DUBAI: A once unknown former financial analyst and associate publisher, Pamela Geller was one of the most vocal critics of Islam following the 9/11 attacks, becoming infamous for her extremist anti-Muslim views and activism.
In 2010, Geller co-founded the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), which she said was formed to stop the “Islamization of America” and “creeping Sharia” in the US. An international Jewish non-governmental organization known as the Anti-Defamation League and the civil rights group Southern Poverty Law Center described AFDI as exhibiting anti-Muslim bigotry.
Aside from co-founding anti-Islamic groups, Geller has been associated with various acts of hate speech targeted at Muslims over the past decade.
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Dr. Deniz Gokalp, associate professor of social sciences at the American University in Dubai, says Geller is someone who intentionally incites hatred toward Muslims.
“Her hatred toward Muslims and hate speech targeting Islam should be dealt with by democratic strategies to marginalize and delegitimize her as a public figure,” Gokalp told Arab News.
Geller first gained attention in 2006, two years after starting her blog called “Atlas Shrugs,” when she reprinted the controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad that were originally published in the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which triggered off protests across the Islamic world.
A year later, she attended a “counter-jihad” conference in Brussels — a self-titled political current with a belief that the Western world is being subjected to an invasion by Muslims.
• Nationality: American
• Place of residence: Long Island, New York
• Occupation: Political activist; blogger and commentator; executive director of Stop Islamization of Nations
• Medium: Blog, Atlas Shrugs; interviews; podcasts; YouTube; column in Breitbart News
Geller stirred further controversy in 2010 when she led a campaign against plans to build a Muslim community center close to the World Trade Center that she referred to as the “Ground Zero Mega Mosque.” She claimed that it would have been viewed by Muslims as a “triumphal” monument built on “conquered land.”
Three years later, Geller faced criticism yet again over controversial anti-Muslim ads posted on public transport in New York. Prompted by an ad critical of Israel on the subway, Geller said that she was exercising her freedom of speech by showing a picture of the burning World Trade Center with a quote from the Qur’an.
Professor Gokalp says that although hate speech cannot be and should not be banned or criminalized, it can have a negative impact on society if it becomes mainstream. “In the specific case of the US, hate speech can have quite a detrimental impact on society leading to hate crime and violence against Muslims given the current state of political affairs,” she said.
Gokalp said free speech, including hate speech, is necessary for a healthy society to listen to and be aware of the dominant discourses and to become proactive, but that it becomes detrimental when “political institutions provide impunity for hate crimes.”
In 2015, Geller’s organization, the AFDI, grabbed headlines when it announced that it would pay for an anti-Muslim advert to be printed on New York buses. The ad showed a man with his face covered alongside the text “Killing Jews is worship that brings us closer to Allah.”
Below this text, the advert read: “That’s his jihad. What’s yours?”
That same year, Geller also helped to organize a “Draw the Prophet” cartoon contest on May 3, 2015, at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, where the winner received a $10,000 prize.
US President Donald Trump also criticized her: “What is she doing drawing (Prophet) Mohammad? And it looks like she’s actually taunting people — and it’s disgusting that it happened.”
Her supporters say she is prepared to say things others shy away from. Critics argue that she is guilty of spreading fear of Islam.
Although she insists that she is not against Islam in general, only radical Islam, she has been quoted as describing Islam as a “genocidal ideology.”
She has repeatedly on live television news channels such as CNN, Fox News and Russia Today to accuse Islam of being a religion of violence that has inspired Hitler and to claim that “Muslim immigration means more Islamic terrorism.”
In response to Geller’s controversial and extremist activism against Muslims, the British government barred her entry into the UK in 2013, saying that her presence would “not be conducive to the public good.”
Geller, who is of American nationality and resides in Long Island, New York, lived a relatively quiet life before shooting to fame.
After Geller married Michael Oshry in 1990, she spent most of her time as a “well-to-do Long Island housewife” until her divorce in 2007. She received almost $4 million in her divorce settlement as well as $5 million in life insurance payments after the death of her former husband.
These funds contributed to her campaigns and supported her anti-liberal push on social media.
Other examples of her anti-Islamic activity include her teaming up in 2010 with another anti-Islamic extremist, Robert Spencer, to take over the “Stop Islamization of America” organization — an offshoot of the much weaker Denmark-based “Stop Islamization of Europe.”
Geller said that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were one of the main triggers for her embracing anti-Muslim ideology. She says she launched the “Atlas Shrugs” website — where she denounced Islam at every opportunity — “in honor of right-wing hero and self-described Objectivist author Ayn Rand.”
Geller has defended Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president who went on trial for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo between 1991 and 1999, before he died in March 2006.
She denies the mass killing of Bosnian Muslims during the 1991-1999 war in the former Yugoslavia by ethnic Serb nationalists, calling it “the Srebrenica genocide myth.” As for the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, she said it was conducted “to pave the way for an Islamic state in the heart of Europe – Kosovo.”
Geller mingles with notorious far-right extremists and white nationalists across the world. She has been invited to give lectures by the German far-right organization Pro Koln and the British anti-Muslim group English Defense League (EDL). She is also a fan of Geert Wilders, the Dutch anti-Muslim politician.
Geller was cited in Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Breivik’s manifesto that was posted online before he killed eight people with a bomb and then gunned down 69 others - many of them teenagers - at a summer youth camp in 2011.
In an apparently sympathetic post, Geller wrote that Breivik “was targeting the future leaders of the party responsible for flooding Norway with Muslims.”