Skip to navigationSkip to content

Ideas

Our home for bold arguments and big thinkers.

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Before Sunday, Pamela Geller was perhaps best known for leading a 2010 campaign against the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero.

Stop comparing Pamela Geller to the murdered staffers of Charlie Hebdo

By Jake Flanagin

Pamela Geller, 56, is the president of an organization called the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Like most groups that festoon themselves in such empty, nonsensical, star-spangled pablum, the AFDI is a panoply of racism and Islamophobia.

Its predictably amateurish webpage—which unceasingly assaults the eyes with pleas for donations (minimum $18/month)—contains no discernible mission statement. But, according to tax documents obtained by the AP, the AFDI bills itself as an organization set against “capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism.”

Geller herself was perhaps best known for campaigning against the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in 2010, and, more recently, suing New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority for the right to plaster subway stations with Islamophobic ads. That is, until Sunday, May 3, 2015.

That day, Geller sponsored the first annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest in Garland, Texas; which was attended by the right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, himself a well-known Islamophobe. Wilders offered $10,000 to the “best” (read: most offensive) depiction of the prophet Muhammad—an act forbidden by some interpretations of Islam. There were over 200 submissions on display. Tickets were $50 a pop.

One need not agree with everything Charlie Hebdo prints to understand the distinction between hate and critique.

At around 6:50pm that evening, two men—identified as Elton Simpson and Narid Soofi—pulled up to the event center, exited their vehicle holding assault rifles, and began shooting. One security guard was injured before local police managed to shoot and kill the two assailants. Though little information has been released on Soofi, Simpson has documented links with radical Islamist activity.

In the aftermath, some were quick to draw comparisons between the attack on Geller’s event and the slaying of 12 staffers at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly known for printing caricatures of the prophet Muhammad and distasteful depictions of Muslims. This is wrongheaded in every regard—not least of which: it insults the memories of those murdered.

One need not agree with everything Charlie Hebdo prints to understand the distinction between hate and critique. Which is not to say that Charlie Hebdo’s methods of critique—particularly with regards to Islam and religion in general—were always admirable or appropriate. But unlike the AFDI, its writers and cartoonists are avowed secularists. Secularism is not state atheism, but rather an impartial, detached politics that permits the coexistence of multiple faith groups and cultures under an egalitarian structure.

Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders, and their ilk are not secularists. Their belligerent ideology calls for the elimination of Islam by a superior “Western civilization.” They are white supremacists, plain and simple.

The families of those killed in Paris did not volunteer for this culture war.

Want proof? Look no further than Geller’s resume of delusion. She has “mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reports—many of the same politicians Charlie Hebdo writers made careers out of lampooning. She has “spoken favorably of South African racists, defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic, and denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps.” In the midst of unrest in Baltimore, her personal blog draws absurd links between protesters and the Islamic State.

“In the war between the civilized man and the savage,” Geller told a New York Times reporter in 2010, “you side with the civilized man.” She loves to wax poetic on this supposed clash of civilizations. In the aftermath of the attack in Garland, she wasted little time posting much of the same nonsense to her blog: “This is a war,” she wrote. “This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”

While Geller pretends to live a real-life version of Independence Day, the families of those killed in Paris are still picking up the pieces; their lives, families, and sense of security utterly shattered. They did not volunteer for this culture war. Geller and the AFDI unquestionably did. And although they were not asking for such violent retribution, they have certainly welcomed it in the aftermath. Ticket-holders reportedly sang “patriotic songs” as they evacuated the event site.

The excitement was palpable. They could not believe their luck.

In a livestream recording of the event, which captured moments of the evacuation, an attendee frantically asks a security guard if the shooters “were Muslim?” A young, female attendee is interviewed. “Outside I was asked if I feel safe here,” she says. “I responded I absolutely did. Look at all the security that we have.”

On the livestream after police tell everyone they need to leave, someone yells out, “Are the suspects Muslim?” And then everyone applauds.

— Susie Cagle (@susie_c) May 4, 2015

“There’s a reason that we have this kind of security,” she adds, barely containing a grin.