Pamela Geller is back! For the lucky ones who don’t know who she is, here’s a quick primer on Pam before I tell you about her current crusade of hate. (And before I make my plea for your help!)
Geller is like a Sizzler’s all-you-can-eat buffet—but instead of food, she’s serving up a non-stop buffet of bigotry. Whatever type of hate you want, she’s got it!
Got a hankering for some anti-Semitic comments? Look no further than Geller calling The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart a “Judenrat” who “would have been first on line to turn over his fellow Jews in Poland and Germany” to the Nazis to be put to death. (Geller’s stupid and ahistorical comment—a “Judenrat” was a local Jewish council, not a Jewish rat—came in response to a Daily Show segment mocking her right-wing friend, a Florida Republican named Joe Kaufman, who is challenging Debbie Wasserman Schultz.)
Yearning for some irrational hatred of Barack Obama? Perfect, because Geller has said that Obama was “involved with a crack whore in his youth...Find the ho, give her a show!” She also claims Obama is a Muslim who “wants jihad to win" so he can appease his “Islamic overlords.”
In the mood for a big plate of anti-Muslim bigotry? This of course is Geller’s house specialty. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has labeled Geller the “anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.” The SPLC even notes that Geller “has mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists” and “spoken favorably of South African racists” in her efforts to demonize Muslims.
And The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) notes on its website that Geller has engaged in “consistently vilifying the Islamic faith under the guise of fighting radical Islam.”
Some do like Geller. There’s Anders Breivik. He’s the Norwegian terrorist who praised her work numerous times in his manifesto before he went on a deadly rampage killing 77 people in his effort to stop Norway from being overrun by immigrants, especially Muslims. And in the United States, Fox News has her on frequently as a guest, which I’m sure comes as a shock to absolutely no one.
Now you know Pam. (I’m truly sorry.)
So what’s Geller up to now? As you’ve probably heard, she started running advertisements this week on 100 New York City buses and in subway stops that the New York Daily News has described as being part of a “shocking anti-Islam ad campaign.”
But here’s the thing that may surprise you: I defend Geller’s right to spew hate. I despise it with every fiber of my being, but freedom of speech is vital to our nation.
And I say that even though Geller penned an article denouncing a comedy documentary I co-directed with my friend Negin Farsad titled The Muslims Are Coming! It uses humor to counter anti-Muslim bigotry. Why was Geller upset with the film? She claimed it was part of a “cultural jihad.” Apparently, we are waging a comedy jihad.
Still, I understand why many want New York City’s MTA, the agency responsible for ads on buses and subways, to reject Geller’s hate-filled advertisements. But the MTA has little leeway after a 1998 federal appeals court found that advertising spaces on the subways and buses are considered a “designated public forum,” thus limiting any content restrictions.
Our courts, however, have recognized limits to free speech, and to that end the MTA has imposed certain regulations. For example, the MTA prohibits ads that “incite or provoke violence.” This is a valid concern with these ads since there has been a recent uptick in anti-Muslim hate crimes in NYC. But what’s alarming about the MTA’s regulations is that they require factual accuracy only when an advertiser is peddling a commercial product, but not when peddling hate. This means the KKK could design ads that include fabricated “facts” about blacks and other minority groups and the MTA would post it even though they are outright lies. That’s dangerous.
And that’s exactly what Geller has done. Her ads contain several inaccurate assertions of fact (not opinion) that should be corrected.
For example, one ad features a photo of a meeting between Adolph Hitler and Amin al-Husseini, with a caption claiming al-Husseini is “the leader of the Muslim world.” Now, al-Husseini was indeed a Nazi collaborator, but he was not “the leader” of the Muslim world. Even a five-second Google search will tell you that there’s no one leader of the Muslim world. In fact, al-Husseini was the Mufti (Islamic scholar) of Jerusalem, appointed by the British government in 1921 at the time the British controlled Palestine—a powerful position to be sure, but not one that made him the leader of all Muslims. And crucially, by the time of the Hitler photograph, he was no longer Mufti, having been removed from that post by the British four years before.
Putting the MTA aside, what can be done to counter Geller’s ads? Glad you asked. Join Negin Farsad and me (the “comedy jihadists”) in our effort to create subway ads that present Muslim Americans in a way that’s positive, accurate—and funny. If all goes well, after this ad campaign, people will really love Muslims.
But here’s the big challenge. The minimum amount for an MTA ad buy is $11,000. (Geller’s ad campaign is reportedly $100,000.) So we need help raising money because being a comedy jihadi really doesn’t pay that well.
We will use literally every penny donated for the ads. We are still in the brainstorming phase for the posters. One might feature famous Americans who most people don’t know are Muslim. No, I’m not talking Obama—but more like Dr. Oz and Shaquille O’Neal. Or we’ll play on the idea that “The Muslims Are Coming!”: you know, to your radiology department. What I can tell you with certainty is that the ads will be funny and provocative, but in no way will they demonize any minority group like Geller’s ads do.
If you want to donate, here’s the link to our “Fighting bigotry with hilarious posters” campaign. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We hope comedy can as well.