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“Pamela Geller Is No Rosa Parks”: Trying To Cash In On The Moral Authority Of The Movement While Scrapping Its Moral Foundations

After armed gunmen attacked a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last week, event organizer Pamela Geller went on Fox News to explain the moral righteousness of her cause. Responding to critics like Donald Trump, who accused her of “taunting” Muslims, she asked, “What would he have said about Rosa Parks? Rosa Parks should never have gone to the front of the bus. She’s taunting people.”

Nor was Geller alone in seeing the civil rights parallel. John Nolte, writing for Breitbart, contended, “Anyone who knows anything about history understands that tactically and morally, Geller’s provocative Muhammad Cartoon Contest was no different than Dr. Martin Luther King’s landmark march from Selma to Montgomery.”

They’re both wrong, in a particularly pernicious way. By drawing a parallel between Geller’s anti-Islamic events and the civil rights movement’s anti-Jim Crow protests, they are trying to cash in on the moral authority of the movement while scrapping its moral foundations.

There is a surface-level similarity between the two movements, one Geller and Nolte hope no one probes too deeply. Civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s knew that if they violated the laws and norms of the Jim Crow South, white Southerners would react with spectacular violence. Putting that violence on display was the point. Jim Crow laws gave Southern racial violence the veneer of a civilized legal code. The protests showed the rest of the world the ever-present threat of violence upon which that legal code was built.

Geller, too, meant to provoke violence with her Muhammad cartoon event. The question is, to what end? We already know that violent extremists are violent and extreme. If we want to see how extremists respond to people who draw Muhammad, we only need look at recent events in Paris and Copenhagen. The point for Geller and her cohort is to demonstrate that the West is at war with Islam – and ultimately to devote more resources to that war.

In other words, Geller hopes to use the violence she provokes to justify violence in return. And that’s where the civil rights analogy utterly fails. The radical potential of the early civil rights movement grew out of its moral commitment to nonviolence. And not just nonviolent action – King called upon activists to be nonviolent in word and thought as well. The reason the movement has such moral authority in America is because it was built on this deeply held belief in the transformative power of love-based politics and resistance.

Geller’s movement has none of that. She and those in her camp seek not a world with more peace but one with more war. Given that, it is especially repugnant that they call upon the names of Parks and King, trading on their courage and sacrifice while undermining the values of love and peacefulness that makes their work worth emulating.


By: Nicole Hemmer, Historian of Modern American Politics and Media; U. S. News and World Report, May 12, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Muslims, Pamela Geller | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Pamela Geller Is Not A Hero, But….”: Americans Must Stand Up To Those Who Intend To Inflame Rather Than Inform

I am grateful to live in a country where even someone as hateful as Pamela Geller can speak her mind. She can smear President Obama as the “jihadist in the White House” and speculate that he “choked up” with tears when he ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden. She can say that Pope Francis’ call for “affection and respect” towards Muslims means he has “become an imam.” She can compare Jewish Americans who support President Obama to Nazi appeasers and call comedian Jon Stewart “the most disgusting Jew on the planet.” She can suggest banning Muslims from becoming airline pilots. She can then claim that anyone who doesn’t want to hear her speak is “enforcing the Sharia.”

I am also grateful to live in a country where the law protects Geller’s right to say these things.

Sunday’s incident, in which two gunmen tried to attack an anti-Islam event that Geller and virulently anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders hosted in Texas, was deeply troubling. Our freedom of speech means nothing if people are too afraid to speak. We saw this in a different context earlier this year when Sony pulled a raunchy geopolitical buddy comedy from theaters under threat of terror attacks. Say what you will about Pamela Geller, she has not backed down from any of her vile positions under fear of violence.

But it’s important to remember that the fact that she was attacked for her speech doesn’t make Geller a hero, or her speech any less hateful. As Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall put it yesterday, “a hate group is a hate group the day after someone takes a shot at them just like it was the day before.”

Local Muslim groups had the right idea when they stayed away from Geller’s event, declining to protest so that they wouldn’t give Geller the attention she so desperately wanted. Those who expose her hateful rhetoric — like my PFAW colleagues — also do important work, making sure the public knows that just because she is targeted by violent idiots doesn’t make her a serious thinker or a hero.

I know that Geller won’t back down from her hateful rhetoric after this event– in fact, the attempted attack will probably embolden her and cause some to take her more seriously. And we shouldn’t stop criticizing Geller — or, as she puts it, “enforcing the Sharia” — when she’s wrong.

As People For the American Way wrote in 2009 in response to a renewed spate of inflammatory right-wing rhetoric, Americans must “be willing to use their First Amendment freedoms to challenge those who exploit their political positions or media megaphones to promote lies that are intended to inflame rather than inform, that encourage paranoia rather than participation, and whose consequences are at best divisive and at worst, violently destructive.”


By: Michael B. Keegan, People for The American Way, The Blog, The Huffington Post, May 7, 2015

May 10, 2015 Posted by | 1st Amendment, Free Speech, Pamela Geller | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Teaparty Tipping Point”: Michele Bachmann Returns To The House Intelligence Committee

The Tea Party ain’t over. Case in point: last week, former presidential candidate and unflagging conspiracy theorist Michele Bachmann announced that, despite the understandable outcry, she has been assigned yet again to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the new congressional term.

Today, People For the American Way delivered 178,000 petitions to House Speaker John Boehner urging him to remove Bachmann from the Intelligence Committee. Members of the House Intelligence Committee are entrusted with classified information that affects the safety and security of all Americans,” the petition reads. “That information should not be in the hands of anyone with such a disregard for honesty, misunderstanding of national security, and lack of respect for his or her fellow public servants.” Boehner should take these concerns seriously. Instead, he has rewarded Bachmann’s reckless extremism with continued access to classified information and another term on a powerful committee.

This didn’t need to happen and it certainly shouldn’t have. More than a few comedians have pointed out the irony of Michele Bachmann being appointed to the “Intelligence” Committee in the first place. But on the Intelligence Committee the Minnesota congresswoman is no joke. Last year, Bachmann went too far, even by her own low standards, when she urged the Defense and Justice Departments to investigate what she alleged were Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that the Islamist group had achieved Manchurian Candidate-style “deep penetration” into the U.S. government. Her allegations were supported only by her delusionary distrust of Muslim-Americans and by the rantings of anti-Islam activist Frank Gaffney. Meanwhile, she was rebuked by many of her fellow Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, who called the accusations “an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant,” and Boehner, who said the claims were “pretty dangerous.” Even her own former campaign manager Ed Rollins called her attacks “downright vicious” and compared her unhinged witch hunt to that of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Since then, despite having no evidence, she’s hasn’t moderated her rhetoric. At September’s Values Voter Summit, she claimed that a decision by the FBI to stop using flawed anti-Muslim training materials amounted to President Obama enforcing “Islamic speech codes.” In subsequent radio interviews, she claimed that the president wanted to impose Sharia law at home and abroad.

Bachmann of course promotes a wide range of conspiracy theories — including the theory that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation and that people who fill out the census will end up in concentration camps. But her wild claims about anti-Americanism in the halls of government have a direct bearing on her position on the Intelligence Committee and they’re where we should draw the line. Bachmann’s often laughable crackpot theories are no longer funny when they involve our national security.

Apparently Speaker Boehner disagrees. While he made headlines last year for condemning Bachmann’s dangerous crusade, he has yet to take any action to stop it. Bachmann and the Tea Party have proven time and again that they don’t take the business of governing seriously. Boehner and his fellow Republican leaders should stop pretending like they do.


By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, January 14, 2013

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Teaparty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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