Geller argues Muslims receive special treatment from cowardly US media
On Sunday, a shooting in Garland, Texas targeted an intentionally blasphemous Muhammed-drawing contest, hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). The two gunmen, both American Muslims, only managed to injure one security guard before being shot to death by police. The Islamic State (ISIS) later claimed to be behind the attack but provided no proof.
In response, AFDI’s president, Pamela Geller, boasted of a victory for her cause.
“Here’s what the enemies of freedom sought to crush last night. Truth and freedom. But they went up against the wrong kuffar, and they were crushed instead,” Geller wrote on her website, using an offensive Arabic phrase for non-Muslims.
Geller is one of America’s most vitriolic critics of Islam, which she believes is inherently violent and opposed to western values, including free speech. Before Sunday, she was best known for playing a lead role in the successful 2010 effort to block construction of a mosque and Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero, in Manhattan. She also caused another major controversy in New York City with a series of anti-jihadist subway ads that many accused of being Islamophobic hate speech.
The Muhammed-drawing contest was put on by Geller’s group in part to honor the victims of the January shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris, which killed staff members of the controversial French magazine known for lampooning Islam and its prophet. In her speech, given just before shots rang out, Geller praised the satirical magazine and argued that Muslims were given special treatment by American media, which she claims is afraid of being perceived as Islamophobic.
Geller ultimately believes that, unlike Christians and Jews, Muslims are prone to react to insults with terrorism. She claimed that the violence at her event was further proof of that.
“This incident shows how much needed our event really was,” Geller said. “Freedom of speech is under violent assault here in our nation. The question now before us is: Will we stand and defend it, or bow to violence, thuggery, and savagery?”
Critics of Geller say her initiatives strengthen the cause of jihad
Pamela Geller is not a popular figure in the American political mainstream, especially with liberals and moderate Muslims. Her many opponents argue that she is a far-right purveyor of Islamophobia, and that her supposed fight against jihad is actually a thinly-veiled propaganda war against the Muslim faith as a whole. Her Muhammed-drawing contest was viewed by many as crossing the line from free speech to hate speech.
“She’s not celebrating hate speech for the sake of free speech, but to provoke reactions that polarize America, set people at odds, and alienate Muslims,” wrote Haroon Moghul, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, in an opinion piece published by CNN.
Moghul and other prominent Muslims note that only a tiny portion of their faith adheres to radicalism, and that the vast majority of mosque-goers are moderates who revile terrorism as much as the next citizen. In some cases, Muslims have played key roles in thwarting jihadist terror plots.
Geller’s detractors argue that her insulting treatment of Islam does more to create terror than to fight it. They believe that by alienating and provoking Muslims, the AFDI’s hate-speech leads fringe members of the faith farther from the mainstream and closer to jihadism. Critics also say her firebrand tactics undermine free speech, citing as an example her anti-Muslim New York City advertising campaign, which led to an outright prohibition of political posters in subways there.
As further evidence of the danger she poses, Geller’s critics note that her blog, Atlas Shrugs, was among the writings cited by Anders Breivik, the Norwegian Christian terrorist who killed over 70 people in 2011. Breivik was motivated by outrage at what he perceived as a Muslim takeover of his country.
Muslims who turn to violence see it as a response to the west’s “war against Islam”
The two American Muslims who, on Sunday, attacked the Muhammed-drawing contest in Garland, Texas were apparently offended by the blasphemous subject of the competition. According to Islamic law, it is sacrilegious to depict the prophet, a fact known by the contest’s organizers, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (ADFI).
Muslims who turn to extremism and violence often do so after being convinced by jihad leaders that the west is fighting a crusade against Islam. In its message claiming responsibility for the shooting and promising “further attacks”, the Islamic State (ISIS) referred to the US as “the defenders of the cross.”
Groups that desecrate Islam’s holy figure, like the ADFI or Charlie Hebdo magazine in France, whose Paris offices terrorists attacked early this year, appear to many to be antagonizing Muslims, leading to the belief that the only proper response is revenge.
“[T]hese images are not seen as criticism but as bullying. Violence as a response is clearly wrong and disproportionate. However, it is not so much about religious anger as it is about vengeance,”explained Hussein Rashid, an Islamic studies professor at Hofstra University.
Provocations by supposed free-speech groups, such as the pornographic depictions of Muhammed by Charlie Hebdo, contribute to the notion that the US and Europe are at war with Islam. This perception is also fed by western interventions in majority-Muslim countries, which have been cited by leading jihadists as the root of their anger.
“I lived in the U.S. for 21 years,” Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who was killed in 2011 by a US drone for his involvement with al-Qaeda , once explained in an online sermon. “I was a preacher of Islam involved in nonviolent Islamic activism. However, with the American invasion of Iraq and continued U.S. aggression against Muslims, I could not reconcile between living in the U.S. and being a Muslim, and I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad against America is binding upon myself.”
Al-Awlaki, who praised the Ft. Hood shooter as a “hero”, also cited the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay as evidence of the US fighting “a war against Islam.”