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As a Survivor of the First ISIS Attack on American Soil, I Have a Few Thoughts About Salman Rushdie

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The stabbing of Salman Rushdie has been the occasion for numerous people around the world to reaffirm their commitment to the freedom of speech, and that’s all to the good. I couldn’t help but notice once again, however, the stark contrast between the response to the attack on Rushdie and the response when Islamic jihadis affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked our event in defense of the freedom of speech in Texas back in 2015. The contrast is indicative of some widespread cultural attitudes.

On May 3, 2015, Pamela Geller and I co-organized a “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” in the Dallas suburb of Garland, Texas. We wanted to demonstrate, after the cartoonists of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France were murdered for drawing Muhammad, that we would not bow to violent intimidation and would defend the freedom of speech at the point at which it was being attacked. Our intention was just that and only that, to stand for the freedom of speech, and the event was a quiet affair. Dutch politician and free speech advocate Geert Wilders spoke, as did the winner of our content, artist Bosch Fawstin, as well as Pamela Geller and myself.

The whole thing had gone off without a hitch, but just moments after it ended, one of the members of the considerable security detail that we had hired burst into the hall. He told us that there had been a shooting outside, and that he had to get the 300-strong crowd, and us, to a safe place. It turned out that two Muslims from Phoenix had driven eight hours to Garland and drawn guns in the parking lot of our event, shooting and injuring one of our guards, whereupon they were shot dead. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

On Monday, The New York Times approvingly quoted an open letter that Salman Rushdie once signed, “warning that the ‘free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.’” In the same piece, the Times also approvingly quoted an Iranian-American writer, Roya Hakakian, saying “that the heart of the Rushdie case is ‘being able to say that we, as writers, as novelists, as thinkers, can absolutely take on any issue we want in our works — and that includes Islam.’”

But three days after ISIS jihadis tried to kill us, on May 6, 2015, the Times wasn’t nearly as interested in standing for the principle that anything, even Islam, can be criticized. The Editorial Board claimed that “the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Tex., was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom.”

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