The Young Turks’ Contempt for Free Speech

06 May
Scene of the shooting in Garland, Texas.

Scene of the shooting in Garland, Texas.

Two gunmen opened fire at a free speech event held in Texas on Sunday. A security guard was wounded in the attack but thankfully the only fatalities were the gunmen themselves. The identities of the perpetrators and their motivations for committing this attack become pathetically easy to ascertain once the title of the event is revealed: Draw Mohammed Day.

The event was sponsored by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, both of whom already know what it’s like to be persecuted for uttering unwelcome opinions. They are both currently under banning orders issued by the British Home Secretary which prevent them from entering the UK due to their prior statements about one religious ideology in particular.

In response to the news of this most recent violent attack on our fundamental liberties; Cenk Uygur and his band of floppy Islamic apologists over at The Young Turks are once again engaging in their particular variety of victim blaming and smear tactics.

In the wake of Geller’s near-death experience at the hands of would-be assassins hell bent on destroying the very concept of freedom, The Young Turks have apparently decided that the most appropriate response from their organisation would be to assist these murderous Islamic fanatics in delivering a one-two punch to Geller by issuing a follow-up attack in the form of the following cretinous video:

During their ham-fisted denouncement of Geller as an “Islamophobe” and “crazy person” one of the hosts inadvertently hits on exactly the reason that exhibitions of the kind organised by the AFDI are absolutely essential – and then dismisses it out of hand. It is precisely because Islamofascists are making a sustained attempt to impose their theocratic laws upon citizens of western countries, that a stand must be taken to show that we will not submit to the violent demands of Islamists, and that free expression in a secular, pluralistic democracy should always take precedence over the feelings of people who think they have a right to murder anyone who offends them.

In a display of startling ignorance, the co-host John Iadarola claims that the relentlessly violent reaction to blasphemous cartoons of the Muslim Prophet would fall by the wayside if “we” were to increase economic and social stability in “these countries” as well as to provide better access to education. By “these countries”, he presumably means Muslims majority countries, and “we” in this case, almost certainly means America.

Putting aside the fact that the attackers in all of these cases, including Sunday’s attack in Texas, are citizens of the West rather than of Muslim majority countries, Mr Iadarola seems entirely unfamiliar with the fact that Muslims in the Middle East, and indeed members of the Muslim diaspora worldwide, are not particular fond of western attempts to intervene in the internal affairs of Islamic nations, whether to “increase social stability” or otherwise. Furthermore, he at once dismisses the overwhelmingly religious motivation for punishment of blasphemy and instead explains this murderous behaviour as resulting from a lack of economic stability and education. He is either unacquainted with the numerous studies which have shown that the majority of jihadists are middle or upper class and that many have doctorates, or simply doesn’t care to acknowledge them. If he were to familiarise himself with these reports he would know that Jihadists are the sons of Yemeni cabinet ministers. They are the sons of the sons of Egyptian lawyers. They are the sons of Saudi construction tycoons. They are surgeons. They are financial analysts. They are GP’s. They are often well educated and financially stable people who cite explicitly religious motivation for their acts of violence.

Big Cenk then chimes in to chastise Geller for only offending Muslims and not also engaging in acts liable to upset Christians – for example, urinating on a crucifix. Modesty aside, he puts this down to the motivation that offending Muslims is seen by many to be “awesome and a lot of fun”. Contrary to this infantile assertion; I’m sure there are many that could attest to the substantial lack of fun to be found in having your life put in jeopardy by offended Muslims, and I’m positive that when Kurt Westergaard, Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali – to name but a few – describe their experiences with the perpetually outraged of the Islamic world, “awesome” is a word that doesn’t feature much or at all. I’d be willing to bet that Theo Van Gogh and the staff at Charlie Hebdo would similarly testify to a distinct lack of awesomeness in their encounters with upset Muslims, if only they were not too dead to do so.

The Christians of today do not reliably and repeatedly carry out acts of murder in response to expressions of speech they deem offensive. Muslims do. That’s it. That’s the simple and straightforward reason why only Islam tends to be the focus when displays of our most fundamental freedoms in the face of religious fascism are required.

Bizarrely, Cenk goes on to make the fatuous argument that defence of free expression in the teeth of theocratic, homicidal censors is completely unnecessary being that the U.S is currently carrying out an aerial bombardment of Islamic State strongholds:

If you wanna attack radical Muslims as opposed to ALL Muslims, I’ve got good news for you; the U.S government is busy doing that as we speak. They’re bombing the living crap out of ISIS” he opines in a demonstration of Olympic- standard point-missing. What this has to do with the topics of free expression or blasphemy law is unclear, but what is clear is that Cenk believes challenging Islamic radicalism wherever it exists in the world is pointless due to a current military campaign against a single group of fundamentalists in Iraq and Syria.

Displays of solidarity with people hounded into hiding over novels or murdered over cartoons and films are far from unnecessary, they are vital and should be applauded by any and everybody who considers the concept of free expression important. The Young Turks, however, clearly don’t agree. And not content with issuing vacuous and irrelevant statements, Cenk decides to throw in some factual inaccuracies to boot:

If you were anti-jihad, guess what, all Americans would be on your side. Nobody’s pro-jihad in America” he says, neglecting to mention the 19% of American Muslims who theoretically support suicide bombing in defence of Islam. Of a total population of 2.6 million American Muslims, that’s approximately four hundred and ninety-four thousand people that Cenk claims do not exist.

He then takes Geller to task over her agreement with an extract of a speech given by Dutch politician Geert Wilders:

“Our Judeo-Christian culture is far superior to the Islamic one. I can give you a million reasons. But here is an important one. We’ve got humour and they don’t. Islam does not allow free speech because free speech shows how evil and wrong Islam is. And Islam does not allow humour because humour shows how foolish and ridiculous it is.”

It’s a statement that could be explored and debated at length but Cenk essentially boils the entire thing down to “Islam is evil” and then insists that in order to truly understand the bigotry inherent in agreeing with such a statement we should substitute Islam with another religion. He then gives two examples but in both cases deliberately and mendaciously adds an additional phrase each time altering the sentiment. I have highlighted these additions in bold:

  • “Christianity is ALL evil”

Even if the first statement were an accurate reflection of Wilder’s quoted remark –which it is not – or of either his or Geller’s views of Islam, it still would not constitute bigotry. It is a statement of opinion about an ideology. Critics of Islam – Geller and Wilders included – go out of their way to illustrate the distinction between criticism of ideology and hatred of people, precisely because apologists like Cenk Uygur and his gaggle of idiots miss the distinction at every opportunity in order to throw around accusations bigotry and Islamophobia.

Similarly, in describing Islam as “the mother lode of bad ideas”, Sam Harris has made the point that it is still not necessarily a condemnation of Islam in its entirety. For example, in comparison to Christianity, Islam has quite different ideas about the stage at which the ‘soul’ enters the Zygote. This has negative consequences upon the behaviour of fundamentalist Christians towards embryonic stem-cell research in a way that it does not with Muslims. This would represent an element of religion that could be criticized in Christianity but not in Islam. Harris has painstakingly explained this argument to Cenk himself in a 3 hour discussion on his criticisms of Islam  – an act of superhuman patience and endurance that appears to have been a monumental exercise in futility.

It is therefore unreasonable to regard a statement like ‘Islam is evil’ as a blanket condemnation of all of Islam’s teachings the way Uygur does, and it’s certainly unreasonable to regard it as a statement of bigotry. In fact the only instance of actual bigotry is in Cenk’s second analogous interpretation of Wilder’s comments and it was added by Cenk himself. Neither Wilders nor Geller said any such thing.

An immediate resort to diversions and castigating the victims of Sunday’s attack echoes the similarly disgusting victim-blaming that occurred in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre; that these people with their pesky insistence on exercising their fundamental liberties in the face of theocratic bullies and murderers are somehow to blame for the subsequent violence perpetrated against them. The Young Turks, in responding to acts of terrorism in this way should be thoroughly fucking ashamed of themselves.

The Curtis Culwell Centre in Garland, Texas was purposefully chosen by Geller and her collaborators as the location of Sundays Draw Mohammed event and for good reason; it was the same location used in January this year for a Muslim conference against negative depictions of Mohammed mere weeks after a dozen people were murdered in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. One of the speakers at this ‘Stand With the Prophet’ event was Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing and supporter of armed jihad.

Events like Draw Mohammed Day are not provocations, they are reactions to provocation. They are retaliations against those who seek to replace democracy with theocracy. They are retaliations against those who seek to limit speech and free expression for no other reason than it offends their religious sensibilities. They are retaliations against those who seek to deny the right of others to benefit from the same basic liberties they themselves take for granted as members of a country that has free speech mandated in its constitution. They are retaliations against those who claim the right to commit murder for transgressions against religious law. And in the face of these fascistic and murderous provocations, the reaction of Pamela Geller and Charlie Hebdo is at once the mildest and most powerful form of rebellious retort – a cartoon.

The most appropriate retaliation against violence-backed efforts to curtail freedom of speech is not appeasement. It is not to back down. It is not to abandon our most basic, fundamental rights and surrender them to religious lunatics and fascists. It is more freedom and more speech.

The winning drawing from the Garland Draw Mohammed Event by ex-Muslim Bosch Fawstin.

The winning drawing from the Garland Draw Mohammed Event by ex-Muslim Bosch Fawstin.


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