Last week, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly announced that Pamela Geller, the woman who sponsored a draw Muhammad event in Texas, threatened America's national security. Geller, said O'Reilly, "spurred a violent attack." He continued, "Insulting the entire Muslim world is stupid. ... It does not advance the cause of liberty or get us any closer to defeating the savage jihad." On the same network, Juan Williams stated that Geller "engaged in gratuitous offensive behavior that led to the deaths of two people." The New York Times editorialized that Geller "achieved her provocative goal" with her "exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom."
Geller, the narrative goes, should never have encouraged people to draw Muhammad because it was "provocative." To which the answer should be: So what? Women attending school in Afghanistan "provokes" radical Muslims into throwing acid on their faces, but that does not mean that women should not go to school in Afghanistan or be condemned for doing so.
Geller, the narrative goes, made Americans less safe by provoking radical Muslims, as though Muslims have no responsibility to act like decent human beings — as though, faced with the prospect of a cartoon of their prophet, Muslims have no choice but to grab guns and go a-huntin'. But that's nonsense. What truly spurs radical Muslims into violence is the well-evidenced belief that if they kill enough Muhammad cartoonists, soon people will stop drawing cartoons of Muhammad.
Geller, the narrative goes, was "Islamophobic" in her call for drawings of Muhammad; unlike Charlie Hebdo, Geller was not an equal opportunity offender of all religions, and therefore showed particular animus toward Islam. But failure to equally attack all religions does not make satire of one religion illegitimate — were that the case, The New York Times would have to answer why drawing Muhammad presents deep problems, but running simultaneous ads for the slanderous "Book of Mormon" musical is hunky-dory.
So, why the assault on Geller? The answer is simple: Too many Westerns have bought into the notion that personal responsibility can be jettisoned in favor of judgments about identity.
Geller is the problem, in this view, because she is an upper-class Jewish woman from New York City; her rivals are poor Muslims from Phoenix. They are, by the nature of their identities, members of the victim class. She is, by contrast, a member of the victimizing class. Nothing either party can do can change their status in this equation. Therefore, according to Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, even the Muslims who shot up Charlie Hebdo in France were justified: "Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny — it's just mean. ... By attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech."
How do proponents of this victim/victimizer identity dichotomy determine who falls into which category? They simply look at the socioeconomic status of those involved and make a determination of who is worse off. Thus, black Baltimore rioters were not people acting without any sense of values, but rather victims provoked by injustice from a non-existent white power structure in Baltimore. Before a conflict has even begun, we know who deserves our sympathy.
That calculus leads to more death, more destruction, more chaos. That death, destruction and chaos cannot be laid at the feet of Pamela Geller, but those who continue to perpetuate a narrative in which people who commit evil acts are victims, and those who are their victims are their provocateurs.