Did the FBI Want Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller Dead?

Front Page Magazine, by Robert Spencer, March 30, 2017:

60 Minutes ran a feature Sunday night about the FBI curious role in the May 2015 Garland jihad attack at a free speech event co-organized by Pamela Geller and me. It was, predictably enough, viciously biased, sloppy, and incomplete, but it was nonetheless illuminating in raising a hard and unanswerable question: did the FBI want Pamela Geller and me dead?

Despite the fact that the jihad attack took place at our event, neither Geller nor I appear, except in one still photo, in the 60 Minutes piece. All they say is that “a self-described free speech advocate named Pamela Geller was holding a provocative contest.”

The contempt fairly leapt from the screen. “A self-described free speech advocate”? Did 60 Minutes mean that Pamela Geller didn’t have the requisite degree in free speech advocacy? Or that she wasn’t really a free speech advocate? What they really mean, of course, is that she is not on the Left, and so cannot be celebrated as a free speech advocate the way the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, who were all Leftists, can be.

60 Minutes also gave a nod to Sharia blasphemy laws by describing the contest as “provocative.” It was an art exhibit, featuring historical and modern images of Muhammad, some created by Muslims. It was only provocative to Muslims who believe in Islam’s death penalty for blasphemy (and brainwashed dhimmis). Was 60 Minutes implying endorsement of that death penalty? Why, yes. If our event was provocative, the shooters were justifiably provoked.

Meanwhile, CBS gave a lot of space to Usama Shami, the imam of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, from which the jihadis came, allowing him to exonerate the mosque of any responsibility for “radicalizing” the jihad attackers. 60 Minutes didn’t mention what Simpson’s friend Courtney Lonergan told the Arizona Republic: “Simpson would never waver from the teachings he picked up in the mosque and elsewhere….He was one of those guys who would sleep at the mosque. The fact that he felt personally insulted by somebody drawing a picture had to come from the ideological rhetoric coming out of the mosque.”

60 Minutes also doesn’t challenge Shami on his lies right after the attack, when he said that the jihadis were not regular members of the mosque.

Despite all the predictable politically correct whitewashing and appeasement, CBS did a good job of highlighting a curious and still unexplained aspect of the attack: the FBI clearly knew the attack was coming (although it didn’t bother to inform us or our security team), as the FBI agent was right there, following behind the jihadis, whom he had encouraged to “tear up Texas.” But even though they knew the attack was coming, they didn’t have a team in place to stop the jihadis. They had one man there, and one man only. The jihadis were not stopped by FBI agents, but by our own security team. If the jihadis had gotten through our team, they would have killed Pamela Geller and me, and many others. (They would no doubt have loved to kill Geert Wilders, but he left before they arrived.)

The Daily Beast wrote in August 2016 about how this undercover FBI agent encouraged the jihadis. The Beast’s Katie Zavadski wrote: “Days before an ISIS sympathizer attacked a cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, he received a text from an undercover FBI agent. ‘Tear up Texas,’ the agent messaged Elton Simpson days before he opened fire at the Draw Muhammad event, according to an affidavit (pdf) filed in federal court Thursday.”

This was not entrapment. Simpson and Soofi were determined jihadis who had scouted out other targets. Simpson, along with Soofi and Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, who supplied weapons to the pair and helped them train, sought information about pipe bombs and plotted to attack the Super Bowl, and planned to go to Syria to join the Islamic State (ISIS), long before anyone told him to “tear up Texas.”

But what was the FBI’s game in telling them to do that? Why didn’t they have a phalanx of agents in place, ready to stop the attack? Or did they want the attack to succeed, so that Barack Obama’s vow that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” would be vividly illustrated, and intimidate any other Americans who might be contemplating defending the freedom of speech into silence?

We twice asked the FBI for an investigation into this matter. They have ignored us. Of course. After all, it isn’t as if this happened to someone important, like Linda Sarsour.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Iran. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.

’60 Minutes’ Whitewashes Massive FBI Failure in 2015 ISIS Texas Terror Attack

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, March 26, 2017:

“Complexities.”

That’s the excuse invoked at the end of a 60 Minutes segment that aired Sunday evening to explain why the FBI failed to stop two ISIS-inspired terrorists in direct contact with two ISIS terror recruiters. The attackers rolled up in a car loaded with guns and ammunition to the “Draw Mohammad” cartoon contest event in Garland, Texas, on May 3, 2015:

What 60 Minutes, fronted by Anderson Cooper and echoed in an interview with Seamus Hughes of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, explains is that FBI sources are stretched so thin that there’s no possible way to devote resources to every single potential threat.

I’ll grant that FBI counter-terrorism resources are overloaded WAY BEYOND capacity. That’s an appropriate and warranted discussion for policymakers to address. Also, in the real world of law enforcement, there are indeed many “complexities” during a case that lead to some very important investigative clues being missed — especially when FBI resources are overstretched beyond capacity.

But these “complexities” don’t even remotely begin to explain the massive failure by the FBI in this particular case. Like a blanket that’s too short that you can never turn the right way to cover everything, invoking “complexities” to explain the FBI failure in the attempted Garland attack doesn’t cover the very issues raised by 60 Minutes in their own report. Yet “complexities” is all that 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper, and Seamus Hughes give viewers.

So here’s the real clarity in this story: at the time of the Garland attack, as the two terrorists, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, were traveling in their car loaded with guns and ammo, they were being closely tailed by an undercover FBI agent (not an informant — an actual FBI agent) whom they had previously been in contact with on social media.

The undercover agent even snapped pictures of the attack site just seconds before Simpson and Soofi jumped out of their car with guns blazing:

60 Minutes helpfully provides the undercover FBI agent’s picture taken seconds before the attack showing two individuals, including a police officer, who were shot at by the pair:

And they provide a helpful graphic of how close the undercover FBI agent was tailing Simpson and Soofi (see the terrorists’ car turning into the Curtis Culwell Center, and the FBI undercover agent following immediately behind):

And yet, according to a statement provided to 60 Minutes, the FBI claims they had no advanced knowledge of the attack:

We wanted to ask the FBI those same questions. But the bureau would not agree to an interview. All the FBI would give us was this email statement. It reads: “There was no advance knowledge of a plot to attack the cartoon drawing contest in Garland, Texas.”

This is not even remotely believable.

The information about the undercover FBI agent being at the scene was already known before the 60 Minutes broadcast, given some details were included in court documents for a related terrorism case in Ohio this past August:

I noted that here at PJ Media, while mentioning the (at that point) dozen “Known Wolf” terror cases during the Obama administration:

But the FBI undercover agent being at the Garland attack site was more than coincidence. In fact, the FBI agent had been in contact with Simpson on social media in the three weeks prior to the attack, and at one point had even told Simpson to “tear up Texas,” as the attorney in the Ohio case explained to 60 Minutes:

Anderson Cooper: After the trial, you discovered that the government knew a lot more about the Garland attack than they had let on?

Dan Maynard: That’s right. Yeah. After the trial we found out that they had had an undercover agent who had been texting with Simpson, less than three weeks before the attack, to him “Tear up Texas.” Which to me was an encouragement to Simpson.

The man he’s talking about was a special agent of the FBI, working undercover posing as an Islamic radical.  The government sent attorney Dan Maynard 60 pages of declassified encrypted messages between the agent and Elton Simpson — and argued “Tear up Texas” was not an incitement. But Simpson’s response was incriminating, referring to the attack against cartoonists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo: “bro, you don’t have to say that … ” He wrote “you know what happened in Paris … so that goes without saying. No need to be direct.”

Again, this is information that was reported months ago:

The FBI isn’t too interested in answering questions about their undercover agent’s encrypted communications with would-be Garland killer Elton Simpon, as Daily Beast reporter Katie Zavadski found out when she asked them directly:

Press officers for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, the Cleveland FBI Office, and the Department of Justice declined to comment beyond the affidavit. FBI spokeswoman Carol Cratty hung up on The Daily Beast after being asked about the “tear up Texas” text.

Complexities. But as the late Billy Mays would say: “But wait! There’s more!”

Unmentioned in the 60 Minutes report: the FBI sent a bulletin to Garland police hours before the event warning that Simpson — whom the Justice Department had already unsuccessfully prosecuted previously for his role in a terror cell — might be on his way to the Garland event, even including his photo and his license plate number:

FBI Director James Comey even admitted they had information, saying:

We developed information just hours before the event that Simpson might be interested in going to Garland.

Garland police claim they never saw the FBI’s bulletin. But 60 Minutes never bothers to mention it at all.

Also unmentioned was the considerable online chatter in ISIS circles about the event, and in some cases directly threatening it.

As I reported exclusively here at PJ Media at the time, what initiated most of the chatter was the attempt by the only two Muslim members of Congress — Keith Ellison and Andre Carson — to prevent Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders from attending the event:

The chatter began when news broke that two Muslim congressmen, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, had appealed to Secretary of State John Kerry to deny entry into the U.S. for Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders.

Wilders was scheduled to be the featured speaker at Sunday’s cartoon contest.

One law enforcement source who was monitoring potential threats to the event told PJ Media the following:

[Ellison and Carson] clearly set things off. Nothing was being said until that news story came out, and then the usual suspects began to talk about it. By the time the weekend rolled around, there were clear and identifiable incitements calling for an attack on the event.

So there was considerable ISIS chatter about the event, even incitement calling for an attack on the event. That concerned the Texas Department of Public Safety so much they committed considerable resources, including creating what one Texas DPS described to me as “a death trap” for anyone who attempted to attack the event.

The online chatter caused no concern for the FBI or any other federal agency. Again, as I reported exclusively, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security sent out a “Joint Intelligence Bulletin” to law enforcement four days before the Garland event dismissing any threat:

Their reasoning was astounding:

Although past events involving the alleged defamation of Islam and the prophet, Muhammad, have resulted in threats or overt acts of violence overseas, we have not yet seen such violence in the United States. The most frequent reaction among US-based homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) is discussion and verbal disapproval via online communication platforms, including websites with violent extremist content and social media sites.† We assess it is unlikely that any one event perceived to defame Islam would alone mobilize HVEs to violence.

Because such an attack had not happened here yet, as it had just four months prior in the attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, it was unlikely to happen here, the FBI and DHS said.

The FBI and virtually all federal agencies were following a narrative enforced by the Obama White House that ISIS was the “JV team” and posed no domestic terror threat to the United States. That’s not where the facts led, but it was the narrative blinders that the FBI and Director James Comey were willing to assume.

How much of that narrative enforcement is still in place? No one really knows, and 60 Minutes doesn’t bother to ask.

So at this point we have:

  • An undercover FBI agent tailing the Garland terror attackers to the Draw Muhammed event
  • The FBI agent in direct communication with Elton Simpson telling him to “Tear up Texas”
  • The FBI sending Garland police a bulletin with Simpson’s picture and license plate warning he may show up hours before the attack
  • Considerable online chatter by ISIS operatives, including direct incitement calling for an attack on the event

For those outside the political/media establishment bubble, these might seem to be really important investigative clues that raise serous concerns about the FBI’s claims they had no prior warning to the Garland attack. But for 60 Minutes and Seamus Hughes of GWU’s Program on Extremism, all their viewers are left with in conclusion are … “complexities”:

The FBI’s actions around this foiled attack offer a rare glimpse into the complexities faced by those fighting homegrown extremism. Today, the battle often begins online where identifying terrorists can be the difference between a massacre, and the one that never occurred in Garland, Texas.

Anderson Cooper: People brag about stuff. People talk big. One of the difficulties for the FBI is trying to figure out who’s just talking and who actually may execute an attack.

Seamus Hughes: That’s the hardest part when you talk about this, right. There’s a lot of guys who talk about how great ISIS is. It’s very hard to tell when someone crosses that line. And in most of the cases, you see the FBI has some touchpoint with those individuals beforehand. There had been an assessment, a preliminary investigation or a full investigation. It’s just very hard to know when somebody decides to jump.

It should come as no surprise that Seamus Hughes trains FBI officials in knowing when somebody decides to jump.

Yes, that’s right. 60 Minutes turned to, as its sole outside “expert,” one of the FBI’s own advisers and terrorism training instructors.

That said, let me suggest that when one of your undercover agents is tailing a car with two ISIS operatives, including one you’ve already tried unsuccessfully to put in prison on previous terrorism charges, loaded with guns and ammunition and headed towards an event that has been targeted by ISIS supporters on social media: that might be an indication that somebody is prepared to jump.

Ironically, after their Garland attack whitewash, 60 Minutes continued their broadcast with a segment on “Fake News”:

However, Hughes’ colleagues over at the GWU “Project on Extremism” seemed pretty happy with how it all turned out:

No doubt a contract for FBI training is on its way to GWU right now.

Follow-Up: Geert Wilders Demands Explanation from US on FBI “Egging On” Jihad

160805_atm_nc_man_isis_arrest_16x9_1600As reported last week, affidavits suggest the FBI may have ‘egged on’ the jihadist attack in Garland, Texas. The Dutch government has become interested in the case, while the suspect’s mother claims he is “patriotic” and unfairly targeted because he is a Muslim.

CounterJihad, Aug. 10, 2016:

Last week, CounterJihad reported on suggestions that the FBI may have “egged on” jihadist killers who attacked a free speech protest in Garland, Texas.  The attackers were shot dead at the scene by a heroic off-duty traffic policeman.  The reports of FBI interaction with them were made public during a related trial of an alleged Islamic State (ISIS) recruiter, one Erick Hendricks.

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch “Party for Freedom” political party, has demanded that his government pursue answers from the United States on this case.  The Dutch are interested because of similar killings by jihadists opposed to Western norms of free speech both in their country and in neighboring France.

Geert Wilders is demanding clarification from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on this matter. He wants to know whether it is true that an FBI agent contacted one of the terrorists and possibly egged him on. He also wants to know whether the American authorities passed FBI information on to the Dutch authorities. “If so when, and what was done with this information? If not, why not?”

“Are you prepared to ask the US immediately for clarification on these reports? If not, why not?” Wilders writes on his website. “Are you prepared to answer these questions this week?”

So far the Dutch Prime Minister has not responded to the inquiry.  Nevertheless, the matter is likely to be of great interest internationally.  The Netherlands has seen explosive growth in jihadist elements.  Research by the Motivaction group reveals that 80% of Turks in the Netherlands support the practice of jihad in order to spread Islam.  The horrifying Paris attacks of last year provoked emergency meetings of Dutch ministers, and a German-Netherlands football game was canceled due to “concrete” threats of a similar attack targeting it.

European governments depend on the United States to handle a substantial piece of the counter-jihad effort as the European Union lacks genuine intelligence-sharing programs.  In the United States, the Federal government can readily share information with state and local agencies, as well as with partner governments worldwide with whom it has proper agreements.  In Europe, it is often the case that even police agencies cannot talk to each other across national borders.  Even police forces within a nation may not be allowed to talk to each other.

Meanwhile, at the trial of accused ISIS recruiter Erick Hendricks, his attorney and his mother are alike trying to claim that the charges against him are incredible due to the FBI’s use of paid informants to gather evidence.  His mother described him as “patriotic,” and said that the government was trumping up charges against him because of he was a Muslim.

During his detention hearing in Charlotte, Erick Jamal Hendricks sobbed as his attorney attempted to poke holes in the federal government’s allegations that the 35-year-old Arkansas native recruited for the Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS or ISIL…. Culler argued for 35 minutes that the government lacked probable cause for the case, and that an FBI affidavit cited by prosecutors as grounds for Hendricks’ continued confinement lacked facts and was based on statements from paid informants, some of them with criminal records.

If Hendricks posed such danger to the public, why did the government wait so long to arrest him, Culler asked the judge. “They looked in on him for more than a year, and he’s a threat?”

Cayer, without explanation, ordered that Hendricks remain in custody….

[Hendricks’ mother Lisa] Woods, 62, said he has been singled out because of his religion. “He is a successful African-American Muslim. I feel that’s why it happened, and the rest of them better be ready for it.”

The judge may be motivated by the recent Pulse nightclub shooting, in which the FBI had twice investigated and cleared Omar Mateen, the gunman who went on to murder dozens while pledging allegiance to ISIS.  The FBI also looked into Mateen for a very long time, were unable to prove anything, and yet he still turned out to be a serious danger to the American public.

Chris Cuomo’s Sharia Folly

PJ Media by Andrew Bostom, June 5, 2015:

In the wake of CNN’s Wednesday revelation that journalist/activist Pamela Geller was targeted for beheading by slain Boston area jihadist Usaama Rahim, CNN’s Chris Cuomo interviewed Ms. Geller Thursday. Most attention to the interview has been focused on Geller’s understandable reaction to Cuomo’s suggestion that non-profane, free-speech cartoons of Muhammad — for example, ex-Muslim artist Bosch Fawstin’s thoughtful drawing below, which was awarded first prize at the recent Garland, TX exhibit – were somehow too provocative.

Fawstin_Mohammad-Contest-Drawing-1-small-1024x814 (1)

Said Geller to Cuomo:

Drawing a cartoon … warrants chopping my head off? That’s too far? I just don’t understand this. They’re going to come for you, too, Chris. They’re coming for everybody and the media should be standing with me.

But the most illuminating — and in Cuomo’s case, pathognomonic — segment of the interview (starts at 6:57 of the below clip) was when Geller asked Cuomo:

Where are the mainstream Muslims teaching in the mosques against the [Islamic] blasphemy laws, against Islamic law, the Sharia, the jihadist doctrine?

Geller’s query elicited this breathtakingly ignorant though commonly reiterated media falsehood, here asserted by Cuomo with supreme confidence:

Sharia is not mainstream Muslim thought.

Mr. Cuomo and other media figures across the political spectrum would do well — before issuing such embarrassing, factually challenged pontifications — to study the serious work of Joseph Schacht (d. 1969), who was the most authoritative modern Western Islamic legal scholar.

The sharia, or “clear path to be followed,” as Schacht demonstrated, is the “canon law of Islam,” which “denotes all the individual prescriptions composing it.”

Schacht traced the use of the term “sharia” to Koranic verses such as 45:18, 42:13, 42:21, and 5:48, noting an “old definition” of the sharia by the seminal Koranic commentator and early Muslim historian Tabari (d. 923) as comprising the law of inheritance, various commandments and prohibitions, and the so-called hadd punishments.

These latter draconian punishments, defined by the Muslim prophet Muhammad either in the Koran or in the hadith (the canonical collections of Muhammad’s deeds and pronouncements), included:

(Lethal) stoning for adultery; death for apostasy; death for highway robbery when accompanied by murder of the robbery victim; for simple highway robbery, the loss of hands and feet; for simple theft, cutting off of the right hand; for “fornication,” a hundred lashes; for drinking wine, eighty lashes.

As Schacht further noted, sharia ultimately evolved to become “understood [as] the totality of Allah’s commandments relating to the activities of man.”

The holistic sharia, he continues, is nothing less than Islam’s quintessence:

The Sharia is the most characteristic phenomenon of Islamic thought and forms the nucleus of Islam itself.

Schacht also delineated additional characteristics of the sharia which have created historically insurmountable obstacles to its reform:

Allah’s law is not to be penetrated by the intelligence . . . i.e., man has to accept it without criticism, with its apparent inconsistencies and its incomprehen­sible decrees, as wisdom into which it is impossible to enquire [inquire].

One must not look in it for causes in our sense, nor for principles; it is based on the will of Allah which is bound by no principles, therefore evasions are consid­ered as a permissible means put at one’s disposal by Allah himself.

Muslim law . . . has always been considered by its followers as some­thing elevated, high above human wisdom, and as a matter of fact human logic or system has little share in it. For this very reason, the Sharia is not “law” in the modern sense of the word, any more than it is on account of its subject matter.

It comprises without restriction, as an infallible doctrine of duties the whole of the religious, political, social, domestic and private life of those who profess Islam, and the activities of the tolerated members of other faiths so far as they may not be detrimental to Islam.

Most importantly, Schacht elucidated how sharia — via the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad war – regulated the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. These regulations make explicit the sacralized vulnerability of unvanquished non-Muslims to jihad depredations, and the permanent, deliberately humiliating legal inferiority for those who survive their jihad conquest, and incorporation into an Islamic polity governed by sharia.

Consistent with the doctrine of jihad, in accord with the Sunna (the traditions of Muhammad and the early Muslim community), by using foul language against the Muslim prophet Muhammad, Allah, or Islam, the non-Muslim transgressors put themselves on a war footing against Muslims, and their lives became licit (such as the poet Kaab b. al-Ashraf, who composed poems denigrating Muhammad, and was assassinated). (See herehere, and here.)

This “offense” was then constructed and legitimated by Muslim jurists when Islam was politically, militarily, and economically dominant, so that it was expected that the non-Muslims under Islamic rule would not denigrate the religion of Islam, nor cast aspersions on its major figures or institutions. (See herehere, and here.) The jurists saw any such denigration as an unacceptable hostile act, punishable by death, automatically, as per three of the main Sunni schools of Islamic Law (Maliki, Shafii, Hanbali), and the major Shiite schools.

According to the fourth major school of Sunni Islamic law, the Hanafi, the punishment of a non-Muslim guilty of blasphemy is left to the discretion of a Muslim judge. The death penalty was in fact most often applied by the Hanafis. (See here and here.)

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Pamela Geller getting the message out: “People need to learn about the Jihadic doctrine, not shut people up that are talking about it”

Screen-Shot-2015-06-04-at-9.12.22-AMVIDEO Round 2: Pamela Geller vs. Chris Cuomo:

FULL VIDEO: Pamela Geller on Jake Tapper’s The Lead Discussing the Beheading Plot:

VIDEO: Pamela Geller on Greta Van Susteren, “Investigate the ISB Mosque and the Imam”

Geller: “People need to learn about the Jihadic doctrine, not shut people up that are talking about it”

VIDEO: Pamela Geller on Fox and Friends Calls for Investigation of Phoenix Mosque

mosque-1-copyBy Pamela Geller,May 30, 2015:

I was on Fox and Friends this morning discussing the free speech rally in Phoenix in front of the Garland jihadi’s mosque, where he was a longtime member. Was it investigated? Even after the attack? If not, why not? The mosque lied repeatedly about the jihad members.

—-Simpon’s friend Courtney Lonergan remembers Elton Simpson would never waver from the teachings he picked up in the mosque and elsewhere.

“He was one of those guys who would sleep at the mosque,” Lonergan said. “The fact that he felt personally insulted by somebody drawing a picture had to come from the ideological rhetoric coming out of the mosque.”

—-when he sought a Muslim wife, Simpson turned to the men in the mosque to find a suitable woman, and his way of earning their respect was to show his devotion to Islam by quoting teachings verbatim….

—Mosque president, Usama Shami, tried to downplay the ties of the two Garland would-be mass-murderers. This included Shami’s claim to the press that neither was a regular member. In fact, Elton “Ibrahim” Simpson had been featured in a mosque fundraising video posted on ICCP’s YouTube channel in 2012 identifying him as a member.

Two other previous mosque attendees — Hassan Abu-Jihaad and Derrick Shareef — are currently in federal prison on terrorism-related charges.

—Mosque president Usama Shami claimed the mosque did not raise money for Elton’s Simpson’s legal defense. But point in fact the  Islamic Community Center of Phoenix posted $100,000 cash bond to release him from custody, Sitton said.

Clearly, the rally expresses the frustration of Americans that government and law enforcement aren’t facing the problem in the mosques squarely, and arent standing for the freedom of speech. They didnt go there to commit violence, but to show that they would not be frightened into silence.

America has a choice now – will we be frightened into silence and sharia submission, or will we stand?

Charlie Hebdo defends freedom under fire

Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a film critic for Charlie Hebdo, will receive an award for courage in freedom of expression from the PEN American Center. Credit Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a film critic for Charlie Hebdo, will receive an award for courage in freedom of expression from the PEN American Center. Credit Earl Wilson/The New York Times

American Thinker, by Andrew E. Harrod, May 26, 2015:

“We don’t negotiate with the freedom of speech,” stated Jean-Baptiste Thoret, film critic for the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, during a May 1 presentation before an audience of about 100 at Freedom House in Washington, D.C.  His words, stated during an American visit to receive a PEN free speech award for his colleagues murdered during a January Paris jihadist attack, have continuing importance, as the subsequent May 4 Texas jihadist attack showed.

PEN American Center executive director Suzanne Nossel introduced the panel by justifying her organization’s recognition of Charlie Hebdo for “rejecting the assassins’ veto … on behalf of all of us.”  Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief Gėrard Biard explained that the publication’s past caricatures of Islam’s prophet Muhammad were a literary response to violence perpetrated by “Islam fundamentalists,” the “political part of Islam.”  Self-censoring such caricatures would “send the wrong message to people who use violence” – namely, “you are right to kill people, because it works.  People are afraid[.] … You can tell people what to do.”  Concessions are also no guarantee of security; he recalled Algerian journalists facing jihadist threats in the 1990s, stating, “[I]f you speak they kill you; if you don’t speak they kill you.  So speak.”

For Thoret, self-censoring Muhammad would have been the “beginning of the end” for any press freedom as exercised by Charlie Hebdo.  “You will always find someone who will be offended by what you do” and therefore groups besides Muslims would raise other censorship demands.  Yet “humor is a very serious thing,” he said with attribution to Mark Twain(more accurately, Winston Churchill), and a cartoon can sometimes make people think more than an article.  Every intellectual publication like a cartoon manifests a “little victory” for freedom, like the jury acquittal in the 1957 film classic 12 Angry Men.

Biard noted how unique were such “little victories” concerning speech on Islam.  Only Charlie Hebdo and another French publication republished the globally controversial Danish Muhammad cartoons in 2006 after their initial French publication cost the job of France-Soir’s chief editor.  As criticized by Charlie Hebdo’s late editor Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, a chief target and victim of the January attack, Biard noted that the French “press turned its back to us” and “suffered a lack of courage.”  While many publications agreed in principle with the cartoons’ publication, they deferred to security concerns.

As event moderator Robert Ruby from Freedom House noted, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonist Rénald “Luz” Luzier had also joined the ranks of those who would no longer draw Muhammad, stating that he had lost interest in the subject.  Ruby asked whether fear motivated the decision of Luz, a man who escaped death in Charlie Hebdo’s office massacre by a fateful lateness in getting to work.  “I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t think it is worth it,” responded Biard.  He noted how Luz saw immediately after the shootings the bloody corpses of his colleagues lying on the floor with upturned buttocks, images that dominated his drawings in the following days.

Biard rejected criticisms that Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad caricatures had exhibited prejudice, objections that had caused 145 PEN member writers to condemn its awarding Charlie Hebdo.  “We never published racist cartoons” at Charlie Hebdo, “historically … an anti-racist magazine” whose “DNA … is anti-racism,” he stated.  “We don’t attack weak people; we attack powerful,” he argued, including the powerful political force of Islamism.

Asked from the audience why French law allowed Muhammad satire but prohibited Holocaust denial, he responded that the “difference with the Holocaust is it is a fact.”  “You can mock a symbol, but you cannot deny the dignity of six million men.”  Muhammad satire simply is a part of how “we at Charlie Hebdo are against everything iconic.”

Thoret noted similarly that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons overwhelmingly treated non-Islamic themes.  A recent 10-year review of 523 magazine covers, for example, determined that 485 dealt with political and other matters, while only 38 involved religion, 21 on Christianity and only seven concerning Islam.  Observers who accused the Muhammad caricatures of racism also overlooked a French cartoon tradition of grotesque faces.  In any given case, the “quality or the intelligence of the cartoon” is the “most important criteri[on].”

“Our lives changed, it’s obvious” in the Charlie Hebdo assault, Biard observed; “in half an hour we became a world symbol” out of a small magazine.  Thoret likewise discussed how many cartoonists had previously lived carefree lives but now needed security guards.  Ruby noted a comment by a Le Monde cartoonist to the editor at the center of the Danish cartoons controversy, Flemming Rose, that the Charlie Hebdo attacks are merely the beginning.

Biard expressed feelings of Charlie Hebdo being overwhelmed in its newfound role as a sometimes isolated defender of free speech.  “It’s not our job to be a symbol.  Our job is to make people think and laugh.”  On the other hand, free speech “values belong to everyone and everyone has to stand up for these values,” something requiring more than additional security precautions.  “You must answer violence also by your behavior, the citizens’ behavior,” he stated.  In an era of global jihad threats, it is the “only way that democracy can survive.”

This article was commissioned by The Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum.