(by William McGurn, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) – So reads an advertisement that went up a week ago in New York City subway stations. Sponsored by Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative, the ads were meant to provoke, and they did. Denunciations poured in, activists plastered “racist” and “hate speech” stickers over the ads, and an Egyptian-American activist even got herself arrested after spray-painting one poster pink.
Establishment opinion quickly rallied to a consensus. As the Washington Post put it, while the words could be read as “hateful,” “an offensive ad” nonetheless has the “right to offend.” A rabbi summed up the media orthodoxy in the headline over her column for CNN: “A right to hate speech, a duty to condemn.”
Certainly that’s one way to read this ad. Then again, most Americans probably read it the way it is written: Israel is a civilized nation under attack from people who do savage things in the name of jihad. Whatever the agenda of those behind this ad might be, the question remains: What part of that statement is not true?
Ah, but the use of the word “jihad” inherently indicts all Muslims, say the critics. There are millions of peaceful Muslims for whom jihad means only a spiritual quest. So why do so many people associate jihad with murder and brutality?
Might it be because violence is so often the jihadist’s calling card? Might it be that some of these killers even incorporate the word jihad into the name of their terror organizations, e.g., Palestinian Islamic Jihad? That may not be the exclusive meaning of jihad, but surely it is one meaning—and the one that New York subway riders are most likely to bring to the word.
The same goes for “savage.” Exhibit A is Oxford’s online dictionary, which defines a savage as “a brutal or vicious person.” There are innumerable Exhibit Bs, but let me invoke one of the most powerful.[There] is a Reuters photo that ran on the New York Times front page for Sept. 1, 2004. It shows an Israeli bus after it had been blown up by a suicide bomber. Neither bloody nor gory, the photo is nonetheless deeply disturbing, because it shows the lifeless body of a young woman hanging out a window.
The Times news story added this detail about the reaction to that attack. “In Gaza,” ran the report, “thousands of supporters of Hamas celebrated in the streets, and the Associated Press reported that one of the bombers’ widows hailed the attack as ‘heroic’ and said her husband’s soul was ‘happy in heaven.’ ” What part of any of this is not savage?
Two years ago, Time magazine ran a cover photo of an 18-year-old Afghan woman whose nose and ears had been cut off by the Taliban. This weekend, an al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group in Kenya threw grenades into an Anglican church, killing a 9-year-old boy attending Sunday school. In light of these atrocities, “savage” seems profoundly inadequate.
The point is that what makes someone a savage is not the religion he professes. It’s the actions he takes. Notwithstanding the many Jews and Christians who have been attacked, those bearing the brunt of this savagery are innocent Muslims who find themselves targeted—at their mosques, in their markets, at a wedding reception—simply because they belong to the wrong political party or religious tradition.
The people of Libya appear to understand this better than the president of the United States. The Libyans know that a civilized society is one where the strong protect the weak. In July they voted for such a future when they rejected Islamic radicals in their first free elections since toppling the dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The Libyans’ problem is that the extremists are better armed and better organized than their elected government, which leaves the strong free to prey upon the weak.
Back home in America, amid all the gooey indignation about how the subway ads are hate speech but must be defended, the idea seems to have taken hold that the beauty of the First Amendment is that we get to insult each other’s religions. Certainly that’s sometimes the price of the First Amendment. Its glory, however, is as the cornerstone for a self-governing, free society whose citizens know that someone saying something disgusting about your faith is no excuse for murder.
What a curiosity our new political correctness has made of our public spaces. Let your sex tape loose on the Internet and be rewarded with your own TV show; photograph a crucifix in a jar of urine and our museums will vie to exhibit it; occupy someone else’s property and you will be hailed by the president for your keen social conscience.
But call people who blow up, behead and mutilate “savage” – and polite society will find you offensive.
Write to Mr. McGurn at MainStreet@wsj.com.
Published Oct. 1, 2012 at The Wall Street Journal. Reprinted here Oct. 4, 2012 for educational purposes only. Visit the website at wsj.com.
1. What is the main point of Mr. McGurn’s commentary?
2. How does Mr. McGurn view the jihad ad?
3. The purpose of an editorial/commentary is to explain, persuade, warn, criticize, entertain, praise, exhort or answer. What do you think is the purpose of Mr. McGurns’s commentary? Explain your answer.
OPTIONAL: Email your reaction to Mr. MrGurns’s commentary to him at MainStreet@wsj.com. Remember to identify yourself (name, school, state), name the article you are commenting on, and that you read it at StudentNewsDaily.com. Be clear, concise and polite.