Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pamela Geller's Contest

Anti-Islamic activist Pamela Geller, 2011
The spread of radical Islamic philosophy amongst young Americans via teachings, lectures and videos depicting violence in the Mid-East via the Internet has created a new brand of self-radicalized "home grown" Muslim extremist.

Disturbing media reports of American teenagers being stopped at airports while trying to travel to places like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan to join ISIS fighters, and reports of sleeper ISIS agents embedded around the nation fuel concerns about extremists attacks within the United States. 

Janet Reitman's article "The Children of ISIS" in the March 25th issue of Rolling Stone, an analysis of the three American Muslim teenagers from Bolingbrook, Illinois who were caught trying to join ISIS fighters in Syria, offers excellent insight into this troubling trend. 

These home-grown American Jihadists are creating an equally disturbed reaction amongst a growing American extremist mindset that's staunchly anti-Islamic. Case in point: last week's killing of two would-be Jihadists at an event in Texas.

In light of that shooting last weekend, this week's George Lincoln Rockwell Award goes to Pamela Geller (pictured above), the controversial conservative blogger and co-founder of a group known as the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

It was Geller, a rabidly anti-Islamic activist born in 1958 to a well-to-do Jewish family in Long Island, who came up with the brilliant idea to stage an event on May 3rd at the Curtis Cullwell Cultural Center in Garland, Texas.

The event was held by Geller's group the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the British government.

AFDI event keynote speaker Geert Wilders
Geller bristles at the idea of her group being labeled a hate group, instead she calls it a "pro-free speech" organization. 

The keynote speaker at her AFDI event in Garland last week?

Geert Wilders (pictured left), a Dutch politician and leader of the Dutch Party For Freedom; the PVV as it's known in the Netherlands is the fourth largest political party in the Dutch parliament.

The PVV is one of the many nationalistic / anti-Islamic political parties across Europe that have grown in response to extremist Muslim attacks and the rapid growth of non-indigenous Muslim populations in Europe as a result of immigration and a rapidly-shifting demographic.

But the most disturbing part of Geller's Garland event that has drawn global attention was the now infamous contest featuring a $10,000 prize to the cartoonist or illustrator who could draw the "best" caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.

As the event was concluding in the evening, two American gunmen pulled up in front of the Curtis Cullwell Cultural Center in Garland, Texas and began opening fire; wounding a security guard before being shot and killed by a police officer. 

Before last Sunday most Americans had probably never heard of this small Texas town, and Geller didn't choose it randomly.

Protesters in Garland, Texas in January, 17 2015 [Photo - AP]
Less than a week after the attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killed twelve people in Paris, an event called 'Stand With the Prophet in Honor and Respect' took place at the Cullwell Cultural Center in Garland back on January 17, 2105.

The event drew protesters (pictured left) who picketed the event, even though it was actually a peaceful fundraiser intended to raise money to build a center dedicated to countering negative perceptions of Muslims in mainstream media in the wake of the violent acts committed by radicalized Muslims.

Acts that garner so much media attention and tend to distort the perception of peaceful Muslims both here abroad.   
The two shooters at the AFDI event at the cultural center in Garland last week had certainly been radicalized online by ISIS and other radical Islamic propaganda, and their plan to use weapons on innocent people at a peaceful event was heinous and criminal.

But they were motivated by Geller's plan to intentionally slander the image of the Prophet Muhammad at a public event.

Geller claims her organization the AFDI advocates freedom of speech. But given the violent reactions to caricatures of Muhammad in recent years, is her decision to stage an event where such depictions will be rewarded an exercise in free speech, or a deliberate attempt to provoke Muslim outrage?

It's not easy to understand what goes on in the mind of someone like Pamela Geller.

After a comfortable upbringing in Long Island, she graduated high school but dropped out of Hofstra University before earning her degree then went on to work on the business and advertising side of publishing at The New York Daily News in the 1980's before becoming an associate publisher at The New York Observer for five years.  

But the 911 attacks awoke something in Geller. She began putting her energy into anti-Islamic efforts, including a major role in opposing the construction of an Islamic community center called Park51 near the site of the former World Trade Center.

The title of her blog, not surprisingly named Atlas Shrugs (reflecting Geller's Ayn Rand-ian philosophy), exploded in popularity in 2006 after she published controversial images of Muhammad that had been published in a Danish newspaper; most mainstream media organizations decided not to publish the images - but she did.

Her blog has also published highly controversial claims including the claim that President Obama's mother was involved with pornography and defending Bosnian war criminals Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karavic against their campaign of genocide against Bosnian Muslims; and raising doubt of reports of the existence of concentration camps during the Bosnian war. 

In 2013 the British government banned her from entering the country to speak at an anti-Islamic event because of her association with AFDI and what some prominent Jewish figures claim is her overt bigotry against Muslims; according to Wikipedia, in April, 2013 Rabbis Michael White and Jerome Davidson opposed her presentation on Shariah Law at a Long Island synagogue because of her bigotry and the event was eventually canceled because of concerns it would anger Muslims who might target the synagogue.

She opposed the creation of an Arab language school in Brooklyn.

An example of an anti-Jewish caricature
Obviously bigotry and intolerance takes many forms in this nation, but I can't help but wonder how it is it that someone raised in a Jewish family like Geller could so easily forget the widespread persecution of Jews by the Nazis in Europe in the 20th century; and how the distortion of the Jewish religion and Jews themselves contributed to the Holocaust.

Anti-Semitic groups in Europe in the early part of the 20th century used the same kinds of tactics her own ADFI group uses against Muslims.

Including the widespread promotion of caricatures and other distorted images of Jews (like the one pictured at left) that were used by Nazis in Germany to stigmatize, stereotype and spread false beliefs about Jewish people.
Does Geller simply consciously choose to ignore the fact that caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad are as offensive to Muslims as anti-Semitic caricatures of Jewish people are to Jews and non-Jews alike?

Or does her intense hatred of Muslims simply reflect her own warped vision of an America where people of different religions can be persecuted, mocked and marginalized in the name of free speech?

I didn't know the framers of the Constitution personally, but I studied them (and the Constitution) in college. Pamela Geller's contest to create an intentionally offensive caricature of an important religious figure revered by over 1.7 billion people was hardly what they had in mind when they enshrined the freedom of speech in the Constitution.

Geller's views on Muslims have less to do with the Constitution than they do with an embittered fear-monger who can't see past her own ignorance and intolerance.

Her stupid "contest" didn't make us any safer, it's just going to lead to the deaths of more innocent people at the hands of ideological reactionaries like Geller; people who've been brainwashed and blinded by the moral depravity of their own hatred.

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