Many were shocked by the news that two gunmen had opened fire on security guards outside of an event in Garland, Texas. The two attackers, who were shot dead after injuring one of the security guards at the site, were attacking because of the presence of a “Muhammad Art Exhibition and Contest” event hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group founded by political activist Pamela Geller.
But we really shouldn’t worry too much about it. After all, Geller and her group were TOTALLY asking for it. I mean, look at the way they were drawing Muhammad like that! Shouldn’t they have expected something like this to happen?
If you think the above paragraph is absurd victim-blaming, that’s because it is. But apparently, Chris Matthews over at MSNBC doesn’t think so.
In a recent episode of Hardball, Matthews strongly suggested that Geller and the AFDI had baited the shooters to attack, asking “Can you believe that people set that kind of a mousetrap?” Later, in an interview with terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann, Matthews attempted to push as much responsibility for the attack onto Pamela Geller and the AFDI as he possibly could. Matthews, at one point, asked Kohlmnan about the nature of the Muhammad-drawing event, asking:
This is problematic to me, because I wonder whether this group holding this event down there, to basically disparage and to make fun of the Prophet Muhammad, does that in some way cause these events––well, not the word ‘causing’––how about provoking, how about taunting, how about daring? How do you see the causality factor here?
He later asked about the “predictable factor” of the extremists’ attack:
Let me ask you about the predictable factor, and maybe I shouldn’t use the word “caused,” but when you do something that has a predictable reaction to it, you’re pretty much getting there. My question is, how much does this go on, do you know? Did they have these events of anti-Muhammad artifacts and paintings? How often do they have them without events, without reaction?
At the end, Matthews accused Geller of wanting a “holy war” to divide East from West, and even compared Geller and the AFDI to Communists and Nazis:
I remember the old days when the Communist Party and the Nazi Party would sort of team up in a sick, sort-of-symbiotic way. One would have an event, the other would attack it, you know? I think [Geller] caused this trouble, and whether this trouble came yesterday or it came two weeks from now, it’s gonna be in the air as long as you taunt.
Victim blaming, as explained by the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, is “a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been committed against them.” According to the Centre, victim blaming is in part a form of justification of why a violent event occurred. The person who blames the victim, by relying on any one of several moral and logical fallacies, seeks to contextualize the violence as an act with a rational motive or context.
This is part of the reason why the current push from feminists against rape culture has been so focused on victim-blaming behaviors and tendencies. People who engage in victim-blaming seek to minimize or eliminate the culpability of people who commit acts of rape at the expense of their victims by falsely attributing the rapist’s crime to the victim’s actions. Excuses like “she was dressed up like that,” “she was flirting and dancing with him,” or ” she was walking alone in the dark” are some of the more common examples.
In essence, Matthews is engaging in the same kind of victim-blaming against Pamela Geller and the AFDI that feminists are up in arms about with regards to sexual assaults. In fact, it doesn’t take too much effort to take the above quotes, trade out a few of the words for ones commonly related to sexual assault and rape culture, and see how bad Matthews’ language actually is.
How about Matthews’ first quote?
This is problematic to me, because I wonder whether this group holding this event down there, to basically get drunk, dance, flirt, and party, does that in some way cause these events––well, not the word ‘causing’––how about provoking, how about taunting, how about daring? How do you see the causality factor here?
Or this one?
Let me ask you about the predictable factor, and maybe I shouldn’t use the word “caused,” but when you do something that has a predictable reaction to it, you’re pretty much getting there. My question is, how much does this go on, do you know? Did they have these events where they dressed in skimpy clothes? How often do they have them without events, without reaction?
And, finally, this gem?
I remember the old days when the college fraternities and the sororities would sort of team up in a sick, sort-of-symbiotic way. One would have an event, the other would attend it, you know? I think the sorority girls caused this trouble, and whether this trouble came yesterday or it came two weeks from now, it’s gonna be in the air as long as you taunt.
The real problem is that Chris Matthews isn’t the only person engaging in victim-shaming. Dozens of other major news outlets have been running stories with headlines or content that basically suggest the exact same thing: because Pamela Geller hosted the controversial event, it was her fault that the two gunmen attacked. I personally dislike Pamela Geller’s work. I think she’s a bad messenger on an important topic, and I find her style and approach to be ill-suited at best for such an important issue as Islam that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and care. But even saying all that, Ms. Geller was legally in the right here, and the fact that I don’t like how she’s doing things or what she is saying doesn’t somehow make her existentially responsible for two armed gunmen attempting to kill her and the people attending the event.
I am, as should go without saying, not trying to delegitimize the seriousness of conversations surrounding rape and sexual assault that are taking place in this country. However, it’s important to point out that people like Chris Matthews are casually undermining the seriousness of the attack with an approach that would not be appropriate in almost any other social context.
Either Chris Matthews’ comments are a logical fallacy and a disrespectful form of victim-shaming, or Pamela Geller shouldn’t have walked out the door that morning wielding her free speech like that.
Your call as to which analysis makes more sense.