D.C. protests anti-Muslim bigots

August 30, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Approximately 30 people showed up on less than 24 hours' notice August 24 to protest right-wing, anti-Muslim bigots Pam Geller and Robert Spencer in downtown Washington.

The two were speaking about their new book at a Borders bookstore. The successful protest was organized entirely via e-mail and Facebook.

Geller is a right-wing blogger who is most responsible for igniting the current uproar over the Park51 Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan.

Geller has been named "The Looniest Blogger Ever" by loonwatch.com for her racist rants, in which she has accused Barack Obama of, among other things, being the illegitimate son of Malcolm X and having a "secret Muslim agenda." She openly sympathizes with the fascist English Defense League and the British National Party, and has called for the destruction of the Golden Dome mosque, as well as Mecca, Medina and other Islamic holy sites.

Spencer runs the "Jihad Watch" Web site, a project of rabidMcCarthyite David Horowitz. Spencer is a self-proclaimed "expert on Islam," who claims that Islam is inherently violent and oppressive.

These two bigots have now co-authored the book The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America--their latest contribution to the project of whipping up a xenophobic frenzy against Arabs and Muslims in the U.S.

A small picket was held outside the bookstore before the event, in which scores of signatures were collected on a petition supporting religious freedom and the Park51 project.

When the event got underway inside, most of the protesters went in to challenge the bigots while they were speaking. The room was overwhelmingly against Geller and Spencer. Of the roughly 35 people in attendance, only four or five were genuinely sympathetic or interested to hear what they had to say. The store employees were also quite sympathetic to the protesters, and allowed them to openly challenge Geller and Spencer throughout the event.

One highlight came when a young protester stood behind Spencer while he was speaking, holding up a large picture of a mosque. When Borders employees tried to move a banner in front of the protester to block him from view, they accidentally knocked another banner over, which fell on top of Geller where she was sitting. The audience burst into laughter and applause!

IN GENERAL, the two authors tried to put on a more "respectable" face at this event, toning down their most outrageously racist and Islamophobic rhetoric. Geller's speech was a rambling and incoherent "defense" of "American liberty" against such enemies as Barack Obama and the prospect of having universal health care displace "the greatest health care system in the world."

But these two showed their ugly side more than once. Spencer went on a rant against the "terrorist flotilla," also known as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a group of ships carrying humanitarian aid that was attacked by the Israeli Defense Force, killing nine unarmed activists. Spencer also claimed that "peaceful Muslims don't have a leg to stand on" when it comes to the content of Islamic teaching.

There was also an incident in which Geller blurted out, "Lock your doors!" in response to a question about increased immigration.

During the question-and-answer session, protesters and others confidently and aggressively challenged Geller and Spencer, pointing out the absurd contradictions, hypocrisy and hatred at the root of their arguments. On more than one occasion, Muslim members of the audience challenged Spencer's "knowledge" of Islamic doctrine and made him look rather foolish.

Importantly, none of the racist sympathizers who showed up felt confident to do anything more than ask sheepish questions. This was a clear example of how to shut down bigotry and drain the confidence of the right wing.

Some would argue that we would be better to ignore right-wing nut jobs like Geller and Spencer. But Spencer has given lectures on Islam for the U.S. military and other government agencies, and both Geller and Spencer's ideas have been legitimized by the mainstream media and politicians of both parties.

This has directly contributed to an atmosphere in which cab driver Ahmed Sharif recently was stabbed in New York after being asked if he was a Muslim, and in which other right-wingers feel confident to protest mosques all across the country--not to mention granting legitimacy to the U.S.'s ongoing and unpopular wars in the Middle East and South Asia.

The protest in D.C. was in large part inspired by the Coalition to Stop Islamophobia in America's organizing in New York to counter the sentiment against what has been mislabeled as the "Ground Zero Mosque." This organizing has helped to shift the debate in the past week, as the mainstream media has been forced to acknowledge those who stand by Muslims and against this bigotry.

The D.C. protesters against Geller and Spencer encourage activists in other cities to find out when the bigots are coming to their town and challenge them in a similar fashion. These racist ideas, and those who express them, must be confronted and exposed wherever they go.

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