As a Survivor of the First ISIS Attack on American Soil, I Have a Few Thoughts About Salman Rushdie


The stabbing of Salman Rushdie has been the occasion for numerous people around the world to reaffirm their commitment to the freedom of speech, and that’s all to the good. I couldn’t help but notice once again, however, the stark contrast between the response to the attack on Rushdie and the response when Islamic jihadis affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked our event in defense of the freedom of speech in Texas back in 2015. The contrast is indicative of some widespread cultural attitudes.

On May 3, 2015, Pamela Geller and I co-organized a “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” in the Dallas suburb of Garland, Texas. We wanted to demonstrate, after the cartoonists of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France were murdered for drawing Muhammad, that we would not bow to violent intimidation and would defend the freedom of speech at the point at which it was being attacked. Our intention was just that and only that, to stand for the freedom of speech, and the event was a quiet affair. Dutch politician and free speech advocate Geert Wilders spoke, as did the winner of our content, artist Bosch Fawstin, as well as Pamela Geller and myself.

The whole thing had gone off without a hitch, but just moments after it ended, one of the members of the considerable security detail that we had hired burst into the hall. He told us that there had been a shooting outside, and that he had to get the 300-strong crowd, and us, to a safe place. It turned out that two Muslims from Phoenix had driven eight hours to Garland and drawn guns in the parking lot of our event, shooting and injuring one of our guards, whereupon they were shot dead. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

On Monday, The New York Times approvingly quoted an open letter that Salman Rushdie once signed, “warning that the ‘free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.’” In the same piece, the Times also approvingly quoted an Iranian-American writer, Roya Hakakian, saying “that the heart of the Rushdie case is ‘being able to say that we, as writers, as novelists, as thinkers, can absolutely take on any issue we want in our works — and that includes Islam.’”

But three days after ISIS jihadis tried to kill us, on May 6, 2015, the Times wasn’t nearly as interested in standing for the principle that anything, even Islam, can be criticized. The Editorial Board claimed 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.”

The remainder of the Charlie Hebdo staff, despite losing twelve people to a jihad massacre for drawing Muhammad, was likewise unimpressed with our expression of solidarity. “We have nothing to do with Pamela Geller’s work,” sniffed Charlie Hebdo’s new editor, Gérard Biard. “When Islam or the Prophet Muhammad jump out of the news, we comment on it, we mock it, maybe. But we are not obsessed about it.” Charlie Hebdo’s old editor, Stéphane Charbonnier (“Charb”), who was killed in the attack, was made of sterner stuff, and was famous for having said, “I’d rather die standing up than live on my knees.”

So what is the difference? Why are so many members of the Leftist intelligentsia proclaiming their staunch support for the freedom of speech today, after Rushdie has been stabbed, yet back in 2015, they rained down condemnations upon us for “provoking” the poor jihadis? Did The Satanic Verses not “provoke” the Ayatollah Khomeini?

The lesson here once again, as in so many other contexts, is that for the political and media elites, Leftists are allowed to do and say what dissenters from the Leftist agenda are not. Salman Rushdie is a reliable Leftist, so what he says and does is acceptable in a way that what we did was not. If he had hosted the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest, it would have been hailed as a strong blow for freedom.

Related: Attack on Rushdie Sends Novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ Up the Charts

Also, Rushdie has been careful to draw within the lines of Leftist orthodoxy by never locating the problem that has plagued him for 33 years within Islam itself. Cathy Young, writing Monday in the Never-Trump Bulwark, observed that “as the Rushdie stabbing amply demonstrates, violent Islamist militancy hasn’t gone away.” But she was wary of noting this because so many terrible people had done so: “It’s an uncomfortable subject for many people because it can easily lend itself to blanket attacks on Islam and general Muslim-bashing of the kind propagated by far-right figures like Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, or David Horowitz, embraced by many mainstream conservatives during the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ controversy in 2010, relentlessly flogged by Breitbart News, and championed by Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election (and beyond). It should be noted, by the way, that it’s a stance Rushdie has never embraced, despite having a far more valid grievance against Islamist extremism than any of the Muslim-bashers.”

The Bulwark wants to draw a distinction between Islam itself, which it would have us believe is entirely benign, and “Islamist extremism,” which is bad, very bad. But can anyone at The Bulwark explain what the difference between the two is, and identify exactly where that difference is found? Can The Bulwark elucidate for us precisely where I go wrong in ascribing to Islam proper what belongs not to it, but to “Islamist extremism”? Can The Bulwark show us how the Qur’an and Sunnah teach peace, and how the “extremists” have “hijacked” their teachings in order to hoodwink young Muslims into thinking that committing violence against unbelievers is a sacred act?

Of course, The Bulwark can do none of this. No one there knows the first foggiest thing about Islam or what its core texts teach. They just know that to find some issue with Islam itself is something that has been declared unacceptable in the circles they run in, and where would they be if they stop getting invited to the good parties?

The Bulwark is by no means alone in this. Virtually all of those who accuse others of “Islamophobia” and affirm that Islam is peaceful (as opposed to Muslims being peaceful, a phenomenon of which there are millions of examples) but has been hijacked by a tiny minority of extremists, are not speaking from their own knowledge or conviction. They’re just reflecting the groupthink that will allow them entrée into polite circles. The canniest thing that the purveyors of the Big Lie about Islam being peaceful did was ostracize and demonize those who told the truth; that made all the sheep fall into line. With the Rushdie attack, they’re baa-ing away yet again. The lesson of the Rushdie aftermath and the aftermath of the attack on us in Garland is clear: defending the freedom of speech is great, even heroic — as long as you’re a Leftist.

Las Vegas News Magazine

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