Fight Like Hell for the Right to Draw Muhammad…Then Choose Not to

By Tommy De Seno | via Ricochet

“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”

– Jodi Picoult

Let’s get something straight up front. For every terrorist attack, the blame belongs with the attackers. I don’t blame Reagan for the Beirut bombing in 1983, I blame the terrorists. I don’t blame Clinton for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, I blame the terrorists. I don’t blame Bush for 9/11 or Obama for the Boston Marathon bombing. I blame the terrorists.

I cringe at anyone who places blame on a lack of defensive security. I don’t mind a post-attack review of security to ensure a safer America, but not to assign blame to the victim. We shouldn’t need any security at all, but because Islamofascists and other enemies exist, we do.

Similarly, I don’t blame Pamela Geller for the terrorist attack at her “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas on Sunday. I blame the two dead terrorists.

I’ve long been a Pam Geller fan, often steering people to her Atlas Shrugs blog to give them awareness of not only how brutal Islamofascism is to its own people, to women, to gays, to Christians, and Jews, but also to learn how considerably large the number is of Islamists who practice “honor killings,” female genital mutilation, and other horrors. She chronicles the monstrosities the rest of the media ignores.

Like Pam, I too believe the number one threat and problem-maker in the world is radical jihad. I supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As long as Islamofascists are fighting against us (ISIS, al-Qaeda, etc.) we ought to be fighting against them.

I also understand, as Pam Geller does, that there may be millions of Muslims who don’t want to kill us. The media offers that like I’m supposed to be grateful. I’m not. They owe us that. However, the number of Muslims who do want to kill us isn’t small (a constant media misrepresentation is that it is small). We aren’t talking about a lone wolf, a rogue actor, a cell, a small group, or a fledgling movement. Jihadists who want us dead run entire nations with armies, navies, tanks, guns, planes, and bombs.

Sure there are some patriotic American Muslims. Let me introduce you to Cpl. Kareem Kahn.



This is a picture of his mother hugging his gravestone. He lived two towns south of me. After 9/11 he joined the military and said he did so specifically to make the point that Muslims should fight against Islamic terrorism. Point taken, Corporal, and our enduring thanks are with you.

I don’t use him as an exemplar to say, “See, this is how all moderate Muslims really act.” By and large they don’t. I use him as an example of how moderate Muslims should act, but I don’t see them doing that. Cpl. Kahn is the standard they just aren’t meeting.

Some people, like our President Barack H. Obama (pbuh), like to say that these jihadist terrorists aren’t really Islamic, they are bastardizing Islam. Well, they aren’t bastardizing Christianity and they aren’t bastardizing Judaism. That should make them an embarrassment to all other Muslims. This cancer is under their religious skins, not mine. It’s up to them to speak against Islamofascism, work against it, fight it and kill it. We’ll be glad to help since we are the target, but I just don’t see enough Cpl. Kahns coming out of the oft-heralded peaceful Muslim community, in this or other countries.

After two terrorists tried to kill Pam Geller on Sunday, I should have seen Muslims falling over themselves to stand with her in solidarity. Instead I read nothing but criticism of her, even from non-Muslims. Good grief. What the hell is America coming to?

I hope I disabused anyone of the notion that I’m not hawkish against America’s enemies, as I now wish to discuss why I don’t like the idea of a “Draw Muhammad” contest. Pam Geller isn’t the first to do this. Recall Molly Norris and her “Everyone Draw Muhammad Day,” which I objected to on Ricochet as well.

Islamofascists don’t hate me because they are Muslim. They hate me because I’m not Muslim. They are beyond intolerant of my religion, and I don’t want to exist on their plane by being intolerant of anyone else’s religion (to which I have Cpl. Kahn in mind, not them). I must remain better than them in all things, religious toleration and manner of speech included.

While I despised the artist Serrano’s work “Piss Christ” and Chris Ofili’s work “Holy Virgin Mary” (showing the blessed mother surrounded in elephant dung and pornographic images), I knew my recourse against them is the marketplace of ideas, not bullets or beheadings. Yet I certainly don’t wish to join Serrano and Ofili in disrespecting the sacred images of others. Why would I want to be Cpl. Kahn’s Serrano? To prove the First Amendment exists to someone else? I’m armed with too many good words and ideas to stoop to being another’s blasphemer.

Islamofascists have no respect for my religion or my right to have it. They wish to demoralize my religion and strip me of it, and then make me wear Islam like a straitjacket. I don’t want to be like them.

I also don’t want to be like Barack Obama, who is on an offensive against Christianity the likes of which none of us has seen from an American President. Every time the subject of Islamofascist terror comes up, he brings up the 1,200-year-old Crusades in a whirling dervish of relativistic spin. What he fails to admit is that the enemy back then was voracious Islamic jihadists pushing their way West, turning churches into mosques and establishing by force their religious caliphate governments over unwilling Christians, as they did in the area of modern Spain, for example. I guess some things never change. We are still fighting the same enemy with their same goals. Unlike Obama, I can separate the good from the bad here. Islamofascists are the bad.

My problem with drawing Muhammad is that it is a very low form of speech. It is an attempt at insulting irreverence toward a religion or even at blasphemy (I understand that word can be subjective). In short, it has us acting like them. We are scorning their religion for no other purpose than proving we have the free will and legal right to do that. We do… but when else does our side, conservatives in particular, take an anti-religious stance? Even our conservative atheists don’t do that.

Pam Geller has no real interest in the finer aesthetics of historical and contemporary artwork involving Muhammad. Her art show was a pretext to be “provocative,” as in to seek a response. It’s unassailably true that she calculated a very high risk that the response would be violent, evidenced by her spending $50,000 on armed security, a swat team and bomb squad. Of course she was right, as she knows the enemy better than our own President.

Whether she meant to or not, she accomplished something very valuable – she proved that either ISIS or ISIS wannabes (same murderous thing) are here in America. There had been no real confirmation of that, but she laid the bait and caught the animals. Now no one in the Obama administration can still claim ISIS isn’t our main worry instead of the Crusades. I hope.

It’s not lost on me why she did it. If all things were equal I don’t think Pam intends blasphemy, sacrilege or irreverence toward anyone. She knows when a Jehovah’s Witness is turned away from her door, or she refuses an Evangelical’s request for cash on television, or ignores a Hare Krishna at the airport, none of those folks will try to kill her. Islamofascists are doing just that to others around the globe and they tried to kill her Sunday.

Pam has an American urge to fight back. I get that. She did. She made her point. If no Muslim tried to kill anyone, my money says Pam never draws Muhammad. That’s why she isn’t bothering to provoke Jehovah’s Witnesses. She’s calling out the aggressors.

What I suggest she do now is take her well-made point and not do this again, as a way of returning to her perch far above them on the decent human scale. Let’s put aside that baiting the hook with our friends is fraught with peril. Instead lets prove our American exceptionalism; our sublime use of language and civilized communication.

We can’t prove any points by having more draw Muhammad contests. Where would that end? Shall we draw one on Cpl. Kahn’s tombstone? Or on our own? Shall our legacy be, “Here lies the winner of the blasphemy contest?” Do we want that for ourselves? If we are going to set insult, blasphemy and sacrilege as our low bar, then are we not a mere deviation away from a Kristallnacht against Muslim owned businesses, mosques and homes? How low are we willing to let ISIS drag us?

A laudable goal would be to get others to accept the virtues of free speech, but I’m certain that a poor commercial for it is teaching them first that insults are as protected as compliments. They certainly are, but that’s a terrible attempt at persuasive advocacy.

It’s not lost on me how difficult convincing these people of anything will be. There is always going to be a huge challenge to assimilating Islamic people who have lived with dictators and Sharia law into American culture. I’m not sure it’s possible.

There is a distinct cultural difference that comes from a nation with Christian lineage than an Islamic one. Americans are rapt in the free will endowed upon us by our Creator, and love our country not only for its religions founders who escaped Europe and the Star Chamber, but also for weaving the thread of free will and free religion throughout our founding documents. As a matter of history (religion too, of course) that lineage comes from the resurrection of Jesus, whose life informed the enlightenment period philosophers, whose work informed America’s founding fathers.

People from countries with medieval Islamic lineage have no enlightened period from which to draw an understanding of the value of the individual and his free will. America is just not a good fit for them. Perhaps it can’t be. The cultural divide may be too wide.

Look at the mistake Lebanon made with a faulty attempt at assimilating Muslims. Lebanon was once a majority Christian nation that was thriving and Beirut was the jewel of the Middle East. After the creation of Israel, they opened their borders to Palestinians who they hoped would assimilate into Lebanese culture. They didn’t. As their immigrant numbers grew, with it grew the military and political strength to basically conquer Lebanon from within, and they turned it into another Middle Eastern hellhole. We’d be smart to take a lesson from that and start gearing immigration policy toward the likelihood of assimilation based upon shared values.

Perhaps we will always be in a state of war with Islamofascists and nothing will convince them to give up murder of outsiders and oppression of their own insiders. Until we settle on that realization, we must continue to lead the race for better ideas.

Degrading religious symbols won’t due as one of our identifiers. It’s un-American and uncivilized at its core. It’s legal, mind you, and yes I’d die for anyone’s right to disparage religion. However, my dying words are equally permitted to be, “Hey Pam Geller, how about you raise our discourse to a superior place?”

I know that one point of the First Amendment is to protect the expression of the worst of ideas. That doesn’t mean we have put those ideas in practice to prove it.

Look at Charlie Hebdo. Had 12 of them not been killed and they laid before us their usual work of drawing nuns getting raped by priests using crucifixes, none of us would consider them artists, rather useless, juvenile insult-makers.

No wonder 200 writers are boycotting Charlie Hebdo’s receipt of a PEN American award for “Courage in Free Speech.” PEN American confuses vulgarity with award-worthy speech. Were any of their drawings really courageous?

I suppose if I were to walk through the poorest section of Baltimore yelling the N-word, I can get shot and killed too. Would that in any way make me courageous? Must I do so to prove I may? Would my death elevate my speech to award-worthy? I see no difference between that and Charlie Hebdo, but I do note that their editor strained all credibility yesterday by saying Charlie Hebdo drawing Muhammad was different than Pam Geller drawing Muhammad. I understand he said so with a straight face. The only difference I see is that Pam thankfully didn’t die.

Like Pope Francis said after the Charlie Hebdo attack, “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith. If a dear friend were to utter a swear word against my mother, he’s going to get a punch in the nose. That’s normal.”

That quote bothered people. Americans in particular hold our free speech rights dear, so the thought that anyone might punch us for words is troubling. Of course punching is still frowned upon; however, America has always had a “fighting words” exception to free speech. “Fighting words” aren’t protected by the Constitution.

In CHAPLINSKY v. STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, 315 U.S. 568 (1942), the Supreme Court upheld the arrest of a man under the “fighting words” exception to the First Amendment, when he called a police officer a racketeer and a fascist. The Court held:

It is well understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances. There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which has never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting” words — those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality. “Resort to epithets or personal abuse is not in any proper sense communication of information or opinion safeguarded by the Constitution, and its punishment as a criminal act would raise no question under that instrument.”

Strange concept in exception to the First Amendment – criminalizing face-to-face words of confrontation.

I do note that in all cases that have gone before Supreme Court under the fighting words doctrine since then, the prosecution has failed, so the obvious trend is toward expanding free speech. Chaplinsky has not been over turned so it is still good law, but it is barely law. See, TERMINIELLO V. CITY OF CHICAGO , 337 U.S. 1 (1949) (conviction for anti-Semitic remarks at a rally overturned); COHEN v. CALIFORNIA, 403 U.S. 15 (1971) (wearing shirt to court reading “[Expletive] the Draft” deemed not fighting words); GOODING v. WILSON, 405 U.S. 518 (1972) (conviction overturned after yelling “White son of a [expletive], I’ll kill you,” and “You son of a [expletive], I’ll choke you to death” because the statute in question outlawed more than fighting words); the same reasoning was used in LEWIS v. CITY OF NEW ORLEANS, 415 U.S. 130 (1974) and HOUSTON v. HILL, 482 U.S. 451 (1987).

If you have a fear that the Court might someday uphold a law banning the drawing of Muhammad, fear not. That would be nearly identical to the cross burning case of R.A.V. v. ST. PAUL, 505 U.S. 377 (1992). There the St. Paul, Minn., Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance, prohibited the display of a symbol, as follows:

Whoever places on public or private property, a symbol, object, appellation, characterization or graffiti, including, but not limited to, a burning cross or Nazi swastika, which one knows or has reasonable grounds to know arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender commits disorderly conduct and shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Sounds like one could include a Muhammad drawing in that list.

Justice Scalia found the law unconstitutional, most notable in these paragraphs:

Although the phrase in the ordinance, “arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others,” has been limited by the Minnesota Supreme Court’s construction to reach only those symbols or displays that amount to “fighting words,” the remaining, unmodified terms make clear that the ordinance applies only to “fighting words” that insult, or provoke violence, “on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender.” Displays containing abusive invective, no matter how vicious or severe, are permissible unless they are addressed to one of the specified disfavored topics. Those who wish to use “fighting words” in connection with other ideas — to express hostility, for example, on the basis of political affiliation, union membership, or homosexuality — are not covered. The First Amendment does not permit St. Paul to impose special prohibitions on those speakers who express views on disfavored subjects.

Then this:

As explained earlier, the reason why fighting words are categorically excluded from the protection of the First Amendment is not that their content communicates any particular idea, but that their content embodies a particularly intolerable (and socially unnecessary) mode of expressing whatever idea the speaker wishes to convey. St. Paul has not singled out an especially offensive mode of expression—it has not, for example, selected for prohibition only those fighting words that communicate ideas in a threatening (as opposed to a merely obnoxious) manner. Rather, it has proscribed fighting words of whatever manner that communicate messages of racial, gender, or religious intolerance. Selectivity of this sort creates the possibility that the city is seeking to handicap the expression of particular ideas. That possibility would alone be enough to render the ordinance presumptively invalid, but St. Paul’s comments and concessions in this case elevate the possibility to a certainty.

Of course you also get a couple of lines only Scalia can summon:

St. Paul has no such authority to license one side of a debate to fight freestyle, while requiring the other to follow Marquess of Queensberry rules.

And then:

Let there be no mistake about our belief that burning a cross in someone’s front yard is reprehensible. But St. Paul has sufficient means at its disposal to prevent such behavior without adding the First Amendment to the fire.

It appears then that any fear about the necessity to protect Pamela Geller’s right to draw Muhammad is misplaced. I only object to her willingness to do so.

I know that in a free society with free speech, it comes with the territory that occasionally you have to take one on the chin. America is obviously forgetting that, particularly with the rise of this silliness called “micro-aggressions” and the like. I acknowledge oversensitivity exists. There really is no agreed-upon yardstick for what is legitimately speech of bad manners and what is oversensitivity toward otherwise innocuous speech.

I know that many don’t understand how drawing a cartoon is sacrilege, me included. However, if Serrano didn’t think “Piss Christ” was sacrilege, does his conclusion delegitimize my claim that it was?

“South Park” skillfully pointed out that Muslims are holding us to an undefined standard, when they drew Muhammad in a bear suit and basically asked if that is still a drawing of Muhammad. Touché.

At least on matters of religion, I prefer to be deferential to the aggrieved, accepting that I really might not understand them as Serrano misunderstood me. What does it cost me if I maintain my right to say, draw or do something but avoid doing it for the sake of another’s feelings? Nothing.

So I would fight like hell for the right to draw Muhammad. I would die for Pam Geller’s right to do it and would fight a war to kill her aggressors. But toward the good ends of being civilized in a plural society, I choose not to draw Muhammad, for the same reason I refuse to call someone the “N” word.


Tommy De Seno
About Tommy De Seno 25 Articles
Tommy De Seno is an attorney and commentator residing in Asbury Park, New Jersey.


  1. We owe her big time. No one is as courageous. She is fighting for our freedoms, that is the big picture. There is no Constitution without the 1st amendment. She spit right in the face of fascism, period. I admire what she did. It had to be done. We Americans need to stop with this political correctness BS. They know that is our weakness and have exploited it. Everyone needs to see the big picture. Pamela does. And so do I. Censorship is the opposite of Freedom. And because of the 2nd amendment we now have 2 dead terrorists that were living among us. Thank you Pamela!

  2. What a load of sniveling dhimmi crap this article is. Pam Geller did more to confront the Mohammedan Threat in one day than this administration (along with pantywaist RINO enablers and spineless conservative hand-wringers) has done in almost 8 years. We need more of these Mohammed cartoon events so that we can draw the ragheaded vermin out of their spiderholes and kill them.

Comments are closed.