In Pam Geller’s World, Everybody Jihads – The Daily Beast

For those who want more background on Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s views on Islam:

This sordid episode is typical of the way Geller and her comrade-in-arms Spencer, co-founders of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, conduct their misnamed “anti-jihadist” battle. It is also a good example of why the two are no heroes for free speech. No, Geller did not “provoke” the terror attack in Garland, as a number of pundits (and even the New York Times editorial board) have deplorably suggested; her cartoon contest is not the moral equivalent of the attack, and she does not need to apologize for the exercise of her First Amendment rights or for the terrorists’ actions. She does, however, have to answer for a lengthy record of peddling anti-Muslim hysteria, targeting Muslims’ First Amendment right to worship, smearing innocent people as jihadists, and even excusing the slaughter of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia.  We cannot allow terrorists to curb our speech; but we also cannot allow them to turn hatemongers into heroes.

Whatever valid concerns Geller, Spencer, and their allies may raise about political Islamism wind up being eclipsed by the fact that they not only conflate Islamist radicalism with all Islam but make disturbingly little distinction between criticism of Islam and hostility toward Muslims.

In a contentious interview with CNN host Alisyn Camerota Monday, Geller indignantly denied that she paints Islam “with a broad brush,” declaring that she is “anti-jihad” and “anti-sharia.” But for the most part, she and Spencer make almost no secret that they regard radical Islam as indistinguishable from Islam itself.

Spencer, a prolific author who has a degree in religious studies and whose tone is more judicious than Geller’s, does not quite state outright that non-extremist Islam is impossible. Nonetheless, he calls Islamic reform “quixotic” and “virtually inconceivable,” and sweepingly describes the faith of “millions” of Muslim immigrants in the West as “absolutely incompatible with Western society.” When America’s first Muslim congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) chose to use a Quran in his swearing-in ceremony, Spencer flatly stated that “no American official should be taking an oath on the Qur’an.” His 2005 best-seller, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), has such chapter titles as “Islamic Law: Lie, Steal and Kill.”

Critics accuse Spencer of cherry-picking and distortions. While these charges often come from sources with biases of their own, there is no doubt that his account of Islamic history is blatantly one-sided. Thus, he tries to rebut the “PC myth” that Jews in the Middle Ages fared better under Islamic rule than in Christian Europe by quoting from a 13th Century papal bull that affirmed the rights accorded to Jews—but fails to mention the many expulsions of Jewish communities from European countries and glosses over crusader massacres of Jews.

When Spencer writes about moderate Muslims, it is invariably to disparage them as deluded, insincere, or irrelevant. His targets include reformist Muslims who are strongly critical of radical Islamism and have themselves been accused of being Islamophobic shills: Jasser, self-styled “Muslim refusenik” Irshad Manji, Sufi Muslim convert Stephen Schwartz. They also include Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State: last October, a Spencer post on his site, JihadWatch, reported a Kurdish woman’s suicide bomb attack on ISIS troops in a besieged town under the jeering headline, “Kurdish Muslima carries out moderate jihad/martyrdom suicide attack against the Islamic State,” and sneered at the idea that “the foes of the Islamic State are all moderate.”

But treating Islam as a monolith, denying the possibility of reform, and demonizing Muslims en masse is not the answer. If Christianity and Judaism could transcend their scriptural and theological baggage once used to justify fanaticism and oppression, there is no reason to believe that Islam cannot do the same. Spencer has argued that Islamic reform has no theological foundation, but he ignores the work of such 20th Century thinkers as Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, who made the case for the abrogation of the Quran’s later, harsher texts by the earlier, more peaceful ones (rather than vice versa). Today, there are Muslim scholars who champion a revision of Islamic orthodoxy on everything from women’s rights to religious freedom. In 2004, over 2,500 Muslim academics from 23 countries signed a petition to the United Nations condemning “Sheikhs of terror” who use Islamic scriptures as justification for political violence.

This is why, while we must stand by Geller as a victim of an outrageous attack on fundamental speech rights, it would be a tragic mistake to treat her or Spencer as leaders in the fight against the radical ideology that has been called Islamism or Islamofascism.

In his 2011 response to their attacks, Jasser warned that “Geller’s and Spencer’s genre is headed in only one direction—declaring an ideological war against one-fourth of the world’s population and expecting to neutralize the Islamist threat by asking Muslims to renounce their faith.” It is, perhaps literally, a dead end.

In Pam Geller’s World, Everybody Jihads – The Daily Beast.

Meet Robert Shillman, the Tech Mogul Who Funds Pamela Geller’s Anti-Islam Push

Only in America. If the same vitriol was directed to Christians or Jews, Shillman might not be so certain of his free speech justification:

Shillman said he remains a director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, whose Jihad Watch website helped organize the cartoon event in a Dallas suburb with activist Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks what it describes as extremist groups, has called the Freedom Center’s founder, the right-wing commentator David Horowitz, “the godfather of the anti-Muslim Movement.” The Freedom Center says it “combats the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values.”

The SPLC also calls Geller’s AFDI a hate group because of the way it talks about and depicts Muslims.

Horowitz, in an email, called Shillman “an American hero” who is entirely transparent in his agenda. Horowitz also said the SPLC couldn’t produce one statement of his own that was anti-Muslim.

Geller did not return messages seeking comment.

…As founder of Natick, Massachusetts-based Cognex, which makes machine vision products that help automate manufacturing, Shillman says he is more outspoken than a typical U.S. corporate leader. “Most CEOs are hired guns and their future depends on what their boards think of them. I don’t give a f—-.”

The Freedom Center, whose P.O. Box address is in Sherman Oaks, California, runs several blogs and websites, including the online FrontPage Magazine and Jihad Watch. Shillman has funded four fellowships for journalists who have have worked on the FrontPage, which is the center’s online journal for news and political commentary. He declined to comment when asked if he helped pay for the cartoon contest.

Meet Robert Shillman, the Tech Mogul Who Funds Pamela Geller’s Anti-Islam Push – News –

Art Spiegelman: Je Suis Charlie—But I’m Not Pamela Geller

Cartoonist Art Spiegelman on the differences between Charlie Hebdo and Pamela Geller. One of the best:

I think that’s when my brain short-circuited. Because superficially, it seems like, well, the same thing is happening in Texas. But it’s not. It’s the anti-matter, Bizarro World, flipside, mirror-logic version of what Charlie Hebdo is about.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative is racist organization. It’s exactly the nightmare version that the writers who were protesting the PEN award thought Charlie was. But Charlie is an anti-racist, political magazine that does not have an agenda that consists of wanting to bait or trouble Muslims.

Pam Geller’s organization is intentionally trying to start war of culture with Islam by saying that all Muslims are terrorists under the surface, and we’re going to prove it. Do the group members deserve free speech protection? Of course. But they’re hiding behind that banner with things that have very little to do with free speech and a lot to do with race hate.

Je suis Charlie, mais je ne suis pas Pam Geller. She and her dim-witted, ugly organization deserve the protection of the free speech mantle that they wrap themselves in. But would I ever give them a courage award? Hardly. Would I ever want to be in the same room with them? No. Do I wish they would stop? Yes.

The PEN writers who protested the event were projecting similar motives and attitudes onto Charlie Hebdo. Dismissing it as French arrogance is quite arrogant. Dismissing it as crude and vulgar is something that makes me suspicious of how cartoons are viewed by the writers who didn’t have enough respect for these images to understand them on their own.

…. I’m stuck having to agree with my bête noir friend Pam Geller that it would be better going forward for newspapers and magazines to take on the responsibility for showing these images. When the Danish Muhammad cartoons appeared in 2006, and when the Mohammad cartoons from Charlie Hebdo appeared, newspapers should have shown these images and talked about them. Many dismissed them as banal and treated them as, “Nothing to see here, move along.”

If it were taken as a matter of course for newspapers and magazines to show these images, they could be normalized, so the many Muslims not offended to the point of grabbing a machine gun could understand that this is how our culture functions with images and issues. It would create a better-informed population dealing with whatever comes next. It would also be useful to have other voices on newspaper and magazine staffs.

What’s the mistake in not publishing images that could be deemed offensive?

There’s no stopping it. What would it be based on? Would it be based on when someone takes up arms against the image? Would it be based on when someone thinks it’s offensive? God knows where the line would be drawn. It can’t be drawn that way. There is an incredible efficiency cartoons have, once you learn to read them, in clarifying the issues at hand, making them memorable.

There’s something basic about cartoons. They work they way the brain works. We think in small, iconic images. An infant can recognize a smiley face before it can recognize its mother’s smile. We think in little bursts of language. This is how cartoons are structured. They’re structured to talk to something deep inside our brains. A cartoon becomes a new kind of word that didn’t exist before.

It’s interesting how little respect they get. “Oh, anyone could draw that crude, vulgar scrawl,” said a number of critics of Charlie Hedbo. That’s not quite true. They’re not totally dismissible. If a writer had made some of the points that Charlie Hebdo had made, I don’t think the writers protesting PEN would have been so condescending and dismissive.

Art Spiegelman: Je Suis Charlie—But I’m Not Pamela Geller | TIME.

The moral problem with a Muhammad cartoon contest

Noah Feldman on the moral responsibility of Pamela Geller for the Texas shootings:

One goal of the provokers in Texas seems to have been sending a message to Muslims that their faith may be criticized with impunity. Pamela Geller, the organizer, said she chose the venue because Muslims had previously organized an event there. Geller also said that Muslims generally cannot be criticized in the U.S. because of political correctness, and that she wanted to counteract what she perceives as a new social norm.

The desire to condemn Islam by intentionally offending Muslims is morally unpleasant in itself. Insulting the Prophet to make a point is a bit like showing Nazi propaganda to prove that Jews can be subject to criticism: effective, but repulsive.

Yet as moral wrongdoing goes, giving offense isn’t at the top of the list. You shouldn’t do it, but when you do, you’re offensive — nothing more. Compared with intimidation, for example, offense is less wrongful. If offense were all that Geller intended, she’d deserve a stern lecture about civility, not deep condemnation.

By willfully trying to provoke violence, Geller was trying to create a situation in which innocent people could have been harmed or killed.

Geller also had a plausible moral rationale: to strike a blow for free speech itself, after January’s attacks in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Perhaps, it could be argued, some offense is justified in light of the need to stand up against terrorism that is intended to repress speech.

But there was almost certainly another goal at work in the provocation, too. Geller clearly wanted to get a reaction from Muslims offended by the event’s intentionally offensive speech. The point of the offense was, in part, to generate a response.

Perhaps all Geller wanted was to provoke a counter demonstration that would have drawn attention to her efforts. But assuming for a moment that she didn’t want to provoke a violent attack, Geller could still be held morally responsible for the foreseeable consequences of her provocation.

There’s a moral theory, called the ‘doctrine of double effect’, that says you shouldn’t be blamed for foreseeable consequences that you don’t want. We sometimes rely on it, as in justifying collateral damage as a result of an otherwise morally correct use of force.

This moral doctrine of double effect has no place in evaluating a conscious provocation. Geller was trying to provoke a reaction. If the reaction was reasonably likely to be violent, she can’t hide behind the notion that she didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

Was a violent reaction foreseeable? I’d like the answer to be no. Plenty of insults against Muslims go unremarked, and certainly unavenged. Violent attacks like the one on Charlie Hebdo are extremely rare.

Fairness toward American Muslims would seem to require us to say that the violent reaction wasn’t reasonably likely to occur. We’d then have to absolve Geller on a ground she probably wouldn’t much like.

But that still leaves the question of Geller’s own subjective beliefs and intentions. It’s hard to escape the suspicion that part of her hoped to provoke a violent response.

After all, it’s part of Geller’s worldview to believe that Islam is a violent religion. The bus and subway ads she’s paid for depict Islam in terms of violent jihad. She paid for an armed security guard outside the event, suggesting she considered violence at least possible. What’s more, the value of the free speech she is trumpeting is relevant mostly because cartoons perceived as insulting the Prophet have been met with violence.

If — and I say if — Geller intended to provoke violence, she did something much worse than giving offense. By willfully trying to provoke violence, Geller was trying to create a situation in which innocent people could have been harmed or killed. As it was, a security guard at the event was injured. (By the way, the guard who shot and killed the attackers counts as a hero who saved lives, regardless of Geller’s motives.)

If Geller wanted violence to happen, her actions were morally culpable — even though she obviously didn’t commit it.

And while we’re on the topic of fear

New York Times publishes Islamophobic ad by anti-Islam group

Contrasting high-brow Islamophobia in the NY Times for The Investigative Report on Terrorism and low-brow on Washington DC buses for Pamela Geller:

NYT Islamophobia


Geller Bus ads

The group also purchased a full-page display ad in Wednesday’s print edition New York Times. The all-text ad opened by “commemorating today’s official opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum.” It went on to warn at great length that mainstream Muslim-American groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations were in fact part of a clandestine “radical Islamist” vanguard of a “holy war” that supports terrorism and wishes to continue the efforts of the September 11 attacks. “This is the new form of the jihadist threat we face,” the ad reads.

The Investigative Project on Terrorism has long been criticized as Islamophobic for its campaign against what it describes as a clandestine effort by “radical Muslims” — which they allege includes mainstream rights groups — to infiltrate and destroy the United States from within. The group was founded in 1995 by Steven Emerson, whose 2002 book is titled “American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us.”

Just imagine, a similar ad stating:

Jewish Muslim Hatred: It’s in the Torah. $3 billion in US aid goes to Israel. Stop racism. End all aid to Israel.

New York Times publishes Islamophobic ad by anti-Islam group – Vox.

Canadian Muslim leaders worried U.S. speakers will spread ‘hate’ about Islam | 680News

Valid point. What criteria should Canada use to decide which speakers to allow into the country and which not?

The Canadian government did not allow George Galloway in but has allowed other controversial speakers like Ann Coulter in. While Geller and Spencer arguably cross the border of hate speech, the test is whether the government would allow entry to other speakers making comparable comments about other religions.

My own preference is to let them in and have trust in Canadians to reject their rhetoric and ideas.

Canadian Muslim leaders worried U.S. speakers will spread ‘hate’ about Islam | 680News.

And in related news, concerns that the demonstration against the Charte des valeurs québécoises by the Collectif québécois contre l’islamophobie (CQI) is driven by the intégristes (fundamentalists). There is of course a range within the more fundamentalist strains of Islam in Montreal. One of the organizers, Salam Elmenyawi, is a prominent conservative Muslim in Montreal (disclosure: I have met him a number of times).

But  in a democracy, all have the right to express their views, but the demonstration would likely be more effective with a more inclusive organizing committee that had some of the more liberal and secular Muslim and other organizations involved.

Une manifestation organisée par des intégristes?

Islamic conference cancelled by Montreal convention centre

While I find many of the comments of the speakers as reported repulsive and bordering on hate speech, I do not favour banning such speech, whether from Islamic or other fundamentalists, or extremists on the other side of the debate (e.g., the Ann Coulters and Pamela Gellers of the world). Better to have the ideas out there, debated, denounced, criticized, demonstrated against. Our democracy is strong and vibrant enough.

While I agree with Imam Salam Elmanayi on letting people speak, stronger language than distasteful would be more appropriate for a leader in the community.

Islamic conference cancelled by Montreal convention centre – Montreal – CBC News.