The American Freedom Defense Initiative organized an event on Sunday night in Garland, Texas, inviting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. The event's organizers received more than 350 submissions and the cartoonist who drew the best, or most offensive cartoon -- depending on your point of view -- received $10,000.
Two men reportedly drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center, where the event was ending, and began firing their guns, injuring a security guard. Police responded by shooting and killing the gunmen. Police do not know yet whether the shooting was related to the event.
It is also unclear what the event's organizers hoped to accomplish -- except to perpetuate anti-Muslim bigotry.
Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, told CNN that her organization wanted to promote free expression.
There's not always a fine line between exercising one's free expression and expressing racial or religious bigotry. But, in this case, there was.
The Southern Law Poverty Center considers the American Freedom Defense Initiative an anti-Muslim hate group.
"The Islamic jihadis are determined to suppress our freedom of speech violently, Geller said. "They struck in Paris and Copenhagen recently, and now in Texas."
On January 7, gunmen attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, killing 12 people, including five cartoonists. The gunmen shouted that the murders were in retaliation for satiric drawings of the Prophet Mohammed that had regularly appeared in the magazine. Many Muslims consider drawings of the Prophet Mohammad to be blasphemous.
A month later, a gunman attacked a free speech forum in Copenhagen, which featured cartoonist Lars Vilks, who had drawn Mohammed as a dog, among other things. One person was killed.
Satire, whether written or drawn, requires context. If radical Muslims commit an act of terrorism in the name of the Prophet Mohammed, it is appropriate to draw Mohammed, smiling maniacally and holding a bomb.
But what is the point of drawing a cartoon of the prophet for no other reason than to attack him and Muslims?
This is not an exercise in free expression, as the American Freedom Defense Initiative cynically claimed, it is an exercise in bigotry that does not advance free speech but diminishes our culture. If the point of the event was to test the limits of free expression, why didn't they offer cash prizes of $10,000 for anyone who drew cartoons satirizing Jesus Christ?
In a related development, the PEN American Center will present its Freedom of Expression Award to Charlie Hebdo's editor in New York on Tuesday, May 5. A number of PEN Award winners and other writers announced they will not attend the ceremony because they found that the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo promoted "cultural intolerance."
Francine Prose, a former PEN American president, said she "deplored" the murders at the Hebdo offices in January, but added that giving an award to the magazine signified "admiration and respect" for the honoree's work.
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