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ABC-7 Xtra: Freedom of Speech and Sensitivity

>>> live where news comes first, this is “abc-7 xtra. >>> good evening, i’m maria garcia. welcome to “abc-7 xtra. tonight, we’re talking about a touchy topic. freedom of speech versus sensitivity to religion or self restraint. no one thinks we shouldn’t have freedom of speech, even if that freedom sometimes ventures into hate speech. some say that’s what the cartoonists in garland texas were practicing. still, obviously no one should be threatened with death or fear for their lives for expressing whatever they want to express. federal authorities are now saying the two men who tried to shoot and kill the mohammed cartoonists before being killed by security were isis sympathizers. our country is facing this reality: the freedom we hold so dearly seemingly under attack, but with the realities of a complex, violent world, are some of these attacks, well, to be expected if you instigate? let’s have an honest discussion. joing us tonight are david marcus, president of join us for justice. and bob diven, artist and cartoonist at the las cruces sun news. you can e-mail us your comments and questions now to you can also reach us at 915-496-1775. on twitter, use the hashtag #abc7xtra. or you can tweet me at @mariagabc7. before our discussion though, let’s get a recap of what happened. >> i’m sorry we have to stop this right now. >> police say two men pulled up in a car and opened fire on the building where the group, the american freedom defense initiative, was holding a contest for cartoons depicting the muslim prophet mohammed. the event had heavy security, a traffic officer in the detail killed the gunmen. >> we think their strategy was to get into event center. they weren’t able to get past that outer perimeter that we had set up. >> the shooters have been identified as nadir soofi and elton simpson. it is believed that simpson sent this tweet before the attack that said “may allah accept u as mujahideen.” he had previously been convicted of a terrorism charge and was serving three years probation. cartoons depicting mohammed are highly offensive to the islamic community. some critics claim the contest was designed to purposely taunt muslims. the group’s leader pamela geller argues that they were just exercising their first amendment right. >> it’s illustrative of the violent assault on the freedom of speech. >> the american freedom defense initiative is considered anti-muslim by the southern poverty law center. >> there is also a right of others like myself and the southern poverty law center to use our free speech rights to depict what she is doing as accurate, which is anti-muslim. >> now, investigators will attempt to determine if this was an isolated attack or one connected to a broader terrorism front operating in the united states. in washington, i’m ryan nobles reporting. >> let’s get to our discussion. joing us now, bob diven, artist and cartoonist and david marcus. thanks for staying up late with us. let’s get your brief thoughts to begin with, your general thoughts on what happened. >> i appreciate your introduction, what you said coming into this. that nobody should expect to be shot for creating an image, for drawing a cartoon, for expressing an idea, and that’s where i come down on this. i think we recognize what kind of group was holding the mohammed cartoon contest. it’s recognized as a hate group. i mean, obviously, it’s a xenphobic group, the group has a very definite point of view and they were trying to be provocative and get attention and yet i feel like the bottom line is again, it’s easy to start to slip into sort of a relativistic argument that blames the victim in a way. it’s saying that a cartoonist deserves to be shot for offending somebody is the same as allowing that somebody should die in police custody because they have a record or that a young woman, because she was drunk and went to a frat party deserves to be assaulted. >> i want to get your take on this, david. even if you question whether this was hate speech or not and there’s a consensus that it was at least extremely provocative. isn’t that in essence blaming the victim? isn’t there something fundamentally wrong to imply that they brought this on themselves? >> there’s nothing wrong with it at all. pamela geller said she wanted to insight violence, a reaction, she wanted what happened to happen. she’s even come out since then and said she wants to do it again in texas, she had such a great result. you know, she’s right. she does have the first amendment right to free speech. no doubt about it but with all of our rights i think come certain responsibilities. and i don’t think her right to free speech includes the right to bring violence down on innocent people, maybe people walking across the street from the convention center or hosting it, knowing full well that she’s going to incite violence and the other question is why do it? what purpose was there in her having people draw images of mohammed, knowing full well the only reason she did it was to piss off all the muslims in the world? >> in a free society, we rely on the vigorous exchange of ideas to come to sensible policy. and some would say that the greater the threat to liberty, the more necessary it is to provoke. >> in a sense yes but when you’re talking about religion and faith, then you’re creating an atmosphere of hate, and it’s a dangerous road to go down. we know — we have an atmosphere in the united states today that’s not healthy. we’ve encouraged people to believe that islam is a violent religion, that all muslims are out there to attack and they hate jews and they hate christians and they’re out there after us. it’s not true, not all of them, they’re not all doing it. main stream muslims are just like the rest of us but when you teach people that a group is different, then you teach people to fear them, and you start the seeds of hate that end up exactly like what happened in nazi germany. it was no different then. and it’s so bad, and it’s so dangerous for us to allow that to continue, even though she had the right to free speech. she also had the responsibility not to encourage hate. >> bob i want to ask you about that. those cartoons, a lot of people saying they’re gratuitous insults. >> they’re also not very good. >> and we’re going to show some of your work in a little bit. >> not that mine are better. >> they’re insults, that really have no purpose, that antagonize pro-western muslims and that create this violent tension. >> well, that may all be true but it’s in a sense beside the point. i mean, david points out the reality. the reality is i would be afraid of drawing a cartoon of mohammed because as i wrote in my op ed, i would fear for my life potentially. and that’s a reality. but the principle, as americans i think we’ve always struggled with what it really means to live in a free society and personal liberty. we struggle with freedom of speech, we struggle with freedom of religion. we struggle with the right to bear arms. we struggle with the conflict, and i think we also have sort of a puritanical sense, that it really bothers us when somebody gets away with something that they should be punished for. so what happens is like we’re talking about rape culture now, slut shaming, that it’s like well why do we keep teaching women how to not get raped? why don’t we teach men how not to rape? and so in a free society, we have to be grownups. we have to be willing to take being offended and not resort to violence. part of civilization is handing the reins of violence over to the state so we have police, we have courts. they’re the ones that take care of physically restraining individuals that break the law. but freedom of speech is something that i’m sorry, i don’t want to give it away because i’m using it right now. and we have to be grownups about this. and the thing that people do when people are religious, when people are politically motivated, it’s like if you can rebrand an abortion provider as a murderer, then suddenly, it’s not murder to stop them. it’s a noble act. and so with religion, if you can tell your true believers the fervent young men like the ones that drove to texas, that these aren’t just cartoonists, these are blasphemers, then that kind of gives a cover. words are powerful. symbols are powerful. as a cartoonist, as an artist, i rely all the time on symbols that have potent meaning for people. we have to tap into symbols that have meaning and so that’s why people get upset when the flag gets burned or when a crucifix gets put in a jar full of urine. >> i want to ask you about that, david. i read this today. people saying the shooting was not caused fundamentally by a free speech event. it was caused by islamic supremacist ideology and to kill those who have disparaged islam, that like bob said, it’s beside the point, the free speech event is beside the point. >> i don’t think all muslims would be out shooting people because they draw mohammed. i think, in fact, the majority of them worldwide condemn these kinds of events. they don’t believe in these kinds of events any more than modern day jews and christians believe it’s right to stone people because that’s what the bible said you needed to do if they created an offense of some kind. it’s just — it’s not — it’s not the majority of muslims today. but these are people that have gone off the edge so to speak, they’re listening to people that are crazy. they’re listening to people that are sick, that are hate mongers themselves. but of course, we have pamela geller doing this in garland, texas, and she’s crazy and nuts and a hate monger herself. you’ve got these tensions building between these two groups. she had no business doing this specifically to incite violence. i think that’s what she did. >> okay. >> and i think it was wrong. >> i want to read a tweet from user name desert. he has a quote from the kuran, when the ignorant address them, they say peace and that’s from the kuran. when it comes to freedom of speech we are told to endure and be patient with those who mock islam. of course, this charge to be patient and endure ignorant or hazel speech does not defer some extremist sects from retaliating violently. it should be clear that the actions of one person should not represent a whole group and that’s from one of our twitter followers. we have to take a break. when we come back, we’re going to continue this discussion. so stay with us. remember, you can call us at 915-496-1775. tweet me at @mariagabc7 or you can e-mail we’ll be right back. >>> welcome back to “abc- xtra.” we’re talking about freedom of speech today, following the attack in garland, texas. bob, i want to ask you this. basically freedom of speech guarantees you that you can say whatever you want and essentially, and the government is not going to put you in jail for expressing your ideas and they’re not going to go after you, the government’s not going to punish you. >> but if i libel somebody. >> sore say something you weren’t supposed to, the federal secrets right, but aside from espionage, you can express whatever you want, essentially and they’re not going to put you in jail. >> that’s the theory, yeah. >> but the markets might punish you. the private free market might punish you. groups of people may boycott what you have to say. so there are consequences, just because we have the freedom of speech doesn’t mean that there are not consequences to what we say sore that there shouldn’t be consequences. >> and i think we all understand that and accept that. i think that’s in our american dna, that i have a right to express an opinion and you have a right to tell me i’m an idiot. >> or not to buy your product. >> write letters to the paper, say fire that dumb cartoonist, but i’m not speaking for the sun employee, i’m an independent artist. but — that’s all well and good, but it’s — but i can’t see any way that any of us should be able to claim that it’s okay to escalate from somebody says something, somebody draws something, to the offended person then puts a bullet in their head. those acts are not equal. if i’m coming at you with a gun, the law would completely allow you to shoot me with your gun in self-defense. if i’m standing here shouting at you and you decide you’ve had enough and shoot me, you’re going to jail. >> for the people who do believe or the groups who do classify geller’s group as a hate group, then how do you react to that? how do we as a society deal with that? >> you know i don’t have a good answer. i don’t know. i think we certainly need to let them know that america as a whole doesn’t stand for hate speech. but it’s hard in today’s society because lately we’ve begun to see islam as a bad thing. i mean, we have all these conservative politicians trying to prove that president obama’s a muslim. why? other than they want people to be fearful of him and think he’s bad. and it’s that whole mindset we’re going down. we’re teaching people to hate, in spite of what everybody says, we are teaching people to hate today. and it’s not a path that we need to be going down. and it’s just — you know, the whole world would be so much better off if religion could be practiced personally, privately and not be forced on so many other people. we wouldn’t end up with all these conflicts, we wouldn’t end up with people trying to prove their faith is better than another faith, christianity is better than islam, it just creates this continuing conflict and it’s not a path that’s going to be good for the future of america. >> let’s go to our phone lines. we have freddy in the lower valley i believe. what’s your common or your question? >> i would like to know why we’re inciting a riot by allowing these people to harm the security of our nation. we all have the right to believe what we want to believe and not hurt each other. isn’t what our nation is supposed to be about? >> what are your thoughts on freddy’s — >> i couldn’t really hear it. >> i think he’s right. we want to be able to believe what we want to believe and not incite violence. the problem with the question is why did pamela geller feel like she had to start the whole process by creating cartoons about mohammed that were offensive? why even go there? what’s the point? she had no reason to do it. she was not publishing a magazine, she wasn’t publishing a newspaper that was satirical like charlie hebdo. >> but she doesn’t — i mean, i think she looks to be an extremely distasteful person and we have these cranks, we have the lunatic fringe, john birch society becomes whatever, they’ve always been with us. but the fact is in freedom of speech, she does not have to justify that act and it can be an act that makes the rest of us just go god why did she do that? but that does not — that is no reason for people to be dead because of it. >> oh, absolutely. >> and we just can’t go there. in our culture and i don’t know how the rest of the world is but we don’t handle subtlety. we don’t handle complexity well. and i think we’re long past the point where we can make statements like well islam is this or christians are this way or jews are this way. you know, it’s like no we’re actually talking about a very specific subset of one of the middle eastern religions that has a very violent component. now, it can be argued that islam, you know, maybe they are the true believers, the violent ones are the ones that really are taking it seriously. in our own country, we have evangelical christians that they’ll label an abortion provider a murderer and somebody with a few screws loose goes and shoots him dead and there are segments of american christianity that will not condemn that. and we pile on islam like why aren’t the moderates standing up to this? well, they may be as scared as we are of their violent fringe. won’t have — we have to be very specific about this. it’s a challenge living in a free society. it’s hard for us to endure, to tolerate being insulted. >> let’s get to our e-mails. this is from gloria. she writes freedom of speech is not freedom to make a joke or make fun of other people’s religion. america does not look good at all to the world when we intentionally behave in a bully manner or in petty behavior. it sounds to me like they are saying we dare you to mess with us. >> well, she was saying that. i do disagree a little bit with her, because in america we do have that right to make jokes. >> is we do indeed. >> we do have the right to make fun of religion. the problem with it is when it becomes hate and that’s what pamela geller’s little affair was, it became hate, she still had the right to do it but we all have to question whether or not hate speech like that that incites hate violence, is that really, right? do we want to have that? is that another interpretation that we’re going to throw to the supreme court next year? who knows? >> and this is another e-mail. he says hate brings hate. as a vet, i do not support what this american group stands for any more than i support the terrorists who attacked them. let me make sure we get to our next caller. hi, there what’s your comment or question? >> this is what a cartoonist is, either offend everybody or hang up your writing pencils. if you can offend christians, you should offend muslims and everyone needs to take free speech for face value and either you offend everybody or retire. >> did you hear that? >> offend everybody or retire? >> not just pick on the muslims, which is one of the charges that’s been leveled against charlie hebdo. there’s a segment of liberal thought that says well they’re really picking on sort of a downtrodden minority and again, we keep dancing around this blaming the victim thing. we label it hate speech and that’s a tricky thing. that’s a tricky thing and we’re all struggling with that because there’s something innocent, we just want to try to muzzle people like the idiots from the westboro baptist church that are so hateful and so cruel and yet they think they’re acting in a righteous way. this is the burden of being an american in a free society where being insulted, being offended is not a punishable crime. >> let’s look at some of your work, i want to look at some of the examples of your cartoons. this one here, noah forgot the dinosaurs, i guess. >> that’s a comment on there’s a segment of american evangelicalism that believes in young earth creationism, a biblical account as they interpret it that the earth is 6,000 years old and, of course, science has shown us that’s not true. the earth is billions of years old. >> what kind of resistance do you get or do you get any sort of — >> not much. i don’t really hear much. >> any phone calls from people? >> i got one phone call for an illustration i did for a brewery in colorado that sort of took a cartoon version of a hindu deity. that’s the only time i’ve gotten a thinly veiled death threat. >> wow. >> but that’s rare. mostly i feel safe. we’re a christian nation but i was raised christian, i was an evangelical christian. i’m an atheist now. but i feel like this is my culture, it’s part of our culture, it’s my right, and even my responsibility, to critique that. i don’t critique islam because that’s not my culture. i don’t critique judaism because that’s not my culture but after charlie hebdo i wanted to draw a cartoon to protest, to say look you guys get over this, grow up. >> so we have linn on the phone. what’s your comment or question? >> in a famous supreme court decision, free speech does not include the right to shout fire in a crowded theater. it endangers people’s lives. how is this lady doing anything different? >> i don’t think she is. >> i think she was. i think there is a distinction. and i rhat voice, hi, linn. she did not yell fire in a crowded theater. she did not cause a panic that trampled people underfoot. >> you disagree? >> totally. >> why. >> and bob and i agree on a lot of stuff but i totally disagree. i think she could have endangered lots of lives, she could have had people killed who had no idea what was going on. she could have those police who were protecting the event killed just so she could prove her point. i do believe she was in a crowded theater, and i think she was yelling fire, and i think she proved how hateful she is by doing it. >> she is hateful, but, you know, in nothing you’ve said have you mentioned the two young men that drove hundreds of miles from phoenix with guns and opened fire on the officers guarding that event. i mean, they took their offense to be a license to commit physical violence on somebody that had not committed physical violence on them. i know in their belief system, to blaspheme god is a crime, that they felt worth punishing but i would note that so far in the history of humanity, no god that’s been blasphemed has seen fit to punish offenders themselves. >> do you want to respond to that before we head to commercial break? >> i agree, the people that were killed, the young men from arizona, were definitely nuts themselves. they were not — they were — they believed in what isis was trying to teach them, of course. and i think you’re going to find that, though, in any faith or religion. you just seem to see more of it in islam today but i think if bob were to draw a cartoon of jesus christ and make him look really bad, we might see some violent christians coming out aiming for him. maybe more so than if he were to draw a cartoon of mohammed. who knows? i think if we intend to offend somebody, if we intend to create an atmosphere of violence, and it happens, then we’re partially to blame. >> i have a follow-up question but we have to take a break. we’ll be right back. >>> welcome back. we’re talking about free speech today. david, i want to ask you, when americans saw a not so good movie like the interview was not being shown here because of threats from north korea, they showed up in droves to the movie theaters once sony films did show it. and they irreverently mocked kim jong-un. what’s the difference here? why shouldn’t americans who feel that their freedom of speech is being threatened, why shouldn’t they irreverently mock mohammed if they want to? >> because there’s no real — there’s no reason to mock mohammed. there’s a lot of reasons i think to mock the dictator of north korea because he was actually lending himself to that. but i think when you’re talking about a faith or a religion, it’s treated separately. people’s emotions are going to be higher, they’re going to take things more seriously. if you’re muslim and somebody is attempting to offend you, you’re going to be offended. >> but there’s a consensus, generally, that isis is perhaps the biggest worldwide threat to not just western society but to the world. >> correct. >> and they’re using islam as a way to justify their violence. >> okay. >> so — >> but i’ve hijacked islam. >> of course, nobody’s — that’s not to say that they represent muslims as a whole, not at all. >> but who’s to say they’re not — >> — a precedent, if americans feel they have to restrain from mocking or from speaking about islam in a way that they wouldn’t have to about christianity, does that set a precedent? does that mean we allow an extremist group like isis to control our decisions here? >> no, i don’t think so. i think if we’re trying to be respectful to other people’s belief system is one thing. we’re not necessarily saying that we’re afraid of isis. we could still go after isis. we can still destroy isis. it’s not a religious faith in and of itself. what we’re saying here is why mock a religion which this group in the middle east has hijacked and claims to be following when, in fact, the majority of muslims around the world don’t agree with what they’re doing, they’re appalled by what’s going on. it doesn’t make any sense. >> and one last question, one of the other — we’ve talked about pamela geller a lot but one of the most notable figures there as we mentioned, guitar veiledders, far right dutch politician, has tried to run a campaign against the islamization of europe, trying to halt immigration of muslims to the netherlands. there’s a comparison that this group and their theory is akin to some ku klux klan group to depict african-americans. >> i think that’s a pretty accurate analogy. >> imagine if there was a contest of depicting black americans, a cartoon contest depicting black americans. >> or imagine if it was a cartoon contest depicting jesus christ in a bad, unflattering way. >> here’s the thing. america, we have a long, long history of racist cartoons. you can find all sorts of awful cartoons and depictions of black americans, of african-americans, of native americans, of chinese-americans, japanese-americans. you know, xenophobia is not something new to us. it’s been to us. but what we have going here is that at least christianity in the west has had a couple of hundred years of enlightenment thinking to tempter. christianity and islam are branches of the same family tree. they both sprung from ancient traditions of judaism and remade their own paths. but religion is a human endeavor. it’s a human endeavor and no human endeavor is beyond critique or criticism. i don’t think religion deserves a special treatment. people deserve to be treated with respect and decency but ideas, no ideas can be off limits. >> i’m going to have to cut you off, we’re out of time. thank you so much for coming bob and thank you so much david. >> i want to give you a mug from join us for justice. >> all right, thank you. thank you for this discussion and thank you so much for joing us on “abc-7 xtra. we

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