Deacon Ian Punnett
It seems indisputable that two dead men from Phoenix attempted the massacre at a “Mohammed cartoon drawing contest” in Garland, Texas, on May 3, but it also may be that a missing ISIS recruiter from Minneapolis inspired the shooting with this tweet: “The brothers from the Charlie Hebdo attack did their part. It’s time for brothers in the #us to do their part.” In connecting the poorly attended “Draw the Prophet” hatefest to France’s venerated long-running national satire magazine, however, the extremist tweeter who goes by the name of “Miski” did event organizer Pamela Geller a solid. Because of the association, Geller’s incendiary fear of Islam is equated to a harmless celebration of free speech.
Although both “Draw the Prophet” and Charlie Hebdo feature cartoons of Mohammed, that’s about where the similarities end.
In truth, Geller’s fringe group has more in common with ISIS than Charlie Hebdo. Like any extremist, Geller’s version of free speech means using her voice to defame and then drown out other faiths in the name of liberty. Also, as a self-described ardent Zionist, it’s the Pamela Gellers of the world that are satirized by the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, not lionized. Geller shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the editors of Charlie Hebdo just might be having their own “Pamela Geller cartoon drawing contest” in advance of their next issue.
None of this should ever diminish the importance of satire in a free society. After deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Danish satire freedom forum in 2015, dignitaries around the world joined in a supportive chorus of “Je suis Charlie” as the role of satire in a democracy was reaffirmed. In short, because satire is a humorous form of writing that ridicules authority and conventional society, it functions as an entertaining revenge of the powerless, a thumb in the scornful eye of governments. For centuries, satire has been taught as a legitimate form of journalism, the granddaddy of op-ed column writing such as this.
And, despite the heroism of police officers to prevent a larger tragedy, it’s just this “humorous voice against oppression” nature of satire that makes it impossible to put Geller’s “Draw the Prophet” Islamophobic publicity stunt in the same category as the iconoclastic, equal opportunity offender Charlie Hebdo . . . and why nobody is marching around the world saying, “Je suis Pamela.”
Rev. Ian Punnett (@deaconpunnett) is a PhD student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication/ASU in Phoenix, a seminary-trained deacon in The Episcopal Church, a former nationally syndicated broadcaster and author of “How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God.”