BY James Kirchick
October 11 2010 3:00 AM ET
One of the most annoying tics of the politically correct is their tendency to employ the label “provocative” as a term of abuse. Statements and actions that people in a free society shouldn’t think twice about making or doing are now deemed rude or improper when the offended party belongs to a particular group. Lately, it’s Muslims who most often protest being victimized by provocation, as the endless complaints of their self-appointed leaders and the asinine news stories in the mainstream media attest (to wit, a recent headline in The New York Times: “American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?”). We’ve now reached the point where it’s as provocative to construct a gay bar in Manhattan, the epicenter of international gay life, as it is to draw cartoons of Muhammad.
In response to the announcement of the development of an Islamic community center two blocks from ground zero, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld proposed in a blog post that a gay bar be built next door. Backers of the mosque project leaped into action, accusing Gutfeld of the highest crime that can be committed in the home of the humorless and land of the easily offended: insensitivity.
“If you won’t consider the sensibilities of Muslims, you’re not going to build dialog,” tweeted a spokesman for the organization behind the mosque, known as Park51. Media Matters, all but an official arm of the Democratic National Committee, complained about Gutfeld’s “PR stunt.”
Gutfeld, who is straight, claims to be completely genuine about his intentions. “As you know, the Muslim faith doesn’t look kindly upon homosexuality, which is why I’m building this bar,” he wrote in his post. “It is an effort to break down barriers and reduce deadly homophobia in the Islamic world.… Bottom line: I hope that the mosque owners will be as open to the bar as I am to the new mosque. After all, the belief driving them to open up their center near ground zero is no different than mine.”
Whether or not Gutfeld’s proposal is indeed a stunt, he raises serious questions about religious freedom and the limits of tolerance that liberals, of all people, should want asked. In the same way that many in the West deemed cartoon drawings of Muhammad to be a “provocation” (former French president Jacques Chirac) that “pick at the same wounds” (Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria), Gutfeld’s ostensibly liberal critics decided that standing up for the fundamentally liberal principle of free association just wasn’t worth the effort. As Salman Rushdie has experienced after he published The Satanic Verses, it’s those people exercising their right to free speech who are condemned for bringing the trouble upon themselves, rather than emotionally stunted Muslims threatening violence because their precious religious sensibilities have been offended.