Never Blame the Victims of Terrorist Acts
On the night of May 3, two gunmen inspired by the Islamic State group (ISIS) opened fire outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas.
The center was hosting an art exhibit featuring cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, which the Islamic religion considers blasphemy. The gunmen had been inspired by ISIS operatives on social media to slaughter the attendees.
They arrived at the center with assault rifles and bombs. Two hundred people were inside, including Pamela Geller, leader of the American Freedom Defense Initiative. However, shortly after opening fire, they were shot dead by a police officer. No one else at the event was killed.
Despite the low body count, the Texas jihad was a rip-roaring success. What made it successful was the reaction that followed in our national media. Rather than expressing a level of outrage commensurate with the fact that these men believed a cartoon justified mass murder, many national press outlets chose to make the story about the people hosting the event.
By their interpretation, the contest had unfairly provoked the jihadists to violence and they accused Geller of Islamophobia and bigotry for hosting it.
The editorial board of The New York Times began its critique by saying:
“There is…no question that however offensive the images, they do not justify murder, and that it is incumbent on leaders of all religious faiths to make this clear to their followers.”
This would have been a fine statement had The Times ended there. Unfortunately, it chose to begin the next sentence with a “but”:
“But it is equally clear that the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Tex., was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom.”
By setting up its editorial in this manner, The Times effectively shifted the onus of blame from the ones doing the shooting to the ones doing the cartooning. It can deny this was its intention until the cows come home — it doesn’t matter.
To illustrate my point, I’ll substitute another example:
“There is no question that rape is wrong and that this should be clear to all men. But it is equally clear that this particular rape victim was wearing a really short skirt. Her attire was an exercise in sexual temptation posing as a blow for freedom.”
In both cases, the assessment evinces a radical misallocation of moral responsibility.
Similarly, The Times and others chose to highlight what they believed was morally blameworthy about the contest. In making this point in direct connection to the violence, they imply, however subtly, that the violent reaction can be seen as at least partially justifiable.
By emphasizing the alleged “bigotry” of the contest, they put out the suggestion that the gunmen had reason to feel provoked and were therefore, in a sense, also victims.
The only way to make clear that the violence was unwarranted would be to put the focus where it belongs: on the ones doing the shooting. In shifting some of the blame for the attack onto those who were attacked, The New York Times and other media essentially did the work of the jihadists for them.
The objective of terrorism is not to merely kill. Killing accomplishes nothing in itself.
The objective of terrorism is to use violence to effect a political agenda.
The dynamic is very simple: I can attack somebody and then demand they adopt my point of view. If they refuse, I attack them again and blame them for refusing to agree with me. I keep attacking them until they submit and my point of view prevails. This is the essence of Islamic terrorism the world over.
Different religious customs should be respected in an open society. But if we are going to remain an open society we must resist terrorism. The only way to resist terrorism is to refuse to submit to the point of view that it is violently attempting to impose.
If the point of view it is attempting to impose is an absolute prohibition on drawing the Prophet Muhammad, then the only way to resist is to draw those images. This is not bigotry, it is peaceful resistance — Don’t Tread on Me. It is patriotism.
This country has been attacked by radical Islamic terrorists before and, sadly, we must expect to be attacked again. Whenever this happens, it is imperative that we never blame the victims or ourselves.
One hundred percent of the blame goes to those who use violence to effect a political agenda — every single time.
To acquiesce, even tacitly, to the demands of those who use violence is to send the message that violence is an acceptable solution to political problems. Once that message takes root, freedom is finished and democracy is dead.
Worse yet, we will find ourselves living in a country that increasingly resembles the type of society envisioned by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS.
Christopher Ziegler lives and writes in Ewing.
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