I suppose it’s possible we can get through this one without bloodshed. As we approach the starting time of 6:15 PM today, however (9:15 EDT; Arizona time is the same as Pacific Daylight Time right now), the event is kind of turning into a perfect storm of gratuitous targeting and exaggerated victimhood.
On the gratuitous targeting side, we have the rally’s coordinator, Jon Ritzheimer, a former Marine, who plans to hold the rally outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. The ICCP houses the same mosque attended by the attackers at Pamela Geller’s free speech rally in Texas. There will be a “Draw Muhammad” contest in conjunction with the Phoenix rally, and the winners will be announced at the rally, which is scheduled to coincide with Friday prayers at the mosque. (The rally’s Facebook page is here. You’ll want the link later.) And yes, the police will be there.
On the exaggerated victimhood side, we have the American Islamic Forum for Democracy — which, I hasten to note, is a moderate and free-speech-friendly organization, advocating for Muslim integration with American political values and ideals. AIFD’s notice on the event is measured and in no way incendiary, calling on Muslims “and allies” to focus on shared values and meaningful change, which should include the rejection by all parties of Islamism and terror.
But AIFD misses the mark in adding a couple of dark warnings to its opening paragraph about the rally (warning language in boldface):
We at AIFD have been made aware of the protest planned for tomorrow, May 29, outside of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona. According to multiple reports and the group’s own Facebook page, bikers will meet nearby for a “Muhammad cartoon contest,” and take their drawings to the mosque. Protesters intend to be armed.
Oh noes; not armed bikers. Highlighting those aspects of the rally isn’t the way to impress average Americans with your peril or mistreatment. It’s Arizona; of course protesters will be lawfully carrying arms, as many of them do, safely and responsibly, 24/7. The bikers who are present will be the kind of bikers who participated in the Rolling Thunder rally in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day weekend. No homicidal gangland bikers will be involved. The bikes will be noisy, but the bikers won’t leave trash and vandalized property behind the way radical-left demonstrators do.
That said, the noisy bikes do intensify the gratuitous nature of targeting a mosque, especially at prayer time on Friday. There’s no call for that. And while we have a right to rally for free speech outside a mosque, it’s rude and unkind to do so, in the same way it would be rude for people to rally outside a church or synagogue, with a message intended to provoke the believers whose faith those structures represent.
For me, however, the issue here goes beyond what we have a right to do, and what is rude or polite. The issue is what our Judeo-Christian, American, Western civilization is about. What does it actually motivate us to want to do — independent of the objections we feel obliged to lodge against encroaching imperatives from other belief systems? I say without hesitation that my civilization does not motivate me to disrupt someone else’s religious worship, for the sake of a point about free speech that could be made just as effectively without doing that. (The Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas, after all, made no attempt to hunt down Muslims and rally in their faces.)
It’s not even an effective posture, to be driven to retaliate “symmetrically” against the encroachments of cultural jihad. Indeed, if we let ourselves be driven that way, we won’t be ourselves any longer. Hold the rally somewhere else.
AIFD calls attention to some of the posts and comments at the Facebook page for the Phoenix rally, which unquestionably get into anti-Muslim ugliness and obscenity. AIFD doesn’t highlight the fact that many opponents of this rally, posting at the page, are equally obscene and vituperative. But if you check it out, you’ll see that they are. It’s a social media cacophony, banal and unsurprising.
And it’s cheap and easy to conclude that everyone is just too stupid and childish to be trusted to behave himself, with the implication that people need restrictions and nanny minders. But that inverts the proposition of true leadership, and true leadership is what is missing here.
It’s easy enough to say that (a) of course free speech means people can draw Muhammad if they want, without being subject to an assassin’s veto, and (b) of course it’s gratuitous targeting to draw Muhammad and then go stand outside a mosque and wave your drawing around. It’s easy to say that the solution isn’t to shut down free speech, nor is it to be rude to Muslims; it’s to make the community space safe for clashing beliefs. This is called “tolerance.” People say and do things you don’t like. Cowboy up, dudes. This is, precisely, the Western, Judeo-Christian way, hard-won over the centuries from blood and sorrow.
But there are no leaders out there who are leading us in affirming that. Western leaders are now heavily biased toward lionizing Islam and Muslims as victims, and rebuking — even punishing — non-Muslims on principle.
Until there are leaders who actually reflect Western values, individuals like Jon Ritzheimer are going to keep taking matters into their own hands, representing “free speech” in ways we see as far from ideal. Memo to leaders: if you don’t want Jon Ritzheimer leading the charge on free speech, then show us how it’s done — instead of rolling over for every cheap, cynical charge of “Islamophobia” or “racism.”
* UPDATE *: Breitbart has two reports on threats to Jon Ritzheimer’s family, which came in after his home address was posted on social media late Thursday. About an hour ago, AWR Hawkins reported that Ritzheimer said his family had been moved out of state.
Readers will probably have seen the reports that Islamic State is threatening to kill the free speech demonstrators.
Tweets from the first hour of the rally show an orderly event.
— RedNationRising (@RedNationRising) May 30, 2015
Blaze has the Fox 10 Phoenix live feed here.
An updated image from the live feed — about 40 minutes ago as this update goes to post — shows a long line of cops separating the rally from the mosque perimeter. (The time hack on the camera feed is obviously not correct.)
This is not how I would choose to demonstrate for free speech, but it bears noting, as always, that if the demonstrators were outside a church protesting Christianity, there would have been no death threats made against them by Christian groups. It’s also necessary to point out that although the mosque leadership has engaged in no threat-making, and is cooperating with the police, we have no way of knowing if any of the mosque’s members have been involved in the threats. We’d like to think they haven’t, but it was two of this mosque’s members who attacked the Draw Muhammad event in Texas. The mosque’s other members said they had no prior indication that the two men might do such a thing.