Originally published under the title, "Allah's Soldiers Are Ignorant of Islam."
The belief that Islam prohibits drawing Prophet Mohammed pervades public debate over what causes "cartoon" violence.
The soldiers of Allah have struck again. On Monday, Elton Simpson, a convert to Islam and his Pakistani-American partner, Nadir Soofi, attacked a convention centre in Garland, Texas, where 200 people were attending a contest to draw cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.
Thanks to a quick-thinking traffic police officer, both men, carrying assault rifles, were shot dead in a 15-second exchange of gunfire that left an unarmed security officer injured.
Islamic clerics in Texas denounced the terror attack, but also called on Muslims "not to be baited" into anger. The hint behind this message was that contest organizer Pamela Geller had provoked Muslims into acting violently.
At the root of Muslim protestations is the false belief that Islam prohibits the depiction of Prophet Mohammed. There is no prohibition on creating images of Prophet Mohammed in the Qur'an. Up until the 14th century; such depictions were common in the non-Arab Muslim world. On my website, www.tarekfatah.com, I have posted many depictions of Prophet Mohammed, drawn mostly by Muslim artists. Even if it were true that such depictions were prohibited, the prohibition would not be applicable to non-Muslims.
There is no prohibition on creating images of Prophet Mohammed in the Qur'an.
Unfortunately, in the wake of Monday's terrorism, few Muslims invoked Voltaire's alleged statement, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."
On the contrary, many Muslims rejected Geller's right to freedom of expression, admitting that even as Americans they believe there should be limits to free speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
Here in Toronto, one well-known local Muslim tweeted: "This has nothing to do with free speech, don't kid yourself. Go do a 'Draw a Jew' event & see what I mean." I asked him to expand a bit on why he had inserted Jews into the discussion, but he did not respond.
Other Muslims produced conspiracy theories. Youssef Sayyed, a London-based journalist, claimed the "Texas Attack is a CIA stunt to take focus off Baltimore in the national media."
While American Muslims were issuing "explanations" about why the Texas terror attack could not be solely blamed on the terrorists, other Americans seemed to be providing excuses and rationalizations for the attackers. Rukmini Callimachi, a respected foreign correspondent for the New York Times who focuses on Islamic extremism, appeared to suggest the cartoon contest organizers were partly to blame for the attack. "Free speech aside, why would anyone do something as provocative as hosting a "Muhammad drawing contest"? she asked.
Even a PGA golfer tweeted that the terror attack was somehow understandable. Bob Estes, who is from Texas, tweeted: "If you feel the need to mock Muhammad in a cartoon, just realize that Muslims may decide to exercise their #2A (Second Amendment) rights on you."
By contrast, ISIS was unequivocal about the purpose of the attack. In a radio statement it said:
We say to the defenders of the cross, the U.S., that future attacks are going to be harsher and worse. The Islamic State soldiers will inflict harm on you with the grace of God. The future is just around the corner.
Geller is no saint and is a polarizing figure when it comes to relations between Muslims and the West. But dismissing her as a hate-monger is not going to stop ISIS from attacking those of us who cherish free speech. It's time to choose sides; it's time to stand with Voltaire.
Tarek Fatah is a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a columnist at the Toronto Sun, and a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of two award-winning books: Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State and The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism.