A lot of the coverage of the shootings at the Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland TX yesterday is treating Pamela Geller as some kind of free speech hero. The New York Times, for instance, identifies Geller’s Islamophobia but promptly gives her a platform to spew intolerant ideas:
Pamela Geller, an outspoken anti-Islam activist and an organizer of the event, said the group decided to hold the event in the Curtis Culwell Center because members had heard that a Muslim group had a conference in the same room after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office.
Ms. Geller described Sunday’s event as pro-free speech, and said that Muslims had become a “special class” that Americans were no longer allowed to offend.
“The media is self-enforcing a Shariah,” she said, referring to Islamic law. “Under the Shariah you cannot criticize or offend Islam.”
Geller also got to be feisty n fuzzy on CNN today. She was interviewed speaking passionately for the First Amendment’s protection of “offensive” speech and then Jeffrey Toobin described her in almost affectionate terms. She knew just what she was doing, he said.
“Perhaps it was a dumb idea for her to do it,” he ventured. “Is it good judgment? Does it contribute to a better political or religious dialogue? That’s debatable.”
While on MSNBC, Thomas Roberts gave the microphone to Katrina Pierson of the Tea Party, a supporter of the cartoons event, to say, “The whole world knows how intolerant Islam is.”
It is a sad measure of the amount of Islamophobia in our country that all these people are given a podium to hold forth. The media really ought to be more careful about who they’re jumping to defend. Geller is not attacking jihadists. She is attacking a world religion, with more than 1 billion adherents, and saying that that religion is essentially evil. And she’s on US TV! Why aren’t these reporters explaining this?
Imagine the neo-Nazis who marched in Skokie, IL, getting mainstream press microphones to deny the Holocaust. Imagine David Duke getting treated respectfully on national television as he promotes the international Jewish conspiracy theory of how the world works. It would never happen.
We are not speaking here about the First Amendment. Of course, Pamela Geller has the right to put up cartoons. This is about the place given to Islamophobes in the media. “Thank you for your insights,” Thomas Roberts said on MSNBC after Pierson spewed hate. The media would never perform this service for people who hate Christians or Jews. Jeff Toobin wouldn’t ask whether neo-Nazi ideas are “debatable.”
Moreover, they might actually examine Geller’s beliefs, without consulting her about them, to explain who she is. And they might even talk about the pro-Israel agenda. As it is, they are putting her forward as some kind of courageous American eccentric, like Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
On WNYC this morning, Brian Lehrer got a bit deeper, but he went easy on the group’s hate speech:
This activist group that held the Muhammad cartoon contest [is]… a political group with a political agenda. Openly pro-Israel. nothing wrong with being pro-Israel. Very conservative in their views, though. Listed as a hate group by… the Southern Poverty Law Center…. They’re just trying to depict the Prophet in a satirical way in order to be in their face…They call it a freedom of expression event in Texas…
And then, only half-joking:
After this incident, should the PEN American Center consider giving the freedom of expression courage award for next year to maybe Pamela Geller’s group?
We wonder how that joke plays to Muslims.