Bioethics Blogs

Was the Draw Muhammad Competition an Incitement to Violence?

by Nigel Warburton, @philosophybites

On May 3rd two men opened fire on a security guard near the ‘Muhhamad Art Exhibit & Contest’ an event in Garland, Texas, that advertised a $10,000 prize for the best cartoon drawing of the prophet. The assailants were shot dead by the police. Pamela Geller, the organiser of the event, is a political blogger, who, enflamed by 9/11 has mounted a well-funded campaign against what she sees as an Islamization of America and the ‘mosque-ing’ of the workplace (see this Washington Post article). The immediate catalyst for her draw Muhammad stunt was the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.  She was within her US First Amendment rights to organise this event, and explicitly defended it on free speech grounds. She told the Washington Post: ‘We decided to have a cartoon contest to show we would not kowtow to violent intimidation and allow the freedom of speech to be overwhelmed by thugs and bullies.’

This justification is very similar to that behind the decision of Charlie Hebdo’s surviving editors to publish the Muhammad cartoon on the front cover of the first issue of the magazine after the murders. It also echoes a more nuanced version of this stance given by Timothy Garton Ash in an article in ‘Defying the Assassin’s Veto’ in the New York Review of Books, in which he argued for reproducing a wide range of Charlie Hebdo’s covers, not just those which satirised Muhammad. Where violence is threatened, and there is a risk of self-censorship through fear, one of the best ways of standing up to the assassin’s veto is to produce more of the very thing that offends the would-be assassin in reaction and solidarity.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.