Pamela Geller: self-described `racist-Islamophobic-anti-Muslim-bigot'

The New York Times carried an interesting profile today of Pamela Geller, who has enjoyed great success in whipping up fear and hatred of Islam through her opposition to the Islamic cultural center planned for a site near the World Trade Center. The paper reported:

Operating largely outside traditional Washington power centers and, for better or worse, without traditional academic, public-policy or journalism credentials Ms. Geller, with a coterie of allies, has helped set the tone and shape the narrative for a divisive national debate over Park51 (she calls the developer a "thug" and a lowlife). In the process, she has helped bring into the mainstream a concept that after 9/11 percolated mainly on the fringes of American politics: that terrorism by Muslims springs not from perversions of Islam but from the religion itself. Her writings, rallies and television appearances have both offended and inspired, transforming Ms. Geller from an Internet obscurity, who once videotaped herself in a bikini as she denounced Islamofascism, into a media commodity who has been profiled on "60 Minutes" and whose phraseology has been adopted by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.

Her approach to Muslims - she calls herself a "racist-Islamophobic-anti-Muslim-bigot" - ought to strike any Catholic familiar with Vatican II's statements on Islam and subsequent papal teachings as obviously wrong. But many Catholics have signed on to her agenda, including some Catholic politicians.I could have done without some of the Times's reportage on Geller's marital history or her bikini. What caught my interest were a few paragraphs deep into the article about how Geller became involved in the 2007 campaign to oust Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim woman known for her involvement in intercultural dialogue, from serving as principal of an Arabic-themed public school in Brooklyn. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined this year that the city's Department of Education "succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer." According to The Times story, "It was this victory, critics say, that emboldened Ms. Geller's circle and set it on a path to national influence."Nothing seems more threatening to Geller and her associates than a Muslim known for bringing people together. Her campaign against the Islamic cultural center was a large-scale version of the effort against Almontaser - propelled forward in both cases by the New York Post. The main difference was that when there was strong pressure to deny the Islamic center developers' constitutional rights, Mayor Michael Bloomberg found the courage he lacked when his administration went along with the smear against Almontaser.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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