Pamela Geller, one of the most prominent opponents of the proposed Islamic center two blocks from the former World Trade Center, said today in an interview the treatment of the “South Park” creators is a prominent factor in her quest to stop the center from being built.
Geller, author of the book, The Obama Administration’s War on America, is the force behind the anti-Muslim group Stop Islamization of America and the Atlas Shrugs blog but insists her opposition to the Islamic center is not racist or bigoted. “It’s a common decency issue,” she said.
In a lengthy phone interview today with TPM, Geller cited her problems with Islam and its practices; offered spotty historic references and cherry picked the things she doesn’t like about those “non-secular” Muslims while swearing she has no problem with most members of the Islamic faith.Geller tried to articulate her position on what critics have dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque” by saying that interfaith understanding is a “two-way street” and citing what she believes are problems within the Islamic faith.
Her most prominent example was the death threats made to the Danish cartoonist who depicted Mohammed, and the subsequent controversy over “South Park” creators trying to show Mohammed on their Comedy Central show. She said it was wrong they weren’t even allowed to show Mohammed in a “honey bear costume.”
“There’s no reciprocity,” Geller said. “It’s a two-way street. It can’t be only one way. Building a 15-story mega mosque on a building that was destroyed, that’s not outreach.”
She also thinks it is not a fair comparison between the proposed center and the 92nd Street Y because “anyone could walk into a church or synagogue but non-Muslims can’t pray in a mosque.”
Geller argues the building where the Cordoba House is sacred because it was hit by landing gear on Sept. 11, 2001, and doesn’t buy arguments about some of the more seedy buildings in the area desecrating the memory of those killed nine years ago.
“Strip clubs didn’t bring down the towers. It’s faulty logic,” Geller told TPM.
Geller believes there are plenty of moderate, or what she calls “secular” members of Islam.
She described herself as a “human rights activist” and said she has made a name for herself helping Muslim women seek “safe haven” in the wake of an increase in honor killings. She said among them is a teenage girl of Sri Lankan origin, Fathima Rifqa Bary, who converted to Christianity in junior high school, ran off with a college student who aspired to be a pastor and eventually settled with a minister and his wife in Florida who didn’t inform police that she had been found for two weeks. In an effort to stay in Florida, Bary told authorities she feared her parents would kill her; authorities in Ohio and Florida found no evidence to support her claims.
“It is very dangerous to want to leave Islam. It’s not all of them, not the majority. The majority are secular Muslims,” Geller said. She also drew a distinction between the majority of those who practice Islam and those want to see “misogynistic” Sharia law imposed.
She also cited the actress from the “Harry Potter” series who was beaten by her father and brother because they did not approve of her relationship with a Hindu man. (Don’t forget, Geller is responsible for the New York City bus campaign urging people to leave Islam.)
Geller told TPM today that if the site of the Cordoba House were five blocks away, or in a building untouched by the actions of 9/11, she’d have no problem with it. “Not a building that was hit by the plane. That location was iconic,” she said.
She considers the proposed Cordoba House as not “near Ground Zero,” as most people characterize Park Place, two blocks away from where the World Trade Center once stood, but as being part of Ground Zero. Landing gear from the planes which struck the twin towers damaged the building.
According to a FEMA document detailing damage, the building was initially rated as having no damage but an interior inspection later “revealed that three floor beams were missing from the top story of the building as a result of the landing gear that penetrated the roof following the airplane impact on WTC 2 …The rating was subsequently changed to Major Damage. No other significant damage was found.”
“It was part of the attack, it was hit by a piece of the plane,” Geller said.
She claims that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is not a “secular” Muslim and believes he has radical ideas. She said disagreed with President Bush’s administration for sending Rauf abroad, and protested the decision at the time. Geller said she believes Rauf said one thing in the United States and was telling the Arabic press he does not agree with interfaith dialogue. She also opposes the mosque within the Pentagon.
Geller also takes issue with the Cordoba House name, saying she finds it “deeply troubling” given its its historical significance. In 711, when Spain was controlled by Visigoths, Moorish armies conquered the city after the death of the Visigoth king and ruled for nearly 800 years. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was considered a cultural and intellectual center of its time. It also is home to one of the most storied mosques in the world. Geller claims it is symbolic of Islamic conquests and believes Rauf has similar intentions and that’s why he named the project after Cordoba.
She also claims “many 9/11 families support me,” although we’ve found very few taking public positions and just as many groups supporting the Islamic center as opposing it.
She says she devotes 18 percent of her time these days to the controversy. While she hopes her outreach and official protest on the Sept. 11 anniversary convince organizers to pull Cordoba’s plans, if the project continues, she won’t pursue it further, Geller said.
“It’s up to the imam to withdraw the mosque,” Geller said. “I don’t think the government should stop it.”
“The fight is now,” she said. If it’s built, then it’s built, there is no next step. But it will hurt people, it will be a terrible reminder.”
Geller several times said it was “insulting” to Americans who feel passionately about the issue to say she had anything to do with pushing it, even though she organized the first protest and has been one of the most prominent opponents on television. “It’s elitist that people are crediting me with the opposition, as if without me people would be down with it,” Geller said. “I may give voice to the voiceless but there is genuine grief, genuine outrage out there.”
She added, “You’re not going to make this about me.”
Additional reporting by Megan Carpentier, Ryan J. Reilly and Versha Sharma