More: Je Suis Pamela Geller?
The self-styled ‘anti-jihadist’ Web warrior who organized Sunday’s Draw Muhammad event is an embarrassment. But that doesn’t diminish her right to free speech.
Since Pamela Geller likes to fashion herself a heroine of the Jewish people, let me use a Yiddish word to describe her: shanda.
Shanda means “shame,” and it’s usually used to describe a person or behavior that shames or embarrasses the Jewish community. It is hard to think of an American Jewish public figure of more ill repute than Geller, the self-styled “anti-jihadist” web warrior who hosted the Draw Muhammad event that came under attack Sunday in Garland, Texas.
From her luxury apartment in Manhattan, Geller has been single-handedly waging a crusade against global Islamic fundamentalism, which, in her considered view, is Islam itself. Like extremists of all stripes—including Sunday’s featured speaker, populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has advocated banning the Quran—Geller lacks nuance, seeing the world in black and white. The “only moderate Muslim is a secular Muslim,” this reputed scholar of religion told The New York Times in 2009 after coming to prominence as a leader in the anti-Ground Zero mosque movement. When Muslims “pray five times a day…they’re cursing Christians and Jews five times a day,” she asserted.
If Geller embraced an element of camp, like that other right-wing female firebrand, Ann Coulter, she might be mildly amusing. Early in Geller’s Internet career, she produced an amateurish music video called “My Shariah,” with original lyrics refashioned to the tune of The Knack’s “My Sharona.” Now sadly erased from the web, it hinted at someone who at least had a sense of humor.
But Geller isn’t performance art. She’s deadly serious. The problem is that, contrary to her self-imaginings and those of her deluded followers, she isn’t a latter-day Golda Meir. She’s what you would get if Fran Drescher and the late ultranationalist anti-Arab rabbi-turned-political leader Meir Kahane reproduced.
For those of us who genuinely want to combat extremism and promote liberalism in the Muslim world, Geller is a uniquely toxic presence in the public discourse. She makes it easy for Islamist apologists to avoid debate, as they can always point to Geller and her outrageous behavior for ready examples of how pervasive “Islamophobia” has become in American society.