In the War of the Billboards, Islamophobe Pamela Gellar is Winning

By Davi Barker

The billboard wars continue on, the latest clash recently being in San Francisco. Every so often Anti-Muslim demagogue, Pam Geller blows a wad of cash on an ad (hominem) campaign against Islam, or at least critical of the boogeyman Muslims she imagines under her bed.

I call this “the billboard wars” because it started with billboards during the Ground Zero Mosque fiasco (which wasn’t at ground zero and wasn’t a mosque), but since then Geller has learned that most billboards are owned by private companies who are free to refuse her business. So, now she targets ad space on public transportation, with her ideologically lock-step lawyer, David Yerulshalmi, loaded and ready if any municipality tries to refuse.

In economic terms, this is what we call “the tragedy of the commons.” There is no way to legally prevent people from misusing public property in ways we would not allow on private property. It’s always struck me as incredibly hypocritical for a self-proclaimed Randian Objectivist to exploit public policy she is supposedly against, and to sue municipalities to secure those ill-gotten privileges, to achieve objectives she could never conceivably accomplish in the free market world libertarians and Objectivists advocate.

Recently Geller rolled out an ad (hominem) campaign on San Francisco Muni buses designed to mimic the #MyJihad campaign. The #MyJihad campaign has been falsely reported as a CAIR project. CAIR was a big supporter, but is its own organization. Their homepage describes their mission as “Taking back Islam from Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.” Their ads included sunnah smiling Muslim faces proclaiming, “My Jihad is Making New Friends. What’s yours?” or “My Jihad is Eating More Broccoli. What’s yours?” And so on.

The effort of the campaign was to reclaim the word “jihad” and restore its rightful meaning, which is simply to struggle in the way of God — to strive for justice, compassion, self-improvement and when it’s called for, self-defense. Geller’s campaign copies the colors and fonts of the original but features images and quotes of Osama bin Laden and other prominent extremist figures we all reject and condemn.

About a month ago, Geller appeared on KQED Radio’s Forum with Michael Krasny opposite David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Jess Ghannam, a professor from UCSF, and director of the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of San Francisco.

As well intentioned as David and Jess are, and as much as it pains me to admit it, Pam Geller won that debate. By that, I mean that a listener who had never heard of Geller and was unfamiliar with this dispute could easily have been taken in by her because she made the stronger argument in this round.

It’s obvious that she has refined her strategy and honed her skills. In other words, the wolf has bleached her sheep’s clothing. Listeners who don’t know her history don’t know about the boiling cauldron of noxious waste simmering right beneath the surface. David Chiu and Jess Ghannam were outclassed by a mercenary demagogue. So, without disparaging their efforts in the least, I’d like to discuss why I think they lost.

First, CAIR refused to appear on the same program as Geller. Their statement was read on the show saying “We would not expect members of the NAACP to debate members of the KKK,” and “Debate presupposes rational premises.” I see their point, and I understand their strategy, but they are wrong on both counts. They are right that Geller is undeserving of that platform, but that’s not CAIR’s call. It’s KQED’s call to make. If KQED invited the KKK on their show, it would negligent of the NAACP to refuse to confront them. Geller’s message may be similar to the KKK’s, but her status in polite society is not. That’s why it’s important for her opposition to confront her and expose her. There was a time when the KKK was debated in this way, and they lost those debates, which is why they will never be invited on KQED.

Also, debate does not presuppose rational premises. It presupposes irrational premises. The purpose of debate is to expose irrationality masquerading as rational. Refusing to debate her allows her to pontificate unopposed, and in this case even hurt CAIR’s allies. When Jess asked Geller, “Why don’t you have the courage to talk to us directly?” Geller easily shot back “CAIR is the one who wouldn’t come on the show with me. You’re accusing me of what CAIR did.”

And, she’s right. The fact is CAIR was the right opponent for this debate, if for no other reason than because it’s being misreported that #MyJihad was CAIR’s campaign. If they would have began the conversation by setting the record straight it would have immediately put her off her game.

Second, we need to stop calling what Geller does racist, because she just shoots back, “Islam is not a race.” She’s right. We’re giving her easy points because Geller is not racist. She’s perfectly happy to praise an Arab who hates Muslims, and she’s perfectly willing to attack a caucasian who accepts Islam. Just call it bigotry, because that’s what it is – “Obtuse or narrow-minded intolerance, especially of other races or religions.” To be fair, they also called her project bigotry, but that accusation was lost because they confused the issue. Keep it simple.

Third, stop asking things like, “Is Ms. Geller saying that all Muslims are evil? … Is she saying that Muslims can’t be good Americans?” Especially don’t ask it immediately after she specifically says that is not what she’s saying, as Jess did. What’s she going to say, “Yes?” The role of someone debating Geller is to get her to expose her true intentions in her own words, because she will never answer that question outright. She’ll say mealy-mouthed things like, “Many Muslims support me, but they’re not free to speak because Islamic supremacist groups like CAIR will shut them up.”

I’d like to know who these Muslims are, because as I understand it even Zuhdi Jasser rejects Geller, and he’s the token Muslim among the anti-Muslim demagogues. If CAIR is capable of silencing this groundswell of Muslims who agree with Geller, why aren’t they able to silence her?

A proper debate begins with a disputed claim, and she stated her claim clearly. She says the purpose of her ad campaign is to “increase awareness about the motive and the ideology behind Jihad” and to “show the reality of Jihad, and the root causes of terrorism in the words of Jihadists themselves.” If you want to effectively oppose her, you have to stop her right there before she makes any other argument, because the disputed claim in this debate is the very meaning of the word “Jihad.” So, you can’t let her use the term as if the definition is not in dispute. You can’t concede that ground, because it’s the whole battle.

Geller’s ad (hominem) campaign did not appear in a vacuum. It appeared in response the #MyJihad ad campaign, which means she is explicitly saying, whether she admits or not, that the mainstream Muslims who contributed to the campaign have the wrong definition, and the violent extremists we all reject and condemn have the right definition. That is the dispute.

So, when Geller says “No one disputes the accuracy of the quotes” she’s right. We all agree that Osama bin Laden said that. But when she says, “Muslims aren’t condemning these quotes” she’s wrong, in fact the very purpose of the #MyJihad campaign that she’s attacking was to reject that definition of jihad.

We stand on one side of this dispute, and Geller stands on the other. CAIR, #MyJihad, Jess Ghannam and the normative opinions of Muslims throughout history agree that “jihad” is a word that means “to strive for justice, compassion, self-improvement and when it’s called for, self-defense.” Geller, Osama bin Laden and the other extremists that she quotes agree that “jihad” is a word that means “holy war.” That is the dispute. That is the debate. That is precisely why from the beginning #MyJihad described their mission as taking back the word from Muslim AND anti-Muslim extremists alike.

Let’s not forget that.

A version of this article appeared in The Examiner.

  • Angie Emara

    I am the Project Coordinator of the #MyJihad Campaign. I completely understand your point in this article, and I appreciate you making it clear this is NOT a CAIR project, however you still had some incorrect information. Our official ads said nothing like “MyJihad is to make new friends” or especially not “MyJihad is to eat more broccoli.” Also, Geller was not allowed to use our colors or even our registered phrase “MyJihad”. If you look again, you will notice she uses purple and other colors, and says “That’s his jihad”.

    Secondly, since you so clearly stated this is NOT a CAIR project, then it really doesn’t matter if CAIR San Francisco chose to refuse coming on for debate. They don’t own the project, they only support it, and didn’t want to debate someone they feel is not important.

    Let me tell you, as the Project Coordinator and one of the main people involved in the formation of this campaign, YES our campaign is aimed at reclaiming the true definition of Jihad as practiced by majority Muslims (Sunni or not by the way), but it was NOT created in direct response to Geller and her clan. She is just the loudest voice right now, among other extremists. Our campaign is BROADER, more widespread than just her.

    My point is, being that this is a GRASSROOTS effort, if people or organizations choose not to directly engage/debate with hate groups, that’s their choice, meanwhile, others ARE engaging and debating. In fact, I was personally approached to debate an AFDI member. Another Canadian citizen challenged and debated Robert Spencer himself a couple months ago. You just don’t know about all the debates occurring. CAIR San Francisco in particular, chose to just support us and not engage directly with Geller. Once again, #MyJihad does not equal CAIR, so what CAIR chapters do or don’t do is independent of MyJihad.

    Thanks for your coverage and clarifying our campaign to some extent. Our campaign is here to stay and we are achieving our goals daily: reclaiming Islam and changing the narrative on the word Jihad. We are already doing it.

    • Coffey3C

      David, the quality of research you’ve put into this article is pretty poor. I realize how popular it is to scream bigotry at someone, and how much trouble it is to actually check facts, but surely there is some sense of irresponsibility that might intrude.

      At last report the Islamic center 21 had a single dance class that was going out due to lack of interest, while the Imam’s were going full tilt. It only became a community center, when so many people objected something being called the Cordoba Mosque on the site. And… David, it was in a building damaged on 9/11, so that did make it ground zero.

      Now, make no mistake. As for my part, they have every right to build a mosque there. If it had been up to me to approve it, I’d have signed the paper. We don’t prevent people from building houses of worship in this country. The fact that the Saudi Royal family was spending part of there 60 billion dollar Mosque build fund on it, is a bit much for me though, I have to tell you, and when they named it Cordoba, it was patently obvious that it was a victory mosque. The people who said they were relieving themselves on the memory of the victims, missed the subtlety, because it was more the equivalent of another function biological function having to do with self-abuse.

      On the other hand, will someone please build a gay disco on one side of that thing, and a Lesbian tea room on the other. (Or the obverse, if the ladies would prefer stronger refreshment, because we wouldn’t want to stereotype anyone.)

      Also, argumentum ad hominem is only a fallacy when it is applied as an argument regarding other unrelated issues, and not when you are calling into question the inherent dangers and damage done by the words or actions of that person. Jihad, has been used for a Millinium and a half, for the struggle to spread the supremacy of Islam, by war and violence, by trickery and coercion. Speaking out against that, and the uses it is being put to every day, might be considered uncomfortable and even tasteless by you, but it is not bigotry. Exposing the deficiencies of an ideology, that has a viscious core of antisemitism, antichristianism, and xenophobia canonized at its core, will never be Bigotry, even if the majority of liberal minded people can be convinced it is.

      Here’s a thought, Christians are being brutally repressed in every Islam controlled country right now. They are being covered in feces and murdered for trying to build and attend churches in Indonesia and Egypt. They are being hacked to pieces in Nigeria, Male, and Syria. Whole communities are burned out in Pakistani while the police stand by… until the Christians, the “street sweepers,” fall out to protest asking for someone to stop the violence, because then the police wade right in.

      Why, in the interest of interfaith dialogue, don’t I find articles in Patheos dealing with those issues? If someone is writing to bring those points about Sharia and Jihad to light, and actually doing research (Which isn’t hard as it is a daily occurrence given how strong the Muslims involved feel right now.), I hope they hurry, because the Coptic Christians are being discriminated out of existence, … and brutally murdered… as we speak .

      I admit, I didn’t read any further. I just couldn’t conceive of you coming up with something worthwhile, when your first paragraphs were so abysmally lacking in knowledge, wisdom, or truth.

      I’ll deal with an additional point about MyJihad directly with those nice people.

    • Coffey3C


      Here is the point that I just don’t get about the MyJihad Campaign. If it is really your goal to educate everyone that a Jihad May be an inner struggle… [as Muhammad himself said after a battle north of Mecca, where he acted with great personal courage, when slaughtering those tribes that had rejected both him and his message. He is supposed to have said that his warriors should turn to the inner and more difficult Jihad], Why post the ads here in the US? After all, our western perception of the term Jihad comes from a Fourteen-hundred years long history of repression and aggression undertaken under the banner of Jihad, and there are many thousands more reports of the other kind of Jihad that Muhammad ordered Muslims to undertake, than the few ads you might place every day.

      If you seek to reclaim that other meaning of Jihad, as the inner struggle and not the violent aggressive spreading of Islam (or anything else someone happens to be mad about really), then why not take out those ads in Cairo. Most none Islamic Americans don’t really care if your personal Jihad is to brush each tooth twenty times… up and down… even if we are grateful for those who do.
      Why not focus on the people who use the term so freely in the more conventional, or colloquial way?

      I think you are wrong about Geller and Spencer. I know that Islam cannot be reformed as all other major religions have, and that is sad, because it seems clear that there is only the choice of reforming it, or standing most strongly against it. That would be sad indeed. If it were not for that little problem that to change or re-interpret the words of Muhammad (and Allah if you wish.) being the cardinal sin of apostasy, and punishable by death, I’d think you’d appreciate their help in pointing out just how badly the actions of these millions of Muslims who use Jihad in this way are perceived by other none muslims… and indeed… by moderates like yourself.

      May I suggest that you contact Ms. Geller, of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, and invite her to help pay for such an ad in Cairo? Perhaps it could be: “My Jihad is to treat all people, Christians and Jews, as beloved of god, and as my equal. What is yours?” However, I’d even settle for the one regarding a consciously applied program of good oral hygiene, followed up by regular professional CAIR!

      That is what I’d like to see. Not only would I invite you to turn Ms. Geller into your ally in this, but I would be very, very, curious as to how such ads would be received. Heck, I think that working together, you guys could even get the American government to pay for them, but you’d have to check them, because the president has a very bad habit of misquoting the Quran, like he did at Al Azhar with Sura 5 verse 32.

      What do you think?

  • Yasmina

    This is not a CAIR campaign for the 8 millionth time. I’m a Board member of #MyJihad. We are not interested in “debating” hate groups like Geller. We thank her for sparking our activism. But we are light years ahead of this silliness now. Thanks.

    • xynnek

      Geller is no hater. She does not promote hate, or hate speech. She exposes hate ideology of radical Jihadists, by simply posting their own words, their own speeches, their own videos, their violent acts, their abhorrent treatment of women, gays, and “non-believers” ; … all from historical fact and daily news reports.

  • Ralph Vaughan

    The “jihad war” is not so much for meaning as for connotation. I don’t think anyone can rationally argue that “jihad,” by the dictionary, means nothing more than “struggle,” but when Muslims worldwide continually, and vocally, use it as “war against the west” or “war against infidels,” it’s hard to push against that tide, especially when it’s words vs actions. While the term “crusade” has evolved to the point where you can crusade against anything (cancer, diabetes, illiteracy, etc) except Islam (the Church has thankfully shrugged off, for the most part, the yoke of government), “jihad” has not undergone a similar evolution, so that even many moderate Muslims tend to cringe a bit when the term “jihad” arises.

  • livingengine

    “The MyJihad educational campaign was founded by Chicago activist Ahmed Rehab as an independent initiative which, in its founding stage, is currently sponsored by CAIR-Chicago (of whom Ahmed is Executive Director) with the vision for sponsorship by other local and national groups at later stages. ”

    AS you can see, MyJihad IS a CAIR project. CAIR is part of the Palestine Committee whose purpose is to aid Hamas, see here at page 6.

    Jihad means war. If you really wanted to “reclaim” anything you would be taking this campaign to Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan, etc. NOT New York, or San Francisco.

    MyJihad is a lie brought to you my jihadis. IT IS A CAIR project!

  • Captain_Dg

    It must be said that Geller’s jihad ads are not ad hominem attacks (though I can understand your desire to pun on the term). The ads themselves so far as I have seen quote Muslims on Islam. They misrepresent the vast, vast majority of Muslim practice but they are engaging a particular expressed thought. So we must score another one for Geller on debating points! It would be better not to engage Geller as Geller, ie. by writing “Listeners who don’t know her history don’t know about the boiling cauldron of noxious waste simmering right beneath the surface. ” This is much closer to an ad hominem attack than her ads. None of this makes her right and you wrong. Just calling the balls and strikes as I see them (H/P CJ Roberts).

    • Coffey3C

      I agree.

      I’ve also seen several offers for debate declined, as well as several actual debates, that degenerated pretty quickly. Muhammad himself said of those from before the time of islam, who thought their manners were better, should be told to “bite their own father’s penis.”

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  • JoFro

    Gellar is quoting what Muslim leaders have said about Jihad – this is the way JIHAD has been viewed by Muslims for centuries. If that makes her an Islamophobe, that is indeed something to be proud of, I reckon!