The Second Conversation

There's the kind of conversation I prefer to have; and then there's the kind of conversation we sometimes have to have.

If you're like me, you prefer to exchange ideas with reasonable people who generally share a similar worldview, even if you don't always agree on the details. You enjoy working through the questions of premises, logic, and values that make up a civilized debate.

But there's another kind of conversation going on. It's the conversation that's imposed on us by people who don't believe in the free exchange of ideas. If you're used to being able to speak and argue freely, you might be caught off guard, because free speech is something we can easily come to take for granted.

This is a conversation that calls for less subtlety and more nerve. It's a conversation where you have to be willing to tell people exactly the thing they don't want to hear. In this kind of conversation, success is measured not by how much approval you win from other people, but by your willingness to speak even when others disapprove.


This week some startling new advertising posters appeared on the sides of buses in San Francisco, where I live. They read:





That's it. This is not a slur against any religion or nationality, nor it is a call to violence. But it is a response to those who have called for holy war, and it is a defense of a nation whose enemies do indeed behave as savages.

The ads are from the American Freedom Defense Initiative. AFDI is led by Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs. Pamela's style is not mine, and I have not always agreed with her in the past. But she understands something very important here. She understands the second conversation.

'I can’t imagine anyone (especially anyone whose mind is not already made up) reading this ad and concluding anything other than “some parts of the pro-Israel lobby seem like a bunch of d*cks.”' This is the most accurate sentence in Adam Chandler's piece in Tablet in which Chandler explains that "Pamela Geller's new ad is actually anti-Israel".

But here, Chandler is exactly right; in fact, that is the whole point of the campaign. Chandler cannot imagine living in a world where parties to a dispute do not sit down - like "civilized men" - and thoughtfully work out their differences.

Some of us know better. Some of us understand that there are always going to be people who don't like you, and it's a waste of time to try to win their friendship. Some of us are not losing any sleep if our enemies think we are "a bunch of d*cks." And that's why AFDI's in-your-face, no-bull ad campaign is brilliant, and is exactly what's needed in a place like San Francisco. These words are not an attempt to persuade the undecided; they are a statement of defiance to those who would suppress dissent. The words do not belong to the first kind of conversation, but to the second.


Andrew McCarthy is the former Federal prosecutor who put away Omar Abdel-Rahman, "the Blind Sheikh", for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. On August 8, McCarthy gave a breifing to the National Press Club, introduced by Frank Gaffney. The immediate topic of his address was the concern around the background of State Department official Huma Abedin, who has family and personal ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. But more broadly, he touched on the relationship between violent jihad and apparently non-violent jihad.

Explaining the threat that jihad poses to our freedoms, McCarthy said: "The non-violent jihad is called dawa, the aggressive proselytism of Islam. Dawa is leveraged by the threat of violence. The atmosphere of intimidation is what makes non-violent jihad so effective. It is what allows Islamist organizations to exercise such outsize influence on our policymakers even though Muslims barely register one percent of our population."

The threat of violence to suppress offending speech has been used to further the cause of jihad around the world. Sometimes the violence is directed against the author of the offending speech, as with the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh and the ongoing threats against his colleague Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In other cases, the violence is directed against more convenient targets.

In the months following the Mohammed cartoons published in the Danish newspaper Jyllends-Posten in 2005, Muslim riots across the Islamic world led to over 100 deaths. Is Flemming Rose, JP's editor, responsible for those deaths? Or Kurt Westergaard, who penned the iconic "bomb in turban" image of Mohammed? What about Terry Jones, the Florida preacher whose mere threat to burn Korans was followed by riots that claimed 20 lives?

Already at least one person has pre-emptively decided to blame the act of any violent fanatic on the San Francisco bus ads. In a comment to the San Francisco Examiner article, Steve P. declares, "'The insulting "ads", words, make San Francisco more dangerous. … Leaving those words on a MUNI bus, or any City & County property sanctions ANY LIFE LOST OVER THIS IN THIS CITY."

Like the abusive spouse who says "Look what you made me do!", such people shift the blame for violence away from those who commit it and advocate it.


Maybe you don't want to be associated with Pamela Geller because she's loud, and she's aggressive, and she's … well, Pamela Geller. But if you live in the Western world and you value free speech, you need to be ready to have that second conversation. And that's what the AFDI anti-jihad ads do.

I support the anti-jihad ads. If it was up to me, they'd run on every bus in San Francisco for a year. You don't like them? That's your business. But my freedom of speech isn't your license to commit acts of violence.

There has been too much mealy-mouthed delicacy around the militant Muslim holy war. It is time to name jihad for what it is.

Originally published August 19 in Media Tapper.