US News & World Report
By Nicole Hemmer
After armed gunmen attacked a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last week, event organizer Pamela Geller went on Fox News to explain the moral righteousness of her cause. Responding to critics like Donald Trump, who accused her of "taunting" Muslims, she asked, "What would he have said about Rosa Parks? Rosa Parks should never have gone to the front of the bus. She's taunting people."
Nor was Geller alone in seeing the civil rights parallel. John Nolte, writing for Breitbart, contended, "Anyone who knows anything about history understands that tactically and morally, Geller's provocative Muhammad Cartoon Contest was no different than Dr. Martin Luther King's landmark march from Selma to Montgomery."
They're both wrong, in a particularly pernicious way. By drawing a parallel between Geller's anti-Islamic events and the civil rights movement's anti-Jim Crow protests, they are trying to cash in on the moral authority of the movement while scrapping its moral foundations.
There is a surface-level similarity between the two movements, one Geller and Nolte hope no one probes too deeply. Civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s knew that if they violated the laws and norms of the Jim Crow South, white Southerners would react with spectacular violence. Putting that violence on display was the point. Jim Crow laws gave Southern racial violence the veneer of a civilized legal code. The protests showed the rest of the world the ever-present threat of violence upon which that legal code was built.
Geller, too, meant to provoke violence with her Muhammad cartoon event. The question is, to what end? We already know that violent extremists are violent and extreme. If we want to see how extremists respond to people who draw Muhammad, we only need look at recent events in Paris and Copenhagen. The point for Geller and her cohort is to demonstrate that the West is at war with Islam — and ultimately to devote more resources to that war.
In other words, Geller hopes to use the violence she provokes to justify violence in return. And that's where the civil rights analogy utterly fails. The radical potential of the early civil rights movement grew out of its moral commitment to nonviolence. And not just nonviolent action — King called upon activists to be nonviolent in word and thought as well. The reason the movement has such moral authority in America is because it was built on this deeply held belief in the transformative power of love-based politics and resistance.
Geller's movement has none of that. She and those in her camp seek not a world with more peace but one with more war. Given that, it is especially repugnant that they call upon the names of Parks and King, trading on their courage and sacrifice while undermining the values of love and peacefulness that makes their work worth emulating.
This article was originally published in the US News & World Report