The Moral Problem With a Muhammad Cartoon Contest

It was morally wrong for two men to attack an anti-Islam installation last weekend in Garland, Texas, and no one should mourn the death of these terrorists. But what about deliberately provoking the assault by staging a competition for the most insulting caricature of the Prophet Muhammad? Was that morally wrong? Or was it just a reasonable exercise of the right to free speech?

It’s easy to be distracted by the condemnation of the crime, which should be absolute. No verbal provocation can justify killing.

But it’s also easy to be distracted by the First Amendment. The Constitution guarantees a right to speak. Under Supreme Court precedent, that right extends to most offensive speech, provided it doesn’t count as “fighting words” that would immediately cause a reasonable person to respond by throwing a punch. Many other countries, including those we consider free, outlaw racist speech or speech inciting racism. The U.S. doesn’t — and can’t under most interpretations of the First Amendment.

But the protected status of free speech says nothing about whether particular speech is morally right or wrong. That status allows me to advocate for child abuse or witch-burning or killing members of a race I don’t like. These kinds of speech are morally repugnant, even though they are constitutionally protected.

To evaluate the conduct of someone who speaks with the intent to provoke a violent response, then, we need to consider the speech on its own terms. We need to ask: What did those who staged the provocation intend to happen? And what were the foreseeable consequences?…

Noah Feldman, a Bloomberg View columnist, is a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University and the author of six books, most recently “Cool War: The Future of Global Competition.”

Message: Violence works!

  • Martin B

    What happened was the best possible thing that could have happened. Two armed & deadly terrorists were flushed out of their holes and sent straight to Hell. And the only casualty among the good guys was released from hospital and will recover fully.

    This wasn’t a sudden impulsive act on the part of the terrorists. They had both been full-blown jihadis for years before the Mo Toon Contest was held, years spent preparing for an attack on innocent Americans. If the contest in Garfield had been cancelled at the list minute, they would still have been determined to slaughter innocent Americans somewhere else, and they may well have succeeded, because the FBI & Homeland Security certainly didn’t stop them. America & the world owe Pamela Geller a deep debt of gratitude.

  • winniec

    Noah Feldman is a surrenderist but doesn’t know it…doesn’t get it. The purpose of the cartoon contest was to highlight what’s wrong in Sharia law 1) criminalization of talk about Islam 2) the punishment of blasphemy by the vigilante death sentence.
    If Muslims were mature, they would come forward and say ‘We see your point about Sharia. Sharia actually DOES call for a vigilante murder of blasphemers. We’re going to call a world conference and fix that problem.”
    Of course, Muslims won’t do it, but uninformed know-it-alls like Feldman (who knows nothing about Sharia) don’t have the A-B-Cs of Islam.
    The problem with Feldman and people like him is that they have opinions about Islam, and degrees to lend them credibility as they speak beyond their area of expertise, but they have not even studied the Islamic trilogy of the Koran, hadiths and Sira…not to mention the manuals of Sharia law.
    An uninformed opinion like those of Feldman is not worth having.

    • occupant 9

      Those opinions are dangerously naive, as are all ideas that spring from the superiority wells of the Negligentsia.

      … for them to read the Islamic trilogy of hate is to risk having to engage in actual problems with very awful solutions.

  • Norman_In_New_York

    Alright, Prof. Feldman, identify one false statement made at the rally by Geller, Spencer or Wilders. Either put up or shut up.

    • DavidinNorthBurnaby

      The good professor is far too busy tying himself in intellectual knots, desperate to not offend the you-know-who’s.
      Gutless wonders like him hope the crocodile eats them last, in Churchill’s famous phrase. :-/

  • wallyj180

    Don’t make me come over there and hit you.

    If I do, it is your fault.

  • “But the protected status of free speech says nothing about whether particular speech is morally right or wrong. That status allows me to advocate for child abuse or witch-burning or killing members of a race I don’t like. These kinds of speech are morally repugnant, even though they are constitutionally protected.”

    The red-herring fallacy of this professor’s argument is of course in his tacit equation between drawing cartoons of Muhammad and things like child-abuse, witch-burning and racist killing. Why did Pamela Geller organize this contest? – Simply, because Muslims worldwide are currently making an idol of this evil murderer, and acting as if it is blasphemy to criticize him. Furthermore, note that no one has pointed out the fact that Muslims are constantly drawing and publishing anti-Semitic cartoons (and by the way, Iran has had a contest in this regard for the past couple of years) and the liberals have not complained about it one bit. Double standards and red herrings, then.

  • Brett_McS

    The US is/was a “melting pot” because what does a melting pot do? It mixes together the worthwhile elements and burns off the crap. Some more crap just got burned off.

  • Dana Garcia

    Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz made the point tonight that Martin Luther King would stage marches to show the local racism as a kind of provocation to inform the nation.

    • Una Salus

      Yeah, yeah lets wait until the dust settles before we start discussing how to sensibly avoid saying thing that will result in the Muslims going crazy. That’s all this comes down to.
      Megan does look hot when she gets strident though. Dershowitz endorsed.

    • Una Salus

      In the end it comes down to this.

  • simus1

    Harvard employed lefty elitist shyster prof with a Bloomberg column gig to boot sounds like the perfect mandarin to set the peasants straight as to what they should be thinking during their “quality time”.

    • DavidinNorthBurnaby

      “an apprentice devil”
      The good professor makes one wonder what Screwtape is up to these days.

  • Morticiaa

    So a cartoon of Mohammad has the same position as say a swastika?
    And yet even this defiled symbol doesn’t provoke assaults or even worse killings…
    Yet, me a senior can wear a tshirt with Carlie Hebdo cartoon of mo ham mad on it and be in this country be subjected to assault, coffee thrown in my face and all over me, scenes caused at my gym, where an employee after me wearing this tshirt for several months to work out, is finally spotted by a lunatic muslim at the registration desk, and I am the one who is called on the carpet to explain my actions of simply wearing this tshirt and being verbally embarrassed by screams insults etc, three workers needed to calm her Down after her rage upon me and me walking away and saying absolutely nothing
    By being asked to leave a Safeway store because a burka bitch complained to a manager that I insulted her?..after walking past her and she spotting my shirt and getting upset
    Groups of Islamic/muslim students in the subway terminals screaming
    Insults as I walk by….
    As a senior I wonder what the fuck is happening to this country
    I AM NOT To BLAME FOR wearing something that offends extremist Muslims….They are in the wrong for their behaviour and lack of tolerance in this society…
    I refuse to submit to sharia and the Islamic principles
    I do not respect their values or their religion
    For this self hating Jew, and his intellectually inferior position, I would like to have him put in his place by some intellectually superior debaters…diplomatic protocol is not a societal paradigm for individual citizens… The premise of his question and argument is exactly what the islamics want, a sharia compliant west

    • Grandson Of TheGrumpus

      I could make a good argument that the image of Mo’Hammy is equivalent to a swastika.

      The argument would be along the lines of the mass killings, that once is guilty simply by minding their own business, and world conquest while snuffing out any independent thought.

      Yes… I could make a very good argument….

      • DavidinNorthBurnaby

        Yet the swastika is an ancient Buddhist symbol. And they’re sort of the opposite of the you-know-who’s, aren’t they?

  • Mickey Oberman

    Muslims are frequently and constantly insulting other religions on a daily basis and without let up.
    A taste of their own medicine is too bitter for them to swallow.

  • Mickey Oberman

    I think many more people should do much more to belittle, insult and degrade Allah, Mohammed and Islam.

    • DavidinNorthBurnaby

      Great plan. He-e-e-e-e-e-r-r-r-sssss MO!

      • Mickey Oberman

        Mo HAM med!