Pamela Geller as self-appointed spokesperson for moderate Muslims

Pamela Geller as self-appointed spokesperson for moderate Muslims

The Times of Israel asks the controversial activist whether she is, as the ADL claims, a bigot, or merely an impolitic and impolite campaigner against extremist Islam

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Pamela Geller (Courtesy)
Pamela Geller (Courtesy)

NEW YORK – Pamela Geller doesn’t mince words.

“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” read a recent ad campaign she organized in New York City’s subways. In case anyone was confused as to the identity of the civilized man, it urged readers to “support Israel, defeat jihad.”

The campaign was one of a series of efforts – including opposition to the opening of a Muslim center near Ground Zero in Manhattan – that have brought the New York native a measure of notoriety, and accusations of bigotry.

Geller denies those accusations vehemently. ABC News quoted her last year arguing that the “savage” in the ad was not a reference to all Muslims, but to terrorists.

“The point is any war on civilians is savagery. The rockets going into Israel by Gaza is savagery, blowing up buses is savagery, targeting a bus of Jewish mothers and children, savagery, Daniel Pearl, 9/11, 7/7 [terror attacks in London], 3/11 [terror attacks in Madrid], are all savagery,” she said at the time. “I’m just restating the obvious.”

In a response to a post in the Atlantic Wire that blasted the claim “that the bombs in Boston were the inevitable result of [the bombers’] religion,” Geller insisted the criticism misrepresented her position.

“No one ever said that believers in Islam would ‘inevitably’ become terrorists,” she wrote angrily. “But when has a mainstream media report on counter-jihadists ever not misrepresented our views?”

Yet many argue her “anti-jihad” agenda is larger, and targets Muslims as a whole, and the entire religion of Islam without distinguishing between moderates and supporters of violence.

The Southern Poverty Law Center decried her “broad-brush denunciations of Islam” as “shrill and coarse.”

(There is plenty of “broad-brush” language easily found in her prolific writings. She wrote in a headline on her blog that the Atlantic Wire writer, Elspeth Reeve, “carries water for slaughterers,” and has written that President Barack Obama “wants jihad to win.”)

The Anti-Defamation League has accused her of “consistently vilifying the Islamic faith under the guise of fighting radical Islam,” and introducing “a growing number of Americans” to a “conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda.”

“Terrorism inspired by fundamentalist Islam is indeed a true threat to America, Israel and democracies around the world,” ADL national chairman Robert Sugarman wrote in March 2012. “But in directing her rhetoric at the entire Islamic faith — indeed, in supporting campaigns to suggest that Muslims should abandon their faith entirely — Geller fuels and fosters anti-Muslim bigotry in society,” Sugarman accused.

The Times of Israel engaged the 55-year-old Jewish blogger in an email exchange about her views on Islam and Muslims, and on the criticism she has faced, and made a point of asking whether Geller is, as the ADL has said, a bigot, or merely an impolitic and impolite activist against Muslim extremism.

You have been labeled an Islamophobe, someone opposed to Islam as a whole and prejudiced against Muslims. Are you?

Who speaks for the Muslims who flee jihadi wars, Sharia, honor killings and misogyny? I do

Of course not. I’m a human rights activist. I fight for all people who yearn for freedom. But this is illustrative of the smear and defamation campaign. I am opposed to jihad and to the most brutal and oppressive ideology on the face of the earth: the Sharia [Islamic religious law]. These smear merchants are implying that all Muslims support jihad, which is patently untrue. The tactical strategy of the enemy in the war of ideas is to defame and libel the few who dare speak to the gravest threat that the West faces. And in doing so, in marginalizing and demonizing my colleagues and me, they kill the messenger, and thereby make the message undeliverable.

Who speaks for the Muslims who flee jihadi wars, Sharia, honor killings and misogyny? I do.

Do you support the liberalization of Muslim societies? Can you describe briefly what you would see as an ideal future for the Muslim world?

Yes. An ideal future for the Muslim world would be one in which women would not live in fear of clitoridectomies, honor killings, divinely sanctioned spousal abuse (cf. Koran 4:34) and all the other elements of the institutionalized oppression of women under Sharia. Non-Muslims would have equal rights with Muslims. People could leave Islam without fear of being murdered for it. And the freedom of speech, even speech critical of Islam, would be protected.

In 2010, you told the New York Times, “I believe in the idea of a moderate Muslim. I do not believe in the idea of a moderate Islam.” Can you elaborate on the distinction? Are there no moderates among believing Muslims?

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan famously also said that ‘there is no moderate Islam’ — is he an ‘Islamophobe’?

The texts and teachings of Islam — the Qur’an and Sunnah, the teachings of the various schools of Islamic law and the Islamic sects — teach warfare against and subjugation of unbelievers. This is not moderate. There are many Muslims who are not pursuing the jihad against non-Muslims and never will, but that does not change the teachings of Islam. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan famously also said that “there is no moderate Islam” — is he an “Islamophobe”?

Then are we doomed to a civilizational conflict? What needs to happen to avert such an outcome?

We are not doomed to a civilizational conflict: if we stood up for our own values and the freedoms that are denied by Sharia, many Muslims would stand with us.

The Hebrew Bible contains commandments to seek peace and love one’s fellow, but also the divine demand to exterminate whole nations and stone to death those who desecrate the Sabbath. But the ancient text has been interpreted over the millenia to the point where it is absolutely forbidden by all rabbis to, for example, kill over Sabbath observance. In similar fashion, do you see an interpretation of Islam that does not subscribe to the teachings you find abhorrent? Is there a “good Islam” out there, or do you feel most or all believing Muslims in fact subscribe to, as you said, jihad, honor killings and misogyny?

The literal understanding of the Koran is mainstream in the Islamic world, including its commands to make war on unbelievers, etc. No sect of Islam or school of Islamic jurisprudence teaches that contrary to Koran 5:82, the Jews are not the worst enemies of the Muslims, or that contrary to Koran 4:34,there are no circumstances, ever, in which a man should beat a woman, or that contrary to Koran 98:6, the unbelievers are not the most vile of created beings. There is no open-ended, universal command in the Jewish Bible for all Jews to make war against and subjugate non-Jews; there is such a command in the Koran (9:29). There are Muslims who reject these aspects of Islam, others who ignore them, and still others who are unaware of them.

The reality is we do not see Jews killing in the name of Hashem or Christians slaughtering in the name of Christ.

The ADL is probably the most prominent, and presumably least welcome, group to come out against your work. It has accused you of promoting a “virulent anti-Muslim bigotry and conspiracy theories.” How would you react to ADL’s accusation?

 The ADL is more like the Defamation League

Considering that the ADL has recently attacked Israel for forbidding Eurovision contestants from wearing designs by the anti-Semitic, pro-Hitler designer John Galliano [Galliano infamously launched into anti-Semitic tirades in 2011, then apologized for them, an apology that was ‘welcomed’ and accepted by the ADL – HG], and has attacked Joan Rivers and Seth MacFarlane as well as me instead of doing what it should be doing — defending Jews and Israel — it is hard for me to take their criticism seriously.

The ADL is more like the Defamation League. ADL was successfully sued for $10.5 million for defaming a Colorado couple accused of bigotry… They smear and run. If I weren’t a “public persona,” I would sue, too. The ADL is more dangerous to the Jews than her avowed enemies, because they appear to be on our side — and yet undermine the staunchest and fiercest Zionists. The enemies of freedom use the compromised Jews of the ADL to defame and destroy a Jew who is truly standing up for Israel and for the principles of freedom and human rights that the Jewish State represents. It’s inexcusable. It’s time the ADL went after the real enemies of Israel and stop getting their talking points from Muslim Brotherhood groups in America.

The Colorado case, if anything, may demonstrate an over-zealousness in their pursuit of anti-Semitism. But many people, including journalists and many Jewish leaders, view the ADL as an authority when it comes to identifying prejudice. What are they getting wrong about you?

If the ADL were an authority in identifying prejudice, why is it excusing John Galliano, whose vile Jew-hatred he expressed not once but repeatedly? Why is the ADL criticizing Israel for not wanting Israelis representing Israel to wear his designs?

What they are getting wrong about me is that my work is devoted entirely to defending the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and equality of rights for all people. They are so wedded to their leftist political perspective that they cannot or will not see this.

Is there an Islamic conspiracy to take over America? What exactly do you mean when you warn against, for example, the imposition of Sharia, or the silencing of criticism of Islam? Is it organized, or do you see it as a cultural fault line with different expectations on both sides? You are accused of being a “conspiracist.” Are you?

All of the major Muslim organizations in the US are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood’s stated goal in the West, according to an internal captured document entered into evidence in the largest Hamas funding trial in US history, “is eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within.” All of the major Muslim organizations in the US are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. That is not a conspiracy theory, that is conspiracy fact.

In the latest cancellation of one of your talks, Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of the Chabad synagogue in Thornhill, Ontario, called off your speaking engagement after a conversation with local police. The police later said in a statement that holding the event “would place [Rabbi Kaplan] in conflict with the values of our organization, which support a safe, welcoming and inclusive community for all.” Rabbi Kaplan, as you know, is also a chaplain in the police. How do you understand this cancellation, and in particular the involvement of law enforcement in denying you a chance to speak?

The “stuff” that I speak about — gender apartheid, creed apartheid, Islamic Jew-hatred, honor killing — runs contrary to their values? What exactly are their values? Imposing Sharia? Because that’s exactly what they’re doing. My value is life. What’s theirs?

The police have no business deciding what is or is not acceptable speech.

Can you expand on that? This case caused quite a stir, and from a distance it’s hard not to question the role of the police in closing down a public gathering. Did they accuse you of inciting violence? Or was it simply, as the police statement explained, that they felt you were not conducive to a “safe, welcoming and inclusive community?”

No, they did not [accuse me of inciting violence]. They said I took stands contrary to their values. Does that mean they support jihad violence, gender apartheid, creed apartheid, etc.? My value is life. What values of mine do they reject? They did not specify because, I suspect, they’re aware of what a difficult position they’ve placed themselves in.

I am enormously interested in the file of the “hate crime investigation” that they said they had conducted on me. I will be pursuing that.

Are you angry at Rabbi Kaplan for apparently bowing to the pressure?

No. I am saddened that such pressure is brought upon decent and freedom-loving people, and saddened whenever anyone bows to it.

Three years ago you told the New York Times, “You know, it really is a war of ideas and it’s important. That’s why the free-speech issue for me is everything. It’s the line in the sand; it is the difference between peace and war, because with freedom of speech, peaceful men can effect change. Without freedom of speech, peaceful men have no choice but to resort to violence. You have no alternative. Freedom of speech is the line in the sand.”

What is the “war of ideas?” How would you describe the two sides? And how is it related to the New York subway campaign, where you urged to support “the civilized man.” Who is that? How does one distinguish between the savage and the civilized?

The war of ideas is a conflict of values. My value is life, freedom, and the exaltation of the individual, whereas my opponents revere death, authoritarianism and collectivism.

Savages murder innocent civilians and pass out candies to celebrate the murders

Savages murder innocent civilians and pass out candies to celebrate the murders. The civilized do not. I believe in the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, equality of rights of all people before the law, and individual rights. The proponents of Sharia do not.

Can you be more specific about who you feel falls into the category of savages? For example, the subway ads spoke about supporting Israel. When you speak about “savages,” are you referring narrowly to Hamas terror cells or more broadly to the Palestinians in general? What portion of the Muslim world do you believe falls into that category of murderers of innocent civilians?

I answered this question already in the portion of my earlier statement that you quote here. The war against Israel is a war on innocent civilians. When the Fogel family was murdered, the jihad murderers slit their baby’s throat. What is someone who slits a baby’s throat but a savage? Blowing up a bus of Jewish women and children on holiday in Bulgaria is savagery. Then there was general celebration among the Palestinians in Gaza, with people handing out candy and cheering. Who cheers the murder of an innocent family but savages?

Obviously any Palestinian who abhors and rejects such savagery is not the focus of my ad.

When the MTA originally rejected the ads, you called the transit authority “pro-jihad” and “sharia-compliant.” You also successfully fought to obtain a permit to place the ads in New York subways. Beyond the context of that specific fight, how serious were you about those jabs at the MTA?

Under the blasphemy laws, you cannot criticize or offend Islam. In opposing my ads, the MTA was Sharia-compliant

Very serious. My ads were anti-jihad. So in opposing them, the MTA was pro-jihad, particularly since they ran numerous anti-Israel campaigns in the same venues without a murmur of complaint. They were enforcing the blasphemy laws under the Sharia, whether they knew it or not. Under the blasphemy laws, you cannot criticize or offend Islam. In opposing my ads, the MTA was Sharia-compliant.

How would you characterize the resistance many authorities, whether Canadian policemen or New York transit authorities, show when it comes to your campaigns?

Authorities are afraid of Muslim claims of victimhood, which are a vehicle for the spread of Islamic supremacism and the crushing of all resistance to jihad, and very fearful of being tarred as “bigots” — which is why Islamic supremacists so frequently resort to this charge.

How would you describe an anti-Muslim bigot? What sort of viewpoint or statement about Muslims would make you come to the Muslims’ defense?

An actual anti-Muslim bigot is against Muslims as such — even those who have come to the US to escape the Sharia oppression about which I speak and write.

What sort of statement would make me come to the aid of a bigot? I would never defend bigotry.

Could you expand on that question of free speech? Why is it so important to your worldview? How do you see the issue of free speech affecting the relationship between Islam and the West?

Free speech is the cornerstone of our Constitutional republic. That’s why it is in the First Amendment, and not the 5th or 9th. Free speech, most particularly political speech, is the only means for free men to resolve conflicts. Without freedom of speech, peaceful men have no alternative but to resort to violence. It is our fundamental bulwark against tyranny.

Islamic law forbids criticism of Islam

Islamic law forbids criticism of Islam. If we do not have free speech, we cannot resist jihad; it will advance unimpeded while we stand by mute, unable to speak out against it for fear of charges of “Islamophobia.”

One final question. If you had a platform to speak before a representative gathering of Muslim Americans, what would you tell them?

I would tell them that it is time to work for honest reform, in word and deed, of the elements of the Koran and Islamic teaching in general that call for warfare, oppress women and non-Muslims, mandate death for apostates, etc. And that anyone who sincerely, in word and deed, accepts Constitutional freedoms and is ready to defend them and fight against those who subvert them should join me in the defense of freedom.

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