Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam crusader behind a cartoon contest of the Prophet Mohammed that was attacked by two gunmen in Texas, says her controversial show was meant to demonstrate freedom of expression.
The 56-year-old New Yorker has told media that her event, held in the Dallas suburb of Garland, was put on with the goal of asserting free speech.
“We will not abridge our freedom of speech in order to not offend savages,” she told Fox News.
Depictions of Mohammed, such as the caricatures in her showcase, are highly offensive to Muslims.
Born to a Jewish family and raised on Long Island near New York, Geller is the president of two anti-Muslim groups: the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA).
It was the former organization that put on the cartoon contest, which came under attack Sunday by two men with assault rifles. They were shot and killed by a Garland, Texas policeman providing security for the event.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Islamic State group Tuesday, although it remained unclear whether the claim was credible.
“Clearly what happened is indicative of how very vital this conference was needed,” Geller told Fox News.
AFP / Jared L. Christopher
A view near the Curtis Culwell Center is seen in the distance on May 4, 2015 in Garland, Texas
“The idea that there is a violent war, (that) there is a violent assault on freedom of speech, clearly was brought home.”
– ‘Creeping Sharia’ –
Never short on anti-Islam broadsides, Geller denounces what she calls a “creeping Sharia” in the United States.
In 2010, when a mosque and Muslim cultural center were proposed for a site near Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center stood before 9/11, Geller called the plan a “stab in the eye of America.”
And on her blog in 2006, she re-published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that had sparked deadly protests after their initial publication in Denmark.
Her SIOA organization, meanwhile, has financed ad campaigns hostile to Muslims in public transportation systems in New York, Washington and San Francisco.
Authorities in New York tried to keep the advertisements from appearing, but Geller took the issue to court and won in the name of free speech.
“Pamela Geller is the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center, a US civil rights watchdog.
AFP / Hasham Ahmed
Pakistani residents shout slogans as they march behind a banner during a protest in Peshawar on May 5, 2015, against the anti-Muslim cartoon exhibition in Garland, Texas
“She’s relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam and makes preposterous claims, such as that President Obama is the ‘love child’ of Malcolm X,” added the organization, which has listed AFDI as an anti-Muslim hate group.
Around 200 people attended AFDI’s cartoon event, including Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders. A $10,000 prize had been offered for the winner.
The winning entry reportedly showed a scowling Mohammed wearing a turban and saying “You can’t draw me!”
Under the cartoon was the caption, “That’s why I draw you.”