Lindsey Bever, Washington Post, May 4, 2015
For those unfamiliar with Pamela Geller, she was in the news a few weeks ago for sponsoring an ad campaign across major U.S. cities with anti-Muslim posters saying, among other things, “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.”
On Sunday, she was in the news again for sponsoring a “Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” in Garland, Tex., some 20 miles from Dallas, after which two suspects opened fire on a security guard before being shot and killed by police. Authorities did not immediately link the exhibit and the shootings, but Geller did, with vehemence.
But Geller drew national attention long before now. In 2009, she became a leader of the movement against a mosque in Manhattan. She told the New York Times she believed the only “moderate Muslim is a secular Muslim” and that when Muslims “pray five times a day . . . they’re cursing Christians and Jews five times a day.”
The wealthy housewife-turned-blogger has become one of America’s loudest voices against what she sees as the creeping “Islamization” of America. She is president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative as well as Stop Islamization of America.
Islamization, she has said, is not something that will happen overnight. “It’s a drip, drip, drip, drip,” she told the New York Times in 2010 as she waged war against the mosque at Ground Zero. “The mosque-ing of the workplace where you’re imposing prayer times on union contracts, non-Muslim workers have to lengthen their day. … These demands are a way of imposing Islam on a secular society.”
Such wild rhetoric prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to add her group to its list of “hate groups,” calling her the “anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
“She’s relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam and makes preposterous claims,” it said.
Heidi Beirich, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s watchdog division, told CNN on Monday that although Geller’s activities may fall within the bounds of the First Amendment, they are considered “cruel and unfair” because “she doesn’t make distinctions” between mainstream Islam and militant factions.
“They say I’m a racist, Islamophobic, anti-Muslim bigot,” Geller told the Village Voice in 2012. “I’m anti-jihad. . . . I don’t see how anyone could say I’m anti-Muslim. I love Muslims.”
But as the mosque controversy receded in memory, so did Pamela Geller. Then in January came the assault by Muslim gunmen on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper, which claimed a dozen lives. Geller was back in the public eye.
In response, she decided to organize Sunday’s “Muhammad Art Exhibit & Contest,” which would award a $10,000 prize to the “winning cartoon” depicting the prophet Muhammad.
“We decided to have a cartoon contest to show we would not kowtow to violent intimidation and allow the freedom of speech to be overwhelmed by thugs and bullies,” she told The Washington Post in an e-mail.
Many in Garland objected to the event. Some, including Muslims, said it was blasphemous. Others cited “public safety” concerns. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, however, decided to play it down. “We are not paying any attention to this at all,” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR spokesman, told the Dallas Morning News. “The thing [Geller] hates most is being ignored.”