The coverage of the shootings in Texas has belatedly started to make an issue of Pamela Geller’s extremism. Last night she was derided on MSNBC as a provocateur who is seeking a violent response. Today’s New York Times has a long piece about Geller that unfortunately sets her up as a bold truthteller at the start: “Though hailed by her supporters as a patriot and condemned by her critics as a bigot, Ms. Geller, everyone seems to agree, has never had trouble speaking her mind.” But the profile at least does review some of Geller’s highlights of racism.
Yet the piece, by Alan Feuer, is signally lacking in one respect; there are no Muslims in it.
Shouldn’t he have talked to the people who are being hated and ask for their opinion? He says Geller played a role in winning the resignation of Debbie Almontaser from the Kahlil Gibran Academy in Brooklyn. OK; here’s a woman who was victimized by Geller. Shouldn’t the Times call her and ask her about that? She’s a wonderful, articulate person, and not hard to find in New York.
He also reports that Geller has advocated for the removal of the Dome of the Rock from the Temple Mount. Shouldn’t he ask what Muslims have to say about that idea? How does that feel to them? Again, not a single Muslim person is asked about the impact of these insults.
From the simple standpoint of Journalism 101, it’s obvious why you should consult Muslims. If you’re writing a profile of a racist, you should gather the comments from the victims of the racism.
But there’s another reason why the views of some Muslims should be sought. We non-Muslims are raised in different cultural traditions, with different taboos and red lines. Therefore we understandably have a problem fully grasping the feelings of outrage and pain that Muslims feel, for instance, at cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. We need to hear more Muslim voices. The implication in the Western press is often that Muslims’ sensitivities are immature, that Islam needs a Reformation, they should catch up to us in tolerance. That view is woefully simplistic, but even if it had merit, we still need to find out what people actually feel.
There is, of course, no excuse for violently attacking the Geller gathering. Free speech is sacrosanct. But let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say that a group of neo-Nazis hosted a conference in Brooklyn at which an exhibit of Nazi cartoons from the Hitler era was on display. Isn’t it possible — possible — that a couple of former Jewish Defense League extremists would attack the gathering with weapons? Or let’s say a group of militant atheists hosted a conference in Norman, Oklahoma, at which Bibles were burnt and crucifixes desecrated. Isn’t it possible — possible — that a couple of far right gun nuts would open fire on the gathering?
I’m just saying, maybe these are the kind of visceral feelings that Jews and Christians can relate to that Muslims seem to experience at Pamela Geller’s racism. The Times made not even a minimal effort to convey as much.