Sunday was “Scare the Liberals Day” at The New York Times. You could almost hear the sound of Upper West Siders gagging on their bagels.
There was conservative pundit Ann Coulter on the cover of the Styles section, trying to soften her image as the “Cassandra of the far right” by cozying up to conservative gays.
The cover of the Metropolitan section, meanwhile, featured a seemingly endless profile of blogger and anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller.
Attractive in a Real Housewives of Long Island sort of way, the 52-year-old Geller has gained a depressingly large following with her scaremongering about Islam and America’s vulnerability to jihad. Not content with calling Barack Obama a closet Muslim, she has speculated that his real (as in biological) father is Malcolm X. She finds it sinister (and boycott-worthy) that Campbell’s has introduced a line of halal foods. For Geller, there’s no real difference between “Islamofascism” and Islam itself: Asked if a devout Muslim can be a political moderate, she offers a flat, “No.”
It’s this sort of blanket dismissal of an entire religious civilization that distinguishes her from folks like Daniel Pipes and MEMRI, who try to aim their fire at the terrorists and jihadis who act in the name of Islam. With her astounding lack of faith in America itself — which seems forever on the verge of capitulating to “stealth jihad” — she sounds like General Jack D. Ripper, the character in Dr. Strangelove who is convinced that fluoridation is a conspiracy to sap “our precious bodily fluids.”
Except Geller is not a fictional character, and her hate-filled activism has real-life consequences. Geller instigated much of the manufactured outrage against the Islamic center near Ground Zero, spreading the false notion that it was a “victory mosque” to be situated at the very site of the attacks. Geller’s rhetoric went mainstream thanks to figures like Newt Gingrich (who talks about “stealth jihad”) and Rush Limbaugh (who picked up the “victory mosque” trope).
Blessedly or unfortunately, the Times profile doesn’t delve much into how her Jewishness plays into her obsessions with Islam. There’s a brief mention of her having grown up fairly non-observant in a “heavily Jewish enclave” on Long Island. You have to go to the Times web page to hear her explain her views on Israel.
“Now do I see everything through the prism of Israel? No, I don’t, but I do think it’s a very good guide,” she says. “It’s a very good guide because, like I said, in the war between the civilized man and the savage, you side with the civilized man.”
Is the Jewish community responsible for Geller? Maybe not, but just imagine if there were a Muslim blogger with a mirror-image anti-Jewish animus. Imagine if this hypothetical Muslim had similar reach and clout, organizing conferences of European anti-Semites, appearing on all the cable chat shows, and cozying up to figures like Gingrich.
We Jews would demand that Muslim leaders denounce her, that the cable shows stop inviting her, that the blogs and Internet outlets that partner with her sever their ties.
We would do this not just out of self-interest (although there is that), but because we have long recognized that bigotry unchecked, no matter its target, is bigotry condoned.
I wouldn’t blame Muslim leaders for seeking a similar denunciation of Geller from Jewish leaders, just as we keep asking black leaders to denounce Louis Farrakhan. Nor would I blame them if they take the relative silence of our defense groups as a sign that they consider Geller’s blanket hatred of Islam a defensible position.
Happily, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has denounced Geller, in an interview with the Washington Post about a rally being planned by Geller that would include Holland’s fiercely anti-Islamic MP Geert Wilders. Geller has “an anti-Muslim agenda, often under the guise of fighting ‘radical Islam,’” said Foxman. Her group, Stop Islamization of America, “vilifies Islamic faith and is engaged in [claiming] there’s a conspiracy to destroy American values, which is nonsense. [Geller] has stated that part of her agenda is to help garner support for Wilders, who is a bigot.”
Good for Foxman, who, after stumbling himself in opposing the Islamic center, formed an interfaith coalition to battle for the right of Muslims to build mosques in America.
And yet I worry that despite the ADL’s efforts and the obviously unhinged quality of Geller’s “activism,” a few too many American Jews see her as some kind of anti-Islamic yippie — outrageous and clownish, perhaps, but spreading an important message. I regularly get e-mails forwarded by people parroting her talk of “Islamization” or unfounded assertions of what the Koran “really” says. Otherwise reasonable people tell me First Amendment protections should not extend to the practice of Islam.
Maybe its just liberal squishiness to think otherwise. But the new Islamophobia doesn’t just offend my sense of right and wrong — it strikes me as dangerously counterproductive. On this, I’m with Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg. “America has a problem with Islamism, absolutely,” he writes. “The way to win the war against Islamist extremism is to isolate the fundamentalists from the main streams of Islam. Pamela Geller, on the other hand, would radicalize moderate Muslims. In short, she is the kind of person who gives counterterrorism a bad name.”