Pamela Geller, no stranger to her anti-Islamic views, claimed to be an advocate for free speech when she organized the contest “Muhammad Art Exhibit & Contest,” in the city of Garland, Texas, inviting anyone to draw an image of the prophet Muhammad. The winner of the contest would win $10,000. While advertised as an art exhibit, there is no speculation that the contest was held with the intentions to provoke the Muslim community, who held a conference called “Stand with the Prophet” just months prior in the same place (Price). Not surprisingly, armed radical Muslim gunmen arrived to attack the artists, but were killed by the police before any attendees were hurt. Geller first became known for anti-Islamic stance when she campaigned against the Muslim mosque being built near Ground Zero.
The American media had very diverse opinions about this incident; and interestingly, the biggest disagreements were not between conservatives and liberals, but amongst conservatives themselves. Conservative pundits Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, and Geraldo Rivera slammed Geller for holding the exhibit. “This is what happens when you light the fuse. You get violence,” O’Reilly said (Mullins, 2015). “Insulting the entire Muslim world is stupid,” he continued. “Just because people have the right to say certain things doesn’t mean they should.”
Donald Trump, no stranger to conservative conspiracies, who made headlines back in early 2011 claiming Obama had faked his birth certificate, even criticized the right-wing Geller. “…What’s the purpose of this? She’s taunting them. What the hell is she doing, and what is the purpose of it?” Trump said. “They have to be in the middle of Texas doing something on Muhammad and insulting everybody?” Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera had perhaps the harshest words to say about Geller. “She reminds of the Aryan Nation, KKK, racists,” he said. “If Pamela Geller, if you put ‘Jew’ in there or ‘Irish’ in there or ‘black’ in there, any other groups, she would not be given the tolerance to spew her hateful rhetoric,” he continued. “Every time I see her on television, I want to take a shower.”
Conservatives such as Mike Huckabee and Megyn Kelly, however, were instilled in a position to indirectly defend the contemptible Geller. While they acknowledged that what Geller did was distasteful, they implied distaste is irrelevant when it comes to America’s first amendment rights. “[Geller] is a self-promoting pain in the rear. But so what? That’s legal,” Huckabee said. “You can’t be killed for being a jerk or I would have been killed a long time ago.” Huckabee continued to say that attacking Geller for holding the event was equivalent to blaming “the victim of a crime committed by a murdering criminal.”
Kelly was among the most passionate in defending free speech, regardless of content. She expressed herself during a Fox News interview with progressive radio host Richard Fowler, who condemned Geller for holding the exhibit. After Fowler attacked the exhibit for being offensive, Kelly acknowledged that she agreed. “There’s no debate about whether or not it’s offensive; everybody knows it’s offensive,” Kelly said. But “when people exercise their First Amendment rights, and two jihadis show up to murder them, the relevant question at that time is not ‘what were they saying,’ the relevant questions is, ‘what are we going to do about this group that wants to murder us.”
Fowler’s response may be inferred as victim blaming. “The first amendment does give us the right to free speech, it doesn’t mean you should go out and do it,” He said. “If they never had that event, the jihadis would have never shown up, it is the cart before the horse. It is that simple.” Here, Fowler is not only placing limits on free speech, but he is victim blaming in its upmost form. While Fowler’s intentions were perhaps innocent, his comment is ethically analogous to saying, “If she never wore the short skirt, she would not have been raped” or “The Twin Towers would not have been hit by terrorists if they weren’t designed so large and tall.” When a terrible tragedy occurs, no blame should never be placed on the recipients of the tragedy, while beginning a sentence with “but if they/she/he/it never…” regardless of what the victims could have done differently to deter criminals. In the aftermath of a tragedy, that becomes irrelevant.
Strikingly, though, is how inconsistent Geller is regarding free speech rights. In 2010, she advocated against the building of a Muslim mosque near Ground Zero. Her exact words were, “Americans don’t want a victory mosque marking the site of the 9/11 attacks. They don’t want an insult to the 3,000 Americans who were murdered there by Islamic jihadists and for whom Ground Zero is a cemetery.” Notice here that she uses the word “insult.” When defending her “Draw Muhammad” contest, Geller claimed that she had a First Amendment right to “provoke, insult” others; yet, regarding the mosque, she advocated against it by stating they only wanted to build it to, quote, “insult” others.
In 2013, Geller called for a blacklist of Qatar-based news station Al Jazeera. Geller refers to Al Jazeera as “Terror TV” and an “anti-American channel [that] works hand-in-glove with the Muslim Brotherhood and its associated terrorist groups.” This should be surprising coming from a person who intentionally held a contest to provoke a group of people using “free speech” as her defense. And her reasoning would be commendable if she were consistent in the support of all free speech, regardless of agenda or bias. Geller wants to shut down any voice traced to Islam. Free speech doesn’t work that way, Mrs. Geller. Free speech is there to protect the unpopular, the hated, the offensive – which Geller sometimes understands – expect when the speech in question is offensive to her.
Price, Bob. “$10,000 Muhammad Art and Cartoon Contest to be Held at Site of ‘Stand With the Prophet’ Conference in Texas. Breit Bart. 2015. Retrieved: http://www.breitbart.com/texas/2015/02/11/10000-muhammad-art-and-cartoon-contest-to-be-held-at-site-of-stand-with-the-prophet-conference-in-texas/
Geller, Pamela. “Why There Shouldn’t be a Mosque at Ground Zero.” Human Events: Powerful Conservative Voices. 2010. Retrieved: http://humanevents.com/2010/09/04/why-there-shouldnt-be-a-mosque-at-ground-zero/
Mullins, Melissa. “Do They Ever Watch? Liberals Shocked Fox Airs Disagreements on Pamela Geller’s Contest. 2015. Retrieved: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/melissa-mullins/2015/05/09/do-they-ever-watch-liberals-shocked-fox-airs-disagreements-pamela
Hallowell, Billy. “Pamela Geller’s Tense Exchange with Fox News Host Over Muhammad Contest: ‘You’re Looking to Resist my Speech.’ The Blaze. 2015. Retrieved: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/05/05/muhammad-cartoon-contest-organizer-pamela-geller-has-tense-exchange-with-fox-news-host-youre-looking-to-restrict-my-speech/
Griswold, Alex. “Donald Trump Faults ‘Draw Mohammad’ Event Organizer For ‘Taunting’ Muslims.” The Daily Caller. 2015. Retrieved: http://dailycaller.com/2015/05/04/donald-trump-faults-draw-mohammad-event-organizer-for-taunting-muslims/
Kelly, Megyn. Interview with Richard Fowler. Live with Megyn Kelly. Fox News. 2015.
Gellar, Pamela. “Al Jazeera: “We Aired Lies.” USA Survival News. Retrieved: http://www.usasurvival.org/home/ck07.15.13.html#axzz3g0G3Ln8N