Pamela Geller’s war on Muslims
The shootings at an Islamophobic event in Garland, Texas, are being exploited by the far right to demonize all Muslims, reports.
"THIS IS war."
Right-wing Islamophobe Pamela Geller wasted no time following an attack by two gunmen on an event in Garland, Texas, sponsored by one of her organizations, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). The attack left one security guard injured and two assailants dead, yet Geller took to her blog and the mainstream media to issue threats, rather than sympathy or any introspection about her own role in the violence that occurred.
The two would-be killers, Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi, both Muslims, lived in the same apartment complex in Phoenix, Arizona. They apparently traveled to Texas after reading about Geller's event--a "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest," where "artists" were offered a $10,000 top prize for the best caricature of the Islamic prophet.
Simpson, a convert to a militant form of Islam, had been investigated previously by the FBI and sentenced to several years of probation after allegedly lying to FBI agents about plans to travel to Somalia to "engage in violent jihad." Since the shooting, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has reportedly attempted to claim credit for the Garland attack, but government officials remain skeptical that Simpson and Soofi were working in conjunction with ISIS.
The attack in Texas immediately raised right-wing cries about Islam as an inherently violent religion and Muslims as a uniquely dangerous threat to American democracy and free speech.
If Simpson and Soofi hoped to strike a blow against this kind of Islamophobia, they failed. Instead, their unsuccessful attack has given the spotlight to professional Islamophobes like Geller to spew their hate--and provided the Big Brother state with another excuse to carry out repression in the name of stopping "Islamic terrorism."
But the shootings can't be understood without acknowledging the deliberate provocation on the part of Geller and fellow anti-Muslim bigots. Their event was specifically designed to degrade and humiliate Muslims as part of Geller's veritable cottage industry of racist Islam-bashing.
Predictably, Geller claimed that the caricature contest was pro-free speech, and that Muslims had become a "special class" that Americans were no longer allowed to offend. She told the New York Times that the Curtis Culwell Center was chosen as a location for AFDI's anti-Muslim event "because members had heard that a Muslim group had a conference in the same room after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office"--a reference to the French magazine whose cartoonists and staff were killed by two Muslim gunmen in a January attack.
What Geller failed to mention was that the earlier event at the Culwell Center, sponsored by the Islamic media foundation Sound Vision, was actually a response against the Charlie Hebdo attacks, titled "Stand with the Prophet Against Terror & Hate." Explaining the conference, the group wrote:
The Muslim love for Prophet Muhammad is unquestionable. We love him more than we love ourselves. God's peace and blessings be upon him. It hurts us when any one insults our Prophet. It is, however, the ignorant who do not know the loving path of mercy and forgiveness taught by the Prophet; they are turning into violent extremists like ISIS and Boko Haram and committing crimes in his name. This is not love. This is hate.
OF COURSE, such explicit denunciations of violence and terrorism committed by Muslims in the name of Islam doesn't mean a thing to Geller and her ilk. They never let the facts get in the way of their reactionary agenda.
Geller rose to prominence in opposing Park51, an Islamic community center slated to be built in lower Manhattan until conservatives objected to it being "near Ground Zero," claiming this was an insult to those who died on September 11. Through her group "Stop Islamization of America," Geller has tried to place ads on transit systems in cities across the U.S. denouncing Muslims as violent radicals and "savages."
And she goes beyond the racist smears, too, indulging in fringe conspiracy theories. As Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told PRI: "In the course of attacking Muslims, [Geller] says, among other things, that Barack Obama is the love child of Malcolm X; that Barack Obama's mother was a crack whore. So this is a woman who is infamous for drumming up hatred directed at Muslims." He added that Geller insists there is "a secret plan to make the United States part of a gigantic Muslim caliphate."
If you think such ravings have no impact, think again. In the wake of the Park51 controversy, there was a wave of abuse and attacks directed at Muslims and mosques, ranging from an increase of harassment of Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims at airports, to increased vandalism at mosques, to physical attacks like the stabbing of a New York City cab driver.
Far from championing democratic rights and civil liberties, the Islamophobes clearly want to take them away from the people they scapegoat.
In the past, Geller's anti-Muslim racism has led to her vocal approval of fascists like the English Defense League and dead South African white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche.
So it was little wonder that the keynote speaker at the AFDI event was the notorious Geert Wilders, leader of Holland's far-right Party for Freedom. Wilders has campaigned in the past on a platform of banning immigration from Muslim-majority countries, stating that those from Islamic cultures are "retarded." He also advocates banning the Koran and veiling. He was charged in 2009 with inciting hate in the Netherlands, but not convicted.
As Al Jazeera America contributor Wajahat Ali explained at Salon.com:
[Wilders'] credentials include being charged by his own government with inciting hate against Muslims. In response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Wilders tweeted, "This is war"--not just against violent extremists, but all of Islam. After Sunday's shooting, Geller echoed, "This is a war and the war is here. Not in Paris, not in Copenhagen--but in Texas."
Other conservatives followed suit--blaming not only all Muslims, but all "liberals" in the U.S. For example, right-wing columnist Ben Shapiro tweeted, "So if two Muslims shoot a cop over Mohammed drawings, that's diversity. If two Christians refuse to bake for a gay wedding, that's evil." Another conservative author, Brad Thor, tweeted, "The good news? Both Muslim savages are dead," before adding later, "The #GarlandAttack is a reminder of why we have both a 1st and a 2nd Amendment..."
At the AFDI gathering itself, the crowd seemed almost to relish the fact that their "free speech" event had provoked a violent attack. Video of the event shows that when the crowd was informed there had been shots fired and the building was sealed, the first question was: "Was the suspect Muslim?"
GELLER'S ASSERTION that the shooting in Garland is a battle in the "war" of Muslims against the West and its supposedly cherished values of free speech is an outrage.
In fact, Muslim religious leaders and organizations in the Dallas area strongly urged their followers and members to ignore the AFDI event and not even protest it--on the grounds that it was an obvious attempt at provocation.
By contrast, Sound Vision's "Stand with the Prophet Against Terror & Hate" gathering at the Culwell Center was protested by right-wingers, who objected to Muslims holding such an event on government property. "There are other venues they could rent, and I don't want it on [school district] property that is government property," one Tea Party member told the local CBS affiliate. "I'd like us to promote American values." Another right-winger told the local news, "If they want to live their life like the Middle East, they can go back to the Middle East."
After the attack last weekend, Omar Suleiman, an imam in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, pointed out on social media:
When the news of the shooting got to members inside of the event, they "erupted in applause" and "sang patriotic songs" on their way out. Geller wasted no time in going to her blog to proclaim "This is a war! This is a war!" This is what extremists on all sides want.
Wajahat Ali expanded on this point in an article at Salon.com:
The "West is at war with Islam" is the propaganda narrative used by al-Qaida to recruit. Ironically, "Islam is at war with the West" is the narrative peddled by Geller and Dutch politician Geert Wilders...These ideological extremists are two faces of the same coin; they have a symbiotic relationship strengthened and sustained by the other's toxic absolutism.
Meanwhile, blogger Aaron Bady perfectly captured the hypocrisy of a far-right bigot like Geller claiming to be a champion of free speech:
There are lots of things to say about what happened last night, but one of them is this: Pamela Geller's mouth is where Free Speech goes to die...[T]he fact that Pamela Geller's organization uses its speech in ways that are calculated to provoke, offend and harass cannot be a reason for suppressing it...insofar as the state is concerned.
But fascists are not defenders of free speech, even when they provisionally hide behind the protections of the liberal state. What Geller and company mean by "free speech," as they show by their words and actions, is that the free can speak and the unfree should stay silent.
NO ONE who cares about challenging racism and standing up for justice can let the right's hypocritical rhetoric about free speech stop them from protesting groups like the AFDI. These right-wingers want to silence Muslims and anyone else who dissents from their reactionary agenda and the propaganda against Islam that they use to advance it.
It was important during the height of the controversy over the Park51 community center in Manhattan that anti-racists mobilized counter-protests of several thousands, ultimately outnumbering the Islamophobes in rival demonstrations held on the September 11 anniversary in 2010. The solidarity protests directly challenged the lies spewed by the Islamophobes and showed that their propaganda offensive wasn't going unchallenged.
Now, Geller and her cohorts are trying to exploit another opportunity to demonize Islam and all Muslims--no matter how obvious it is that the Garland attack was carried out by two men who are in no way representative of the vast majority of Muslims, either inside or outside of the U.S.
We can't allow this kind of racism to fester. The war that Pamela Geller was talking about is actually a war that she and the Islamophobia industry have declared on all Muslims. They can't be allowed to use the attack in Texas as an excuse to unleash more racist hate.