A short debate regarding cartoonists and terrorists


Bryan Caskey wrote this over on his blog:

“You’re just not going to convince me that the right and true and courageous’ way to stand up to terrorism is to go out of your way to offend hundreds of millions of Muslims who are NOT terrorists, and mean you no harm.”

A couple of things. First, I think that Brad is more concerned about the tone and style than he should be. Now, that probably has to do with the fact that Brad is a really nice guy. He’s a very polite person.
If you met him in person and said something that he seriously disagreed with, he probably would just give you a polite smile and let the pitch go by. He wouldn’t start big argument with you in a social setting, because it’s considered impolite to start political arguments in social settings. He’s right about that, too. For the most part, it’s a good idea to try and get along with other people. I have that instinct, too, but probably not to the same extent.
For instance, it’s probably not the most agreeable thing for a practicing lawyer to have a blog like this and take various positions that I take. I’m sure it makes some people around me (including my wife) uncomfortable at times.
I kind of vacillate between trying to the the go-along, get-along guy and the guy who doesn’t care what you think of me. Part of me wants to be the Conventional Guy, with all the conventional thoughts, because that’s what advances you in life – especially when you’re a lawyer. People want their lawyers to be Buttoned Down People for the most part. They don’t want bomb-throwers.
But the other part of me is the bomb-thrower that doesn’t care what people think because that part of me isn’t seeking the Blessing of Other People. Partly, I think that’s me trying to stand independently, and partly, it’s me not having respect for some of those Other People because I don’t think they’ve earned the respect.
This go-along, get along mentality is certainly fine, and it has it’s place. No one wants to be a social outcast. I don’t argue politics at my son’s friends three-year-old birthday parties. But there’s also a point at which you have to actually stand up for something. If you live in fear of social stigma your entire life, you’re going to be easily pushed around. This is why political correctness is actually a powerful force.
There are so many people who are afraid of being thought of as “the wrong class of people” that the Perpetually Offended Army can push them around by telling them things like If you say the word “thug” you’re a racist. Someone who’s a Conventional Guy doesn’t want to be labeled a racist, because that’s about the worst thing you can be in the year 2015. Accordingly, the Conventional Guy alters his behavior because he doesn’t want to be thought of like that.
Note, it doesn’t matter if he’s actually a racist or not, and it doesn’t matter if the use of the word is appropriate or not. All that matters is that the Perpetually Offended Army can push Conventional Guy around.
So now we have Pamela Gellar and her group who push the envelope of free speech beyond what is tasteful and beyond what ispolite into a region that is….uncomfortable for Conventional Guy to support. So when the Perpetually Offended Army says thatYou can’t support this kind of….hate speech! It’s just not respectful of other people’s religion, Conventional Guys like Brad don’t want to be thought of as “the wrong class of people”, so they focus on the impolite tone and style of Ms. Gellar’s speech as offensive.
And that’s the wrong place to focus. Here are the facts.
1. Ms. Gellar and her group of people drew cartoons and publicly displayed them.
2. Men shot at her for this public displaying of cartoons.
3. There is no third fact. That’s it. There are no other facts. 
Do we really need to say that drawing cartoon is “inexcusable”? Nope! Because they don’t need an excuse to draw cartoons. That’s allowed. It may not be the way that Brad chooses to express himself, but Ms. Gellar doesn’t need to apologize, explain herself, or have an excuse for anything. She’s an American, on American soil, expressing her opinion about someone’s religious beliefs and conduct.
And people shot at her for doing so. Shot. At. Her.
It’s not hard to figure out which side you should be on. And spare me the “but”. You’re either for free speech or you’re only for speech that doesn’t make you uncomfortable. The latter makes you an unprincipled hack.
Do I like it when people burn the American flag to make a statement? No. I find burning the American flag to be distasteful and somewhat un-American. However, I think that attempting to ban flag burning is even more un-American than burning the flag. That’s how America works.
Respectability is all fine and good, but at some point you have to decide that you are in favor of certain ideals and principles. If other people don’t like your ideals and principles, then screw them. I’m reminded of a quote:

Do you have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” -Winston Churchill

Maybe we should all be a little less afraid of making enemies these days.

And I replied…

A couple of quick points…

First, mine is not the conventional position. Mine is the harder position to take. On the left and on the right, and certainly in the streets of Paris, the overwhelmingly popular position is Je suis Charlie.

I go against that grain, and say I am most certainly not Charlie.

I’m the guy whose position makes everyone indignant.

Another point: This is one of those situations in which someone like me gets hit with the “blaming the victim” accusation. You know, like when you say the beautiful young woman shouldn’t be jogging through a bad part of town in a skimpy outfit late at night. At that point, you’re accused of defending potential rapists and blaming the victim. No, I think rapists are candidates for suspending the “cruel and unusual” prohibition in the Constitution. But that doesn’t change the fact that if you don’t want to be a victim, don’t put yourself in that vulnerable situation. (People get a little less indignant at you if you say, “Don’t walk with a bag full of money with dollar signs printed on it through a high-crime area late at night.” I used the example most likely to stir objection, because the point still applies, but it’s a point that a lot of people miss because the emotional content throws them. As with cartoonists and terrorists. I think like a Dad, or like Buck Compton in the 7th episode of “Band of Brothers,” telling his men: Don’t do anything stupid.)

In this case, there’s an additional factor — you’re not just waving a flag at a bull, you’re going out of your way to insult that which is sacred to millions of people who don’t intend ever to do anything wrong. You really have to be a jerk to do that.

This is made worse by the fact that you have no point to make. It’s all about being offensive, period.

Another point: Go ahead and flatter yourself that you’re being brave, daring the terrorists to come on and get you for being such a jerk. This completely ignores the fact that you are putting other people’s lives at risk. From the security guard who had to defend these jerks in Texas to innocent bystanders at riots in Pakistan, your actions can have completely unpredictable consequences on other people — people who did not choose to be a jerk along with you.

Finally, I have nothing but contempt for this whole “bravery” pose. Imagine it the other way: Say terrorists say they’ll kill you if you don’t draw pictures of Mohammed. In other words, they’re trying to make you do a bad thing. Refusing to do so would be proper courage in the service of a worthwhile cause. Being a big, fat jerk because some lunatic threatens to kill you if you act like a big, fat jerk does not make you a hero. It just makes you a big, fat, stupid jerk.

See what I mean?

Not you, of course. I mean the cartoonists.

Because I don’t think for a minute that you would ever do what they do…

Another way to put it…

Just because someone threatens to kill you if you do a really rotten, stupid, pointless thing does not ennoble the rotten, stupid, pointless thing. You still shouldn’t do it.

The threat of violence just confuses everybody….

95 thoughts on “A short debate regarding cartoonists and terrorists

  1. Jeff Mobley

    This is interesting, because earlier this year, I, like Brad, deliberately refrained from using the phrase “je suis Charlie” for the simple reason that, were I a magazine editor, I would not have published the kinds of things that were published in that magazine. And I agree with Brad that that statement of fact does not constitute blaming the victim. A sentiment quite similar (I think) to Brad’s was expressed quite eloquently .

    On the other hand, I think Brad is off by more than just a little bit when he says, of the event that took place in Garland, Texas, that there was “no point to make. It’s all about being offensive, period.”

    No. It was a free speech event. And had it been about being offensive, period, than there would have been a virtually unlimited number of cartoon subjects from which to choose. But, as Bryan points out, Mormons didn’t show up with rifles at performances of a show that ridiculed their faith. Instead, they bought ads in the program.

    No, the point of the event, and the reason for the selected topic, was to demonstrate that in a civil society, murderous psychopaths don’t get to dictate the list of permissible discussion topics. A deeper discussion of this can be found .

  2. Phillip

    Brad, you’re not quite as “against the grain” as you might like to think with your position here. The “overwhelmingly popular position” you say you reject, is not quite so popular especially on the left. Recently there was Garry Trudeau’s speech upon accepting the George Polk Award, which sounded as if you could have written it. Then most recently, over 200 writers signed a petition disassociating themselves from an award for free speech being given to Charlie Hebdo. It seems that on the left, anyway, a lot of people express sentiments very similar to yours on this.

    Here, though, I have to agree with Bryan. It’s one thing to concede the unfortunate but realistic limitations on our freedom of behavior (imposed by criminal elements) when it comes to a woman’s walking through a park late at night, or the careless carrying of large sums of cash (your analogies); but to similarly concede any limitations on freedom of speech because of the “reality” of terrorist response is to surrender something very central to the American idea, in fact one of the handful of core tenets of any true American “exceptionalism” in my view.

    It’s true that whereas Charlie Hebdo had been offending lots of groups for a long time, this particular Texas event seemed specifically designed almost to draw a “neighborhood jihadist” out of the woodwork, which it succeeded in doing. Nevertheless, to turn your admonition on its head, “just because some big fat jerk is trying to get you so mad by maligning your deity that you want to kill them, does not make you a hero for killing them. In the United States of America it makes you a big dumb murderer who killed merely because of a DRAWING or some WORDS, and thus unwittingly and stupidly aided the cause of the bigotry and/or ignorance expressed by the original big fat jerk.”

  3. M.Prince

    We’ve pretty much trod this subject to death in our exchanges on Charlie Hebdo. But just one thing here – and it has to do with this:

    “And people shot at her for doing so. Shot. At. Her.”

    Well, no, actually they didn’t shoot at her. They shot at an armed guard. Sure, they might have liked to have shot at her. But the fact is, they didn’t. So one might just as well claim the shots were aimed at the cartoonists, the audience or even the cartoons themselves rather than at Ms. Gellar. So there’s no reason to single her out. Which is not to say that she and her group shouldn’t have the right to do what they do. But neither should she/they be lionized. There’s a big difference between what happened in Texas and what happened in Paris. In Paris people were actually killed (apprently because the gunmen were better trained). Besides that, there’s also a substantive difference in what Hebdo was/is doing – being an equal-opportunity offender of all-comers – and what Gellar’s group is up to: which involves being openly and aggressively anti-Muslim. We have to look at the whole context, the totality of circumstances, to draw conclusions. I realize it’s a fine line I’m drawing here – but I think it’s a pretty bright one.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      “In Paris people were actually killed (apprently because the gunmen were better trained).”

      No. I think the difference was that there was a heavily armed police presence in Texas that did not exist in Paris. I seem to recall reports that the first responders in Paris were cops on bicycles with no weapons. I think that difference would be the main factor in why there was not a mass murder in Garland.

      “Besides that, there’s also a substantive difference in what Hebdo was/is doing – being an equal-opportunity offender of all-comers – and what Gellar’s group is up to: which involves being openly and aggressively anti-Muslim.”

      So if I understand this correctly, speech that offends lots of different people is okay, but speech that offends only one particular group is different. Like if Gellar was Anti-Christian in addition to being Anti-Muslim it would be different? Who is making these decisions?

      If you support free speech, you do so by supporting people speaking freely. You don’t condemn their tone and style because it doesn’t happen to align with your own. The tone of the speech is entirely irrelevant.

      1. M.Prince

        “So if I understand this correctly, speech that offends lots of different people is okay, but speech that offends only one particular group is different.” — Caskey

        Right, there’s a distinction to be drawn. You can’t dump everything into one undiffentiated category – neither you, in your way, nor Mr. Warthen, in his. To paraphrase a legal principle here, “intent is nine-tenths of the law.” The intent of the one enterprise – Charlie Hebdo – is not the same as the intent pursued by the other. Hebdo’s intent was, so far as I understand it, to criticize certain aspects of Islam. The intent of Gellar’s group, so far as I understand them, is to attack Islam in general. More importantly, perhaps, Hebdo, as I said, is about much more than Islam (and even the cartoons themselves, and not just the ones about Islam, make up less than half the publication’s content). Whereas Gellar’s group is solely focused on Islam. That’s the context that makes the difference. And like I said, I don’t reject the latter’s right to do what they do, only the explicit focus of their enterprise.

      2. M.Prince

        And as for the other, I think the folks at Hebdo had explicitly rejected a heavy police presence at their offices, despite the threats they had received. And with respect to the shootout itself, the disparity of fire-power involved in it at least suggests that the gunmen were not very well trained – unlike those in Paris, who’d undergone weapons training in Yemen, according to reports.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          I wonder if the folks at Hebdo would like to have a take-back on that decision to have a police presence now.

          Also, I’m 100% in favor of poorly trained jihadists coming to Texas and getting killed by Texas police officer with his duty pistol.

          As I mentioned before, if you’re a rookie jihadist, Texas is not a the place where you want to do your first jihad. It’s a higher difficulty setting than almost any other state.

          Current Scorecard in Texas:
          First Amendment: 1
          Second Amendment: 1
          Jihadist Bird-brains: 0

  4. Bryan Caskey

    I’m having a hard time reconciling these two points I keep hearing:

    1. Islam is a religion of peace.

    2. If you insult Islam, you’re necessarily going to get people to come and try to kill you. So don’t insult Islam, it’s just dumb.

    1. swampbubbles

      (1) It’s a global militarism of conquest. [the elephant in the room: where’s the peace?]

      (2) Your choices: dar al-islam or dar al-harb. [the future isn’t wide open — it has shrunk to this.]

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      1. Islam IS largely a religion of peace, as is Christianity.
      2. Certain Muslims and Christians act contrary to the peaceful aspects of their religion, magnifying and twisting the militant aspects. Some become jihadis. Some bomb abortion clinics.
      3. Certain young people who feel that they have nothing better to do are very receptive to being manipulated to act militantly.

      Onward, Christian Soldiers!

      1. swampbubbles

        1. Try it — then change your mind — then go back and try it again with a new, non-meddling (peaceful) interpretation — then come back and tell us how that worked out.

        2. You are still assuming that Islam is a religion only and one that grants freedom of conscience and expression.

        3. True — but is it manipulated or inspired?

        Onward all soldiers everywhere with humane missions for defending defensible boundaries!

  5. Bryan Caskey

    Brad, you’re not alone in your line of thought here. As Phillip pointed out, it’s fairly common. It’s also wrong-headed. Here are a few selected quotes from yesterday. Notice the “but” in each sentence here:

    “I’m all for freedom of speech but why have an event to deliberately antagonize people then wonder why people react badly.”

    “Obviously I don’t want people to get shot but I want people to have the courtesy to respect beliefs too.”

    “I understand and respect free speech. But to organize hate speech events, purely because you’re allowed to, is disgusting.”

    But, but, but.

    I feel like all of these people are firmly begging the crocodile to eat them last.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Bryan (and Phillip) are right on point here. Rights exist on the margins. It isn’t much of a right if you can only exercise it when no one is offended.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Y’all are MISSING the point. It’s not about people getting offended. You’re talking to a professional offender here. I used to get paid a pretty good living for ticking people off left and right.

        But that’s because I was saying things that I (and my colleagues on the board) believed needed to be said, and if that made people mad, so be it. THAT’S why we have a First Amendment — so people can stand up to power and criticize it and not lose their heads for doing so.

        But this is about offending people just to do it, just to assert the right to offend people. It’s not making some point about Mohammad or about Islam that needs to be made to the world — and if it is, it’s grossly ineffective, because despite all the hullabaloo, I have not seen or read any of these salient points that are supposed to be making the world wiser and better.

        It’s ABOUT offense. To the extent that it’s about asserting a right, it is about asserting the right to offend, without any other purpose in the expression. It’s flipping a big middle finger at millions of people, simply because you have such a finger.

        This is at the very best grossly immature, at the worst it’s like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater — it’s unnecessary, and it can get people other than you killed.

        YES, you have the right to flip the bird at the world. You do. You have the right, in our society, to be a complete jerk.

        But it is WRONG to exercise that right in such a way. It’s an insult not only to those directly offended by the content, but an insult to the right itself, and to those who thought to include it in the very first amendment to our Constitution.

        And I will not countenance it.

        1. Doug Ross

          Swap Muslim for Catholic. Change the Mohammed to the Pope. How offended are you? Enough to grab a gun? Enough to punch someone in the face? Enough to scream at the cartoonists?

          I think the message is very strong: a religion that holds such extreme beliefs that even drawing a picture of its prophet warrants violence should be exposed for what it is. Cartoons should be the LEAST of their concerns. How instead can they justify treating women as second class citizens (including flogging and stoning them)?

          It is specifically by ridiculing these practices and beliefs that change will come. When the media shows the Westboro Baptist Church engaging in despicable protests, I’m pretty sure they aren’t seeing a huge increase in membership.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            “should be exposed for what it is”… really? You think it’s a news flash that these murderous thugs will kill you and anyone who gets in their way if they can?

            The cartoons serve NO purpose. We learn nothing about the terrorists and their fellow travelers from the cartoons that we did not already know.

            And Doug, you seem to think I’m excusing terrorists. Why else bring up the Catholic question. This is not a binary thing. If the cartoonists have done something wrong, it doesn’t follow that the terrorists have done something right.

            There are situations in which everybody is wrong. This is one of them.

            Let’s explore the Catholic idea. It might be helpful. So let’s say that a cartoonist goes out of his way to do an offensive cartoon about the Pope (something Charlie Hebdo does regularly). No Catholic takes up arms to kill the cartoonist, of course.

            So… we should be able to examine what the cartoonist did without the distraction of the threat of violence (which, as I’ve said before, seems to confuse people on this issue).

            And what he did is wrong. He has a legal RIGHT under Western laws (particularly in this country) to do such a wrong thing, but it’s still wrong. It’s still indefensible. He’s still a total jerk for doing it.

            1. Bryan Caskey

              Let’s explore the Catholic idea. It might be helpful. So let’s say that a cartoonist goes out of his way to do an offensive cartoon about the Pope (something Charlie Hebdo does regularly). No Catholic takes up arms to kill the cartoonist, of course.

              So… we should be able to examine what the cartoonist did without the distraction of the threat of violence (which, as I’ve said before, seems to confuse people on this issue).

              And what he did is wrong. He has a legal RIGHT under Western laws (particularly in this country) to do such a wrong thing, but it’s still wrong. It’s still indefensible. He’s still a total jerk for doing it.

              Here’s the thing. I would concede that the cartoonist is probably doing something in “poor taste” (depending upon how funny it is, of course). However, doing something that is impolite, in poor taste, irreverent, or even blasphemous is not wrong. I don’t see drawing an offensive cartoon of the Pope as an issue of right and wrong. It’s just an issue of taste.

              For instance, you and I both like the movie The Godfather. There’s a lot of serious violence in that movie. Michael orchestrates the killing of heads of the five families, and it takes place while he’s in church. I’m sure that someone finds that movie to be completely offensive, out of bounds, and indefensible. But that’s like…just their opinion…man.

              You’re a really polite guy. Your standard for what is polite and what is not is probably higher than say…..Ms. Gellar’s. But her expressing herself doesn’t make her morally wrong for doing so. I just don’t see a moral component to it. I don’t see it having any more of a moral component than an ice cream preference. You like vanilla, she likes strawberry.

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              But the heads of the other four families had it coming. Especially Barzini and Tattaglia.

              And Coppola didn’t make the movie to offend. If people were offended, that was incidental.

          2. swampbubbles

            When you have a chance, please rsvp re:

            […] “I am a self-hating American.”

            May 5, 2015 at 5:48 pm

            How did you get to ‘self-hating’ by inverting free? ‘Enslaved’ would be the most obvious opposite.

          3. Brad Warthen Post author

            Part of the problem I have in making myself understood on this is that I’m the only one here who has spent long hours, every working day for 35 years, making decisions about what would be the right and good and true thing to put into a newspaper, and what would not. In the course of editing a single sentence, you can make dozens of such choices — there are just so many synonyms and different ways to combine words.

            I’ve seen, many times in my career, that people who don’t do that for a living sometimes have trouble distinguishing between something one has the RIGHT to do, and what one SHOULD do. (I used to be surprised at some people’s reactions when the paper would decide not to publish an offensive comic strip — as though the editors were doing something extraordinary. When in truth, we spent all day of every day deciding what to publish and what not to publish. And most things that were available to us were NOT published, because there was no room for most things. The better question was always, “Why DID you publish X,” not “why didn’t you?”)

            I had the RIGHT to publish anything. That isn’t under debate. So the questions become is it right and true and fair? Does it increase understanding of the event or the issue, or does it interfere with such understanding? And to get into grayer territory, does it contribute to making the community, the society a better, more enlightened place, or does it merely stir emotions so as to cloud reason to no purpose? (To help you understand what I mean there, content that might stir emotions yet serve a purpose would be publishing a picture or video of a cop shooting a man in the back. Emotional content to no purpose might be showing the dead body of a child killed in a traffic accident.)

            Only sometimes are there clear, black-and-white answers to these questions, but you have to go ahead and DECIDE, NOW.

            And it doesn’t take me any time at all to decide that the answer on those cartoons is NO.

            And that’s with a cartoon that comes to me in the normal course of business. The idea of going out of my way to SOLICIT such deliberately, pointlessly offensive material — such as have a contest to induce people to produce it — is just way beyond unconscionable to this editor.

            1. Doug Ross

              You seem to confuse your perception of what is right versus what the rest of the world believes. Your “right” is only right in the context of your background and beliefs. It doesn’t matter how much time you spent thinking about what is right, it doesn’t make it more right.

              Maybe the problem is that having spent so many years telling people what is right, you assume you speak for a group larger than yourself.

              There are other editors of other papers who have spent as much time as you deciding what is right and then made different decisions than you would. You think Edward Snowden is a heinous punk based on your definition of right. Others don’t. Your definition of right should come with a standard disclaimer of “in my biased opinion…”.

            2. Kathryn Fenner

              Yeah, you wanted to maintain a “family newspaper”–so when we could, we’d have to read Doonesbury online. How’d that work out for you or the hundred-plus great writers and editors now working PR or worse?

            3. Doug Ross

              Weren’t there plenty of Doonesbury comics that got censored? In each case, the editor believed he made the right decision. But at a higher level, it was wrong because censorship is wrong.

            4. Jeff Mobley

              I just want to again address the statement that the cartoons from this contest served “NO purpose” other than offending for the sake of offending. I’m going to quote from the Andrew McCarthy piece I linked to in my earlier comment:

              It is very unfortunate that this debate is so often triggered by forms of expression that non-jihadists will find insulting and therefore that even anti-jihadists will find uncomfortable to defend. This grossly understates the stakes involved. This is about much more than cartoons. As I outline in Islam and Free Speech, classical sharia forbids most artistic representations of animate life, not just expressions that are obviously sacrilegious. More significantly, it deems as blasphemous not just expressions that insult the prophet and Islam itself but also

              critical examinations of Islam . . . especially if they reach negative conclusions or encourage unbelief[;] proselytism of religions other than Islam, particularly if it involves encouraging Muslims to abandon Islam[; and any] speech or expression [that] could sow discord among Muslims or within an Islamic community. And truth is not a defense.

              It is not the purpose of Pam Geller, Geert Wilders, the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, and other activists to insult Muslims. Their mission is to awaken us to the challenge of Islamic supremacists — not just the violent jihadists but also the powerful Islamist forces behind the jihad. Islamists are attempting to coerce us into abandoning our commitment to free expression. They are pressuring us to accommodate their totalitarian system rather than accepting assimilation into our liberty culture.

              You may not like the provocateurs’ methods. Personally, I am not a fan of gratuitous insult, which can antagonize pro-Western Muslims we want on our side. But let’s not make too much of that. Muslims who really are pro-Western already know, as Americans overwhelmingly know, that being offended is a small price to pay to live in a free society.

              Already in parts of Europe there are “hate speech” laws that would be unconstitutional here in the United States, and there is increasing pressure to further restrict speech that insults Islam. What McCarthy points out here is that, for a significant set of Muslims, it is not just out-and-out mockery that is deemed offensive. I don’t know how many of you have actually seen the drawing that “won” the contest, but it can be found out there (I saw it on The American Thinker), and it is not what you’d call vulgar, though I’m not saying I’d be surprised if a Muslim were offended by it). So, in McCarthy’s eyes, this contest is setting an outpost to resist the coming attempts to suppress speech we might find a little more reasonable.

              Again, I’m not saying I would have hosted such an event, but I will at least allow that there was a point being made beyond just offending for it’s own sake.

            5. Brad Warthen Post author

              Doug, each and every one of us can only perceive right “as God gives us to see the right.”

              And then, we have to act upon that perception — to do what we are able to perceive as right, and not do what we are given to see as wrong.

              Sometimes, we’ll be wrong. But we can’t refuse to decide because of that. We have an obligation to employ whatever judgment we have.

              All of that said, there is such a thing as right and such a thing as wrong — even if we confuse them sometimes.

              And, not everyone’s opinion about right and wrong is equally valid. As we live our lives and acquire judgment, we learn to tell — with varying degrees of perception — which people around us have good judgment, and which don’t. It’s a very broad spectrum, and often painfully obvious.

              For instance, this Geller woman — poor judgment. The would-be terrorists — horrendous judgment. The members of the Supreme Court — mostly good judgment, whatever their judicial philosophy.

            6. Brad Warthen Post author

              … and if we weren’t able to arrive at consensus as a society on such matters of judgment to SOME extent, then society would just fly apart completely. Total chaos…

            7. Brad Warthen Post author

              Oh, and I’m going to say this one more time…

              Mid-sized newspapers are dying NOT because of anything they did or didn’t do editorially, as much as people from many walks of life and all across the political spectrum like to fantasize otherwise (“If only they had pleased ME more…”). To assert that is to completely misunderstand the problem.

              Newspapers are dying because the people who paid for it — the advertisers — are no longer interested in advertising in full-market media. They’re more into targeted messaging. If they want a print product, it will be a niche print product. And they’re more interested in reaching particular potential customers rather than whole communities. And that’s how they spend their money.

            8. Bob Amundson

              Your logic is failing, IMHO, due to the fallacy of (or appeal to) authority. I understand your point, but in this case, I am deferring to the logic (due to their authority) of the legal experts Bryan and Kathryn.

          4. M.Prince

            “…a religion that holds such extreme beliefs that even drawing a picture of its prophet warrants violence…” — Ross

            Let’s put this myth aside right here and now. The Koran does not prohibit the depiction of Muhammad. Plain and simple — so say Islam scholars. Historically, Islam has indeed prohibited negative depictions of Muhammad and, under some Islamic regimes, punished such with death. But in modern times (save for the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie) this has not been the case. So just because fundamentalists (or wanna-be fundamentalists) say depicting Muhammad is punishable with death does not mean we should take their interpretation of Islam at face value.

            1. Bryan Caskey

              Yeah, but when the jihadis show up at your event with assault rifles, you kind of have to take that at face value.

            2. M.Prince

              “when the jihadis show up at your event with assault rifles, you kind of have to take that at face value.” — Caskey

              You’re making a quick end-run around the point to make a rather cheap and pointless comment.

        2. M.Prince

          “I was saying things that I (and my colleagues on the board) believed needed to be said, and if that made people mad, so be it. […] But this is about offending people just to do it, just to assert the right to offend people.” – Warthen

          Problem is, I expect Ms. Gellar and her followers believe they ARE saying things that need to be said. So they’re not just provoking to provoke, they’re trying to make a point, twisted though it may be. Clearly, I do not support the content of what they do and say. (Ms. Gellar reportedly runs a website – called “Atlas Shrugged,” all you Ayn Rand fans out there – in which she advocates mass purges (deportations) of Muslims and the demolition of mosques. That clearly expresses a specific form of hate, Islamophobia. But it IS a political message, albeit a sick one, and therefore not mere provocation for provocation’s sake but political speech.

          1. Doug Ross

            There’s a great example – M. Prince attaches the idiotic ramblings of Gellar to Ayn Rand as if she represents the views of Rand or those who appreciate her novels. Newsflash: just like most Muslims aren’t violent, Randians don’t favor mass deportations.

          2. M.Prince

            You’re making a quick end-run around the point to make a rather cheap and pointless comment.

          3. M.Prince

            “M. Prince attaches the idiotic ramblings of Gellar to Ayn Rand as if she represents the views of Rand….”

            You didn’t read my post very carefully. It wasn’t ME who attached Gellar to Rand but rather Geller herself. She’s the one who chose the title of Rand’s book for her blog, not me.

            1. swampbubbles

              A better explanation of Pamela Geller’s blog’s inspiration is her previous art/graphic which shows one naked (but gold-painted) woman holding up the world with one hand. Research it.

            2. M.Prince

              The artwork references the book. It wasn’t just pulled out of thin air.
              Dig a little deeper.

            3. swampbubbles

              @M.Prince — Correct — it wasn’t just pulled out of thin air even by Ayn Rand. It symbolizes a parable taught by a wise teacher, that of having to hold up the world with the one hand while fighting with the other.

              Ask your rabbi.

            1. M.Prince

              I do not come on here to play nice or make friends. I make friends in person, not on blogs. When I see stupid, bigoted or malicious comments, I call them out, sometimes forcefully – and will not be called down like an unruly pupil for doing so.

            2. Doug Ross

              I’m cooler than the other side of the pillow. (RIP, Stuart Scott).

              Brad – these are words, not punches being thrown.

            3. Brad Warthen Post author

              OK, I just lost a lengthy comment I wrote to you guys in response… Deep breath… I’ll start again…

              Doug, you’re right: It’s just words. And as you know, some words violate my civility policy, while others do not.

              You’ve been around long enough to know the history of this. When I started blogging 10 years ago, there were no rules. It was the Wild West. We had some very lively exchanges, but we also had some people who just came here to be hostile to other people.

              And that was causing some of the most thoughtful commenters to go away. So, I began a long series of attempts at a civility policy. At first, I just deleted the uglier comments, if they were aimed at others here on the blog. I didn’t much care about hostility aimed at ME, because I was used to it as a newspaper editor.

              But then I discovered that it didn’t matter whom the anger was aimed at; a lot of really thoughtful people didn’t want to READ the blog, much less comment, in that kind of environment.

              So, I got stricter. For a time, I set the blog so that EVERYTHING was set to be held for moderation. That was tedious, and made it nearly impossible for people to have anything close to real-time conversations.

              Finally, we settled on my current system, which is that I delete comments that are over the line (and yes, I am the judge of when it’s over the line), and if an individual persists in such comments, that person’s future comments are set for moderation.

              Obviously, I’m saying all this for M.’s benefit rather than Doug’s because M. is new. Here are some of the pertinent posts about the evolving policy over the years: here, here and here, and most recently here.

              M., the standards are subjective, largely because it’s a matter of tone as much as anything else. All I can do is use my own judgment, which is of course fallible. But to give you an idea of where the line is, calling one of your interlocutors’ comments “stupid,” “bigoted” or “malicious” crosses the line. That’s ad hominem, and personal attacks are not allowed.

              There is a protocol. The very mildest level of response is what you just saw: A friendly, “Hey, guys; let’s chill.” It’s how I address fellow grownups, reasonable people, when a conversation is getting a bit carried away.

              I’m a little taken aback that you responded to something so mild with such indignation, but I chalk that up to your unfamiliarity with the standards.

              Anyway, the next step is to simply delete the problem remark. When I do, I usually say something, either on the blog or in an email to the individual. Almost every regular here has had that experience at one time or other. I’ve stepped over the line myself and had to be called down for it, and I’ve tried to do better going forward.

              The next step is to set the blog’s settings to hold that person’s comments in the future for moderation. This works fairly well, even with the people who are chock-full of hostility and keep coming back under new aliases. I still try to allow as many of that person’s comments as I can without violating my own policy.

              Anyway, it’s not easy administering this policy to everyone’s satisfaction, but I do my best. You, and others, may regard my efforts as, let us say, stultifying primness, but this is the system I’ve arrived at from a lot of trial and error — and based on a great deal of feedback from readers and commenters.

              Anyway, now you have the background.

            4. M.Prince

              ”…calling one of your interlocutors’ comments “stupid,” “bigoted” or “malicious” crosses the line.”

              By taking this approach, you are saying that you willingly post stupid, bigoted or malicious comments but disallow critics of the same – which is neither reasonable nor productive.

            5. Doug Ross

              Remember – the only people that may be addressed as stupid, bigoted, or malicious on Brad’s blog are a) libertarians, b) those who want immigration laws enforced, c) anyone who criticizes Obama, and d) Nikki Haley & Mark Sanford.

            6. Brad Warthen Post author

              You guys are just going to continue to be unruly, aren’t you?

              That’s fine. Unruly is OK.

              What’s not OK is deliberately insulting each other — name-calling and the like.

              I think I explained that pretty clearly. And of course, if someone is being bigoted and malicious, that’s another violation of the civility policy. “Stupid,” not so much. People generally are not stupid with INTENT. But I see CALLING someone stupid as intentional.

              I don’t think this is really all that complicated.

            7. M.Prince

              Mr. Warthen, I disagree with you that a lack of civility is the primary source of the country’s current impasse. Instead, I believe it’s a matter of real substance rather than mere comportment. Preston Brooks caned Sumner not because he lacked character but because of a fundamental disagreement over the shape and course of the country – the kind of disagreement that crops up every so often in our history and which has now again reached a burning point. So I will continue to vigorously challenge those who would take us backward while calling it “progress” – and refuse to be reprimanded for the random tart turn of phrase in doing so. It’s better than caning, in any case.

              Anyway, I’ve concluded that while it may be useful and occasionally even fun for me to play the Will McAvoy to this website, there are probably more productive ways for me to pass my time, including reading and learning about stuff, enjoying music, watching good TV shows and whatnot. No minds are being changed here anyway, with the same cast of characters always taking the same positions. Besides, unlike Mr. Caskey, who needs not one but two blogs to hold all his opinions, I don’t really have all that many to express. I may drop in from time to time to say “hi,” but otherwise wish all y’all lots of fun here in the sandbox.

            8. Brad Warthen Post author

              I regret that, M., even though it’s your decision (just as Pam Geller should regret having held that cartoon contest).

              Your thoughtful comments will be missed, and we will look forward to your occasional visits.

              Although you did not come here to make friends, you have nevertheless been a part of a community for a time, and very much a contributing member. And with your departure, the community is the lesse.

            9. Brad Warthen Post author

              Oh, and in case there’s any confusion on this point among the rest of you, caning is also a violation of the civility policy, even though this is South Carolina.

        3. Bob Amundson

          As Bryan points out, it seems to be a matter of perspective. “Nice guy” offending is different than “bad boy” offending. Both are protected, and it seems the Supreme Court has drawn a very visible line on how far “bad boy” offending may go.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author


            And, as I keep saying, this is not about what one has a right to do, or should have a right to do.

            It’s about the rightness or wrongness of what you do with that right. Whether the thing that you do is something you SHOULD do.

            That exists on a whole other plane from legal rights. And it has surprised me many times for many years that smart people nevertheless confuse the two…

            1. Bob Amundson

              Rightness or wrongness, black and white. I have problems with most absolutes, and see our existence as a continuum, shades of gray. Speech is a shades of gray issue for me; child sexual abuse, for example, is not. Matter of perspective …

  6. Doug Ross

    The “fine line” is very difficult to interpret but no matter where the line is, the person or persons who respond to words or pictures with violence are in the wrong. One of the key factors in the Texas case is that the contest was a closed event requiring the purchase of a ticket to attend. This wasn’t a direct in-your-face attack. The two guys who were killed had to travel to the event location in order to be offended. That makes a difference in my opinion. This was not Westboro Baptist Church going to military funerals to hold their “God Hates Fags” signs — a direct provocative attack on people. The cartoon event is closer to the Mapplethorpe exhibitions or the “Piss Christ” photograph. The proper response to offensive words and pictures is to ignore it if you don’t like it.

  7. Brad Warthen

    Y’all, I’m still unable to do anything with my blog — even read it — from any platform other than my phone. Which is not a convenient device for blogging.

    I’m here. I’m just incommunicado. And very frustrated…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        As soon as he admits he’s wrong, I’ll plug the blog back in for him.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Ha! I’m back.

          For the moment. Here is the explanation of what happened, from Webfaction, which hosts my blog:

          Our server was blocking [your] IP address as mod_security detected it as a threat. I have removed the block, however it was blocked more than 3 times in a 3 hour period. Most likely you were accessing wp-login.php or xmlrpc.com more than 20 times in one minute. Are you using any kind of “publishing” software besides the normal wordpress dashboard?

          Everybody understand that? ‘Cause I don’t.

          And no, I have not been using any “Abby Normal” software…

  8. swampbubbles

    Re: “…going out of your way to insult that which is sacred to millions of people…”

    Muhammad’s not a that, but a who: Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. Whose prophet? Islam’s prophet.

    The media’s continuing to print out like rote rhesus monkies, “Prophet Muhammad,” is forcing a sacredness which does not exist to millions of other, equally valid, people — force-pimping him out as everybody’s prophet.

    And that’s the gist of it.

  9. Brad Warthen Post author

    Two more points for y’all to chew on:

    1. I’m getting some “different strokes” pushback from some of y’all — as in, I’m entitled to my opinion, but everyone else’s is equally valid. Well, you know what? I think that in my way, I’m respecting that more than y’all are. I’m the one calling for respect for what the OTHER person regards as holy, whatever your beliefs or lack of beliefs. Because that sort of consideration is essential to a civil society.

    2. If you want to find a prejudice on my part, here’s a treat: I’ll tell you what it is. My prejudice is that I’m a conservative guy. My Tory sensibility pushes me in this direction. I have a visceral reaction against the “anticlericalism” of Charlie Hebdo, the holy relic of the Enlightenment that we “modern” people are supposed to bow down to — even though it isn’t anticlericalism; it’s a visceral contempt for faith. I not only disagree with that contempt, I see no place for it in civil society. I see it as a tremendously destructive force.

    This is why I say that I disagree with both left and right on this. A lot of liberals have some sympathy for Charlie Hebdo’s hyperaggressive secularism (even if they have none for the woman in Texas); I do not. I think it’s contemptible.

    It’s not just because I’m a man of faith, or try to be. It’s because I like to think that even if I had no faith, I would still respect the dearly held faith of others. I think failing to have that respect is a particularly nasty way of being antisocial.

    And I disagree with those on the “right,” of course, because most of their reaction is about chest-thumping. Not my sort of conservatism…

    1. M.Prince

      One man’s “Tory sensibility” may be another man’s stultifying primness.

    2. Bryan Caskey

      “And I disagree with those on the “right,” of course, because most of their reaction is about chest-thumping. Not my sort of conservatism…”

      It’s not completely wrong to label my position “chest-thumping”. It’s certainly a pejorative way to characterize it, but I do understand your point.

      To a certain extent I have a streak in me that is a a “Don’t tell me what to do.” kind of mentality. Maybe it’s the water down here in South Carolina, or maybe it’s the heat. However, being completely honest in examining myself, I have to say that I innately bristle at being told what do to (certain circumstances excepted).

      Perhaps that’s a character flaw, but it can also be a virtue in some circumstances, as I try not to tell other people what to do, when it’s none of my business. (That’s where Doug and I align in large part.)

      1. Doug Ross

        “I try not to tell other people what to do, when it’s none of my business. (That’s where Doug and I align in large part.)”

        Amen, brother. I have MYOB tattooed across the knuckles of one hand… and TGIF on the other.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        As I said, chest-thumping. 🙂

        And Doug, one of my sons has “TCB” tattooed on him. It’s an Elvis thing, based on our Memphis connections.

        All I can imagine getting would be USMC (like Maximus’ “SPQR”) — but only if I were a Marine. Which I’m not. Hence, no tattoo…

  10. swampbubbles

    ” dearly held faith ” by threat of beheading is … what, to you?

    The woman in Macabees states [paraphrased], ‘Abraham set up one altar — I have erected seven.”

    It’s called not bowing in the face of others’ threats — even to pretend to pick up the king’s ring.

  11. swampbubbles

    Here is a current events example to end all examples of Islamic supersessionism:

    “It is better to be Herod’s dog than one of his children.”
    “There’s a saying we have in Chechnya: In a family with seven sons, it is better to be a dog than the younger son,” Khozhugov said. “The youngest of the boys is obliged to do the things the older boys tell him.”
    religion of Chechnya :

  12. Phillip

    “Faith” is one thing, “religion” is something else. As best I understand it, Charlie Hebdo lampooned religions, not faiths.

    Faith is an individual matter. Religion is an organized entity of people who share a set of beliefs. As we’ve seen throughout history, when you get large numbers of people organized into a big entity, it can be mobilized as a force for either good or, well, not-so-good.

    One can have a deep suspicion of organized religions and still have a deep respect for the “dearly-held faith of others,” and even can have a kind of faith of one’s own.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      We are arguing two different things: right to [publish, display cartoons, walk in the park at night] vs. advisability of same.
      The right to mock anything is inherent in freedom of speech. It is the express reason it exists. Is it prudent to do so? Maybe not, and one can bear the consequences (indeed one has) of shooting off one’s mouth/drawing/publishing offensive cartoons, etc. Of course, the government can never restrict speech except for content-neutral restrictions on the manner and place of its exercise, and, of course, “fighting words”–which ought not be an exception: hot heads should not get to do things more temperate people may not.
      I try to respect people’s “dearly held faith” and religion, but my experience in SC, since I was a little girl, has been that that respect does not extend from “believers”/practitioners to those of us without said beliefs. While in my godless neighborhood, no one asks what church I go to, plenty of neighbors elsewhere still do. God forbid (haha) that one declare oneself to be a nonbeliever.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        IS essentially declared a fatwa on Pam Gellar today.

        But hey, she brought this on herself. I seriously hope she apologizes before it’s too late. Maybe we could all formally apologize with her, and we could send IS some foreign aid to show that there’s no hard feelings.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You’re being like way obtuse, dude. We have nothing to apologize for, terrorists are unmoved by apologies, and this Geller woman isn’t the sort who apologizes to anyone, which is why she’s the sort who does what she did. I’m pretty sure she’s NOT someone I’d want to be seated next to at a dinner party.

          We’re she to join my club, I might have to think about resigning. Harrumph…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        In my neighborhood, no one asks me anything. The houses are too far apart.

        I know that one neighbor is Catholic, because we knew her from St. Peter’s before we moved there. A retired (Lutheran? I don’t really know) minister lives across the street, but I know him mainly as one who plays golf and sails. He’s taken us out on his boat.

        Also in my neighborhood (I see him on his walks), is the Methodist minister who started the Salkehatchie missions.

        And way across the subdivision is the St. Peter’s rectory. Our current pastor doesn’t live there, though; he bought his own house elsewhere after he retired from the Air Force. The current resident is Father Bernard, the Tanzanian priest who I believe is chaplain at Providence, and regularly says Masses at St. Peter’s.

        So I wouldn’t characterize my neighborhood as “godless,” although I suppose we have our fair share of heathens. 🙂

        I’ll say this, though: the “godly” people I know are generally tolerant, decent sorts.

        Growing up in West Columbia, my kids ran into plenty of the other sort, especially since they were Catholic and had to put up with the usual prejudices that brings in the evangelical South. But I suspect that without their religious affiliations, those people would still be like that. If not worse…

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Sure. Haven’t you noticed that people’s version of God is a lot like who they are?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            … Which means they’re either completely untouched by their faith (and make their notion of God conform to THEM), or their faith made them the way they are. Unfortunately, given human weakness, the former is all too common.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Or we see what we want to see, believe what we want to believe….lots of science to back that up

    2. Doug Ross

      Paraphrasing Austin Powers’ father, Nigel:

      There are only two things I hate in this world: People who are intolerant of other peoples’ religion and Scientologists.

  13. Bill

    The problem is,there is no left or right,anymore,but you continue to ride your one-trick pony.

  14. bud

    Brad I know you’re trying to thread a tiny needle here by admitting to offending people as the editorial board chief yet at the same time suggesting that offending behavior is in the form of making a legitimate and important point about a particular issue of the day. But then turn around and scold someone else for presenting a particular point of view as simply offensive without any salient contribution to public discourse. Your position is frankly impossible to defend. Heaven knows I’ve tried to read your defense of this obvious contradiction and frankly my head explodes trying to reconcile the difference. It’s rank hypocrisy pure and simple. If there is even one person who finds even one of your editorial board decisions not just offensive BUT also completely without any legitimate contribution to the discussion of an important public interest then the offending piece becomes a necessary and sufficient refutation that your argument is invalid. It’s really an impossible needle to thread. And you really need to just accept that unimpeachable fact.

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