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?
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?