Middle East studies in the News
Duke Professor Weighs in on Texas Shooting, First Amendment Debate [incl. David Schanzer and Omid Safi]
by Rachel Chason
Two gunmen—one whom the FBI had linked to Islamist terrorism—were killed Sunday evening after opening fire at an exhibit featuring cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas.
The men, who have since been identified as Elton Simpson, 30, and Nadir Hamid Soofi, 34, were killed by police officers after shooting a security guard in the ankle, according to The New York Times. None of the approximately 200 attendees at the event were reported to be injured.
Sponsored by the controversial American Freedom Defense Initiative, the event featured a keynote speech by Geert Wilders, an anti-Islam leader in the Netherlands, and a contest for the best caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, with a $10,000 top prize.
Critics have declared this contest intentionally incendiary—noting most interpretations of Islam consider drawings of the prophet offensive. In January, gunmen in Paris killed 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper known for printing caricatures of Muhammad.
"The group had every right to express its views and to do so without being threatened by or subjected to violence," said David Schanzer, associate professor of the practice for public policy and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, in a Duke Today press release. "That does not mean we need to honor the views that were being expressed by Mr. Wilders, [Pamela] Geller or others in attendance."
Geller, who is president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, describes herself as "anti-Jihad," not "anti-Muslim."
But Geller—who drew national attention in 2010 for her advocacy against the construction of a mosque in Manhattan—has been criticized for failing to draw a distinction between mainstream Islam and militant factions.
She told The New York Times in 2010 that she believed the only "moderate Muslim is a secular Muslim" and that when Muslims "pray five times a day...they're cursing Christians and Jews five times a day."
Schanzer noted that although everyone has a right to free speech, they also have a responsibility to do so in a way that is accurate, informative and does not degrade the views of others.
"Wilders and Geller intentionally cross this line as a professional, profit-making endeavor," he said. "While there is no excuse for the violent actions of the gunmen, their actions will, ironically, give Geller and Wilders' ugly views far more attention than they deserve."
Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, also weighed in on the event, posting from his personal Twitter account Sunday evening after the news broke. Safi noted that the American Freedom Defense Initiative was partially responsible for the shooting for fanning "flames of hatred."
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