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Personally, I believe that the free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment is the bedrock freedom granted by the Constitution of the United States and as long is someone is not using that right explicitly to call for violence against someone else he or she should be free to say anything, even if it is deliberately offensive or calculated to provoke a hostile response. Pamela Geller, who recently staged the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” in Garland Texas that resulted in two deaths, would no doubt say the same thing. But in reality Geller is a hypocrite. She is only referring to her own personal “freedom” to say what she wants to inflame passions regarding a religious group that she despises. When Muslims try to use the same “freedom” to express their own concerns over speech that they consider blasphemous Geller dismisses their appeals as a ruse to enable the introduction of Shariah law.
Geller is a wealthy Manhattan-based Jewish widow who is the founder and editor of what until recently was called the Atlasshrugs.com website as well as president of Stop Islamization of America and the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). She first came into prominence in 2010 when she helped spearhead the successful campaign to block the construction of the proposed Park51 Islamic Center that she inaccurately described as a “victory mosque” that would dishonor the victims of the terrorist attack and constitute a second wave of 9/11 , persistently conflating Islam in general with what she refers to as “barbarism” and terror.
In 2011 Pamela Geller campaigned to block the U.S. government’s licensing of al-Jazeera America, which she refers to as “Terror TV,” revealing the insincerity of her espousal of free speech when the speech does not conform to her agenda. She has also been one of the leading promoters of the palpably ridiculous assertion that “Fundamentalist Islam wants Shariah to replace the U. S. Constitution and fundamentally transform America,” a theme that has unfortunately been picked up by a number of Republican politicians. She also believes that anyone who bows to pressure and avoids cartooning or lampooning Mohammed is ipso facto conforming to Islamic law.
More recently Geller and AFDI have been behind a series of poster campaigns on urban transit trains and buses in New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The posters have featured the World Trade Center burning alongside a Quran verse advocating terror, a call to support civilization (Israel) against barbarism (Jihad), and the message that “killing Jews is worship that draws us closer to Allah.” A poster that ran in Washington featured Hitler meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem with the caption “Islamic Jew Hatred: it’s in the Quran.” An ad in San Francisco showed journalist James Foley just before he was beheaded by ISIS. When local transportation boards resist placing the posters on their vehicles and in their stations because of the highly politicized bigoted views they reflect AFDI takes them to court to force them to cooperate.
There is little ambiguity or subtlety in what Geller does and her ten year track record reveals clearly that she wallows in hate. She believes that when Muslims pray five times a day they are actually cursing Christians and Jews. Her Mohammed art exhibition featured cartoons showing a malevolent looking founder of Islam with a roll of toilet paper on his head and pants pulled down to reveal his buttocks while pissing on “Freedom of Speech.” Or if that does not leave one laughing, there is another showing Mohammed impaled through his anus on a pencil labeled “truth” and still another featuring a grinning Prophet riding a unicycle while juggling five dismembered heads. The caption reads “Religion of Peace.”
Geller claims to be an expert on Islam, but she has never studied it formally and cannot read or speak Arabic. She cherry picks from translations of the Quran and Hadith texts to find material that matches her agenda, aided and abetted by her colleague Robert Spencer, who also claims expertise without any language skills or serious study. Both have benefited materially from their bigotry and Geller’s hypocrisy is on display through her citation of the horrors contained in Islamic texts presumably while knowing full well that it is just as easy to find plenty of bloodshed and even genocide in the Hebrew Bible.
Though strident and essentially humorless, Geller, who decries living in an age “where evil is good, and good is evil,” admits to the nature of her particular obsession, jokingly accepting that she has been labeled as a “racist-Islamophobic-anti-Muslim-bigot.” She is also perhaps not surprisingly a leading advocate for Israel, conceding that she sees the world through the “prism of Israel” and noting along the way that “…Jew hatred is a religious imperative in Islam.”
Geller is independently wealthy which no doubt provided seed money for her endeavors, but her efforts are also supported by a number of pro-Israel groups and individuals, including several donors that are regarded as relatively mainstream. That leads to the plausible surmise that while many Jewish organizations and wealthy individuals keep their distance from Geller at least some of them are secretly supportive of her. In 2013 AFDI received nearly one million dollars in reported donations, $400,000 of which was spent to oppose “…capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism.” The organization claims on its website that donations to it are tax deductible, which, if correct, would suggest that it is an IRS 501(c)3 educational foundation, though the site does not explicitly make that claim. If it is true, only donors contributing beyond a certain level have to be identified in the annual tax filing, which means that contributors are effectively secret.
Ironically, many of the folks that Pamela marches in step with are themselves opposed to free speech and are inclined to support draconian legal sanctions against “hate speech,” similar to those in place in a number of European countries, including France. They like the concept of laws against language that denigrates races, ethnic groups or religions because in practice the laws are frequently only enforced if one says something about Jews or Judaism, which is what they were really designed to protect. They are particularly active in the United States currently seeking to shut down any criticism of Israel at universities, claiming that it makes Jewish students “uncomfortable” or “threatened.”
Some European hate laws threaten fines and imprisonment if one denies or even questions details relating to the holocaust while in Canada, legislation has been proposed that criminalizes any criticism of Israel, conflating it with anti-Semitism, which is a hate crime. As ever, laws reflect who is important and let’s face it, no one in Europe or Canada really cares about powerless Muslims or increasingly marginalized Christians, but confronting powerful Jewish organizations is another thing altogether.
Whether Geller hoped to provoke a violent incident in Texas will have to remain unknowable, but the prepositioning of $10,000 worth of armed security including SWAT units for an event including only 200 attendees rather suggests that the intention was to craft a gathering in such a way as to bait local Muslims into doing something stupid. And one has to wonder at the honesty of Geller’s “free speech” agenda in any case. If some group were staging a public event with a $10,000 prize for whoever could shit on a Torah scroll in the most creative fashion Geller would be unlikely to approve of such an exercise of First Amendment rights.
There are, unfortunately, all too many people not unlike Pamela Geller who regard Muslims as vermin. That they proliferate in spite of all evidence that American Muslims are overwhelmingly peaceful and make good citizens invites the inevitable chicken and egg metaphor: what came first the Gellers preaching hatred or the hatred itself providing fertile ground for the Gellers?
Certainly the example set by Israel differs little from Geller except in that it is even more extreme. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to appoint far right Jewish Home Party activist Ayelet Shaked justice minister in his new government. In 2014 she recommended the genocide of Palestinians, asserting in a July 1st Facebook post that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy.” She called for their destruction, “including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” Women should in particular be killed as they produce the “little snakes,” i.e. Palestinian children. Her future colleague in government, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, who will head the “Civil Administration” of the occupied West Bank has described Palestinians as “…beasts, they are not human” and has stated his belief that “A Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual.”
As free speech is a precious commodity, one should not allow Pamela Geller to define it. She can say whatever she wants to say but that does not mean that she bears no responsibility for the consequences of her action while the media and public should never give her a pass that legitimizes her message that all Muslims are homicidal maniacs intent on destroying the United States and, inevitably, Israel.
After the Garland Texas incident Geller was featured all across the media explaining herself and propagating her message. Most often she was treated with kid gloves by ignorant interviewers who apparently believed she had a right to be heard and that they ought not interfere with her ability to do so. She should indeed have the freedom to tell her story but the media also has an obligation to challenge views that are both ugly and bigoted to allow the public to hear another side to the Geller rant. It is unimaginable that if Geller were using her characteristic coarse language to describe either Jews or Christians that she would have been provided with any forum at all, but apparently when it comes to Islam the rules are somehow different and the freedom to express abhorrent views becomes the norm rather than the exception.