Opposing someone else's expression or activity on the grounds that it's "provocative"-- that it will provoke various observers and third parties to some negative reaction-- is usually a dishonest way of dodging agency. It means: "I've made the decision that my dislike for your expression is more important than your freedom, and I intend to aggress against you to shut you up, but I want to make it seem like you're the one who's made a decision to be aggressive." It's a decision posing as a passive reaction. It's then, perversely, often followed by the idea that the expression's primary purpose was to provoke, and so denying that the first person has any non-aggressive interest at all in the expression.
Some of this was worked out and widely endorsed during the controversy over the Danish cartoons.
But it applies just as forcefully to the way that defenders of laicite talk about the various forms of Islamic women's covering (from headscarves to the burka/ niqab).
And, boy oh boy, does it apply to the despicable demagoguery around building a mosque in lower Manhattan.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, has urged “peace-seeking Muslims” to reject the center, branding it an “unnecessary provocation.” A Republican political action committee has produced a television commercial assailing the proposal. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has decried it in speeches.[...]
He added: “The average American just thinks this is a political statement. It’s not about religion, and is clearly an aggressive act that is offensive.”
Update: Isaac Chotiner had the same thought.