No regrets about cartoon contest after Texas shooting

2015-05-08 11:49
Pamela Geller is interviewed at The Associated Press, May 7 2015 in New York. (Mark Lennihan, AP)

Pamela Geller is interviewed at The Associated Press, May 7 2015 in New York. (Mark Lennihan, AP)

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New York - Does Pamela Geller regret organising the Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest that ended in gunfire? No, she says confidently.

In fact, she says, she probably saved lives by hosting the event and plans to have more just like it, with one difference: Next time, she'll be wearing a bulletproof vest.

"I will continue to speak in defence of freedom until the day I die," Geller said on Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press, as a grim-looking personal security guard hovered nearby. "It's just that simple. It's not even a choice. It's a calling."

Geller has always hired armed security personnel to protect the scores of events she has spearheaded across the nation in recent years to decry Islamic extremism. But furore over Sunday's shooting in Garland, Texas, has led to a specific threat against Geller, posted on a website related to the Islamic State group, and the New York Police Department is taking it seriously. Now she doesn't travel anywhere without protection.

Geller said she believes she saved lives by hosting the contest because the two Muslim gunmen shot to death by police would have picked another soft target and killed innocent civilians.

"Would you regret saving lives?" she asked.

A master of rhetoric and clearly comfortable in the spotlight, the 56-year-old former media executive shifts easily from charming to combative. Her critics have called the cartoon contest needlessly provocative, practically an invitation for violence. But Geller argued that any blame should be focused on extremists who can't be criticised or lampooned without resorting to violence.

"Cartoons are political critique. It's a cartoon," she said. "Is that what we want to outlaw? We want to outlaw humour? We want to outlaw comedy? If you want to know who rules over you, find out who you cannot criticise."

Her activities have prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to add her to its extremist files, calling her "the anti-Muslim movement's most visible and flamboyant figurehead."

‘Hatred for Muslims’

In an editorial on Thursday, The New York Times said Geller "has a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims" and called the Garland event "an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom. To pretend it was motivated by anything other than hate is simply hogwash."

Geller was once part of the elite media machine she professes to despise, working for the business operations of the Daily News and the New York Observer. Then, she was a self-described "apolitical" mother who paid little mind to world affairs.

"I loved my fashion. I loved my life. I loved my career," she said with a smile. "I assumed my freedom. I grew up free, you know? I grew up in the freest country in the world. And I loved it."

Then, she said, "9/11 happened. And it was shattering."

Ignorant of terrorism, Geller said she dived deeply into the Internet to learn more. She joined a burgeoning online community obsessed with jihad and terrorism. She began opining in the comments section. One day in 2004, a fellow commenter encouraged her to create her own blog.

"I'm like, 'What's a blog?'" Geller recalled. "And he said, 'Shut up and start writing.'"

Rapid rise

Today, Geller has nearly 68 000 Twitter followers and a devoted army of virtual supporters for her websites, books and public events. As head of an organisation called the American Freedom Defense Initiative, she took in $960 000 in donations in 2013, paying herself a salary of $192 500, according to tax filings.

Donations pour in from the PayPal button on her website, Geller said, adding that she has "no idea" how much money she has raised.

Records do not list donors, but a recent report by the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington, said Geller's top donors included the Fairbrook Foundation, which supports a number of mainstream conservative groups.

In 2010, Geller famously led a campaign to prevent the opening of an Islamic community centre blocks from the World Trade Center site, calling it the "ground zero mosque." She has filed numerous lawsuits across the US in recent years, many of them related to her attempts to display incendiary ads in public transit systems. Most recently, New York City's transit authority banned all political advertising after a judge upheld Geller's right to run bus ads about Islam that said, "Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah."

Read more on:    us  |  prophet muhammad

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