https://pjmedia.com/columns/robert-spencer/2022/08/22/did-rushdie-have-it-coming-n1622997

Most of us outside of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its friends agree that the stabbing attack on Salman Rushdie for having a less than fulsomely positive view of Islam’s prophet was wholly unjustified and that violence is never an appropriate response to words one considers offensive. Some analysts, however, are insisting that Rushdie crossed an unacceptable line, and while he shouldn’t have been stabbed, people should be more circumspect in exercising their freedom of speech.

In Minnesota’s Star Tribune Tuesday, Omar Alansari-Kreger asserted that “we share a civic responsibility to use our First Amendment rights to build bridges rather than reinforce divisions.” And in The American Conservative (TAC) Thursday, Michael Warren Davis unequivocally denounced Rushdie and presented a full-throated case for the idea that “free speech has limits—legal, yes, but also moral.” So: did Rushdie have it coming?

Davis states his case in simple and direct terms: “If someone insults your mother, you clock him. As a man, at least, there’s really nothing else you can do. It may not be strictly legal, but it’s perfectly honorable. Conversely, if you don’t want to get clocked, don’t insult anyone’s mother. Legally, he may be in the wrong. Morally, though, he’s right.” While this is a viscerally compelling argument, before you haul off and punch somebody, allow me to point out that as a man there may be plenty of other things you can do if someone insults your mother. A man is or should be much more than just a lout who goes around slugging people in response to insults. Right now, Catholics aren’t running around punching people because someone insultingly compared the rosary to an assault rifle.

If someone insults your mother, you can respond with your own insult. You can make a joke. You can leave. You can ignore it. Davis might insist that none of these are masculine responses, but then he claims that free speech has “moral” limits, and he seems to be a follower of the one who said: “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). Was the one who said that not a man?

The assumption that there is only one possible response to insult, and that is violence, is an echo of the jihadist assertion that he is tacitly defending (so it’s no surprise that he is defending it because he agrees with it). Iran recently responded to the Rushdie stabbing by saying it was his own fault for insulting Islam. Many jihadis speak about their attacks as if they were forced to do them and bear no responsibility; the victim bears all the responsibility because he or she insulted Islam.

But this is not the way reality really works. No human being who is not under some threat or other compulsion is forced to respond in a certain way to anything. The response one chooses to make is up to each person. That’s the basis of thinking human beings have responsibility for their actions.

Also, there is a huge difference between a fistfight and a premeditated assassination attempt. There is also a huge difference between publishing a work that people may choose to read or ignore as they wish and personally insulting someone to his face. “Fighting words” may be a factor in determining legal culpability in a face-to-face encounter, but it does not apply to publication. In the long, raucous history of American political insults, the answer to one person publishing insults is for the other person to be free to publish his thoughts — or even insults — as well. But Davis seems to find the publication of material that insults Islam to be objectionable in itself.

Related: Why Does the Left Have Such a Difficult Time With the Concept of ‘Free Speech’?

Davis complains that in The Satanic Verses, Rushdie “wasn’t offering an intelligent critique of their faith. He was mocking it.” Maybe so. But so what? Does Davis want material that is deliberately insulting to Islam or that mocks it to be outlawed? Or does he simply want people to be decent enough to refrain voluntarily from offending others’ deepest convictions? But what if he encounters someone whose deepest convictions include obviously abhorrent beliefs, such as the idea that murder is an appropriate response to insult? (An implausible hypothetical, I know!) Would mockery, which can be a powerful rhetorical tool, not be appropriate even then?

Michael Warren Davis has served as Editor-in-Chief of Crisis Magazine and as U.S. Editor of the Catholic Herald. The Catholic saint Thomas More said that the devil was a proud spirit who could not endure to be mocked. Was More not endorsing mockery as a bracing and possibly salutary antidote to pride? Will Davis repudiate More?

The heart of the TAC argument is his assertion that “when a man is willing to fight for his God (or his mom), it means he loves something more than himself. He might do terrible things in the name of that love. His heart may be in the wrong place. But at least he’s got a heart. What do the classical liberals have? Theories. White papers. A brain in a vat.”

So is someone who is willing to commit an immense moral evil because of misguided love for his God or his mother preferable to the bloodless classical liberal who sits by and theorizes about it? No. Just as a man whose mother is insulted may respond in all manner of ways, so also a man who is willing to fight for his God may fight in all kinds of ways other than killing an author or suppressing a book. He may engage in apologetics and refute arguments against his belief. He may write his own treatise explaining why the book in question is wrong and offensive. And so on and on.

What is at issue here is actually the hallmark of a civilized man, going back to the very beginnings of Western civilization. Socrates was no bar brawler. And the freedom of speech is worth protecting and defending.

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