Pamela Geller

Pamela Geller Is Not a Hero, But...

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post.

I am grateful to live in a country where even someone as hateful as Pamela Geller can speak her mind. She can smear President Obama as the "jihadist in the White House" and speculate that he "choked up" with tears when he ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden. She can say that Pope Francis' call for "affection and respect" towards Muslims means he has "become an imam." She can compare Jewish Americans who support President Obama to Nazi appeasers and call comedian Jon Stewart "the most disgusting Jew on the planet." She can suggest banning Muslims from becoming airline pilots. She can then claim that anyone who doesn't want to hear her speak is "enforcing the Sharia."

I am also grateful to live in a country where the law protects Geller's right to say these things.

Sunday's incident, in which two gunmen tried to attack an anti-Islam event that Geller and virulently anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders hosted in Texas, was deeply troubling. Our freedom of speech means nothing if people are too afraid to speak. We saw this in a different context earlier this year when Sony pulled a raunchy geopolitical buddy comedy from theaters under threat of terror attacks. Say what you will about Pamela Geller, she has not backed down from any of her vile positions under fear of violence.

But it's important to remember that the fact that she was attacked for her speech doesn't make Geller a hero, or her speech any less hateful. As Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall put it yesterday, "a hate group is a hate group the day after someone takes a shot at them just like it was the day before."

Local Muslim groups had the right idea when they stayed away from Geller's event,declining to protest so that they wouldn't give Geller the attention she so desperately wanted. Those who expose her hateful rhetoric -- like my PFAW colleagues -- also do important work, making sure the public knows that just because she is targeted by violent idiots doesn't make her a serious thinker or a hero.

I know that Geller won't back down from her hateful rhetoric after this event-- in fact, the attempted attack will probably embolden her and cause some to take her more seriously. And we shouldn't stop criticizing Geller -- or, as she puts it, "enforcing the Sharia" -- when she's wrong.

As People For the American Way wrote in 2009 in response to a renewed spate of inflammatory right-wing rhetoric, Americans must "be willing to use their First Amendment freedoms to challenge those who exploit their political positions or media megaphones to promote lies that are intended to inflame rather than inform, that encourage paranoia rather than participation, and whose consequences are at best divisive and at worst, violently destructive."

PFAW

The New March Madness: CPAC's Guest List

Although forced to exclude white nationalists and an anti-Muslim extremist, this year's CPAC is still hardly an open-minded place.
PFAW

Can Muslim-Bashing Win Votes?

In Mother Jones, Stephan Salisbury argues that anti-Muslim race-baiting – popular among the Tea Party Right in 2010 – isn’t actually an effective tactic for winning elections. He looks at some of the most prominent congressional and gubernatorial candidates to hop on the anti-“Ground Zero Mosque” bandwagon and finds that most of them didn’t score enough political points to actually win their elections.

While prominent Muslim-bashers like Rep. Renee Ellmers and Rep. Allen West won seats in Congress, Salisbury points out, many others – including New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, Tennessee’s Ron Ramsey and Lou Ann Zelinick and Nevada’s Sharron Angle – couldn’t scare up enough Islamophobia to catapult them into elected office.


Of course, it’s encouraging that anti-Muslim scare tactics aren’t powerful enough to win general elections, or even Republican primaries, on their own. But looked at another way, Salisbury’s data is incredibly depressing. The kind of Islamophobic fear-mongering that was so pervasive in the 2010 elections is a variety of ugliness that had, until very recently, existed on the fringiest fringe of the Right. But, in 2010 that ugliness spread from fringe crusaders like Pamela Geller to long-shot Tea Party candidates looking to make a name for themselves to prominent figures on the American Right. The fight over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” brought dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric into the mainstream – and many of those who repeated it were considered not fringe characters but serious contenders for office.

These outspoken anti-Muslim congressional and gubernatorial candidates, even the unsuccessful ones, helped create the echo chamber that made baseless Islamophobia the standard in Republican politics and the right-wing media.

Yes, it’s good news that the base that’s motivated by Islamophobic attacks is relatively small. But it’s stunning that those attacks are accepted in mainstream political discourse at all.

 

PFAW

Ugly Islamaphobia in Orange County

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has released a disturbing video of about one hundred anti-Islamic protesters heckling attendees a fundraiser for a Muslim charity last month. The protestors, some with bullhorns, shout at attendees to “go back home,” “no Sharia law,” and “one nation under God, not Allah.” The hecklers were part of a larger group gathered to protest the event, which was treated to speeches by several local Republican elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Gary Miller and Ed Royce. Royce told the crowd that multiculturalism has “paralyzed too many of our fellow citizens”:

The Orange County Register spoke with the organizers of the event, the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA:

ICNA spokesman Syed Waqas said the protesters "should know the facts. We have no links to any overseas organization. We absolutely denounce violence and terrorism."

He said the group started in Southern California about eight months ago and is trying to raise $350,000 to start social programs such as women's shelters, fighting hunger and homelessness in the area.

Among the activists who worked to spread the word of the protests was Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam activist who was largely responsible for turning a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan into the nationally controversial “Ground Zero Mosque.” Geller has become a leader in the effort to conflate all practicing Muslims with a tiny splinter of extremists—an effort that has born fruit in ludicrous state-level “Sharia law bans” and even in congressional hearings aimed at pinning all Muslims for the actions of a few. (For more on the congressional hearings, read Michael Keegan’s recent op-ed on the “new McCarthysim”).

While some protesters said they objected to previous remarks made by some of the speakers at the fundraiser, the protests instead consisted of hurling blanket anti-Muslim slurs at the people in attendance.

Islamophobia often comes out in subtle ways in mainstream political discourse—take, for instance, Mike Huckabee telling the virulently anti-Islam Bryan Fischer that President Obama’s childhood hears in Indonesia made him fundamentally different from Americans who grew up with “Rotary clubs, not madrassas,” or the opposition of many elected officials to the Geller-branded “Ground Zero Mosque.” These elected officials aren’t out on the streets heckling Muslims—but by condoning Islamophobia, however subtly, they’re helping this kind of outright racism to take hold.
 

PFAW