thousand years ago, the Andalusian Muslims were attacking Sardinia, trying to take it over, and NOT with hearts and flowers, trust me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.