Geller: Hate Crime Reporting Act is ‘shariah,’ will kill free speech

From Pamela Geller’s column last year at

A bill introduced in Congress last week has once again stoked anger from anti-Muslim activists in an ongoing international debate about Islamophobia and the limits of free speech.

The Hate Crime Reporting Act of 2014 would result in an updated comprehensive report that examines the role of telecommunications, especially the Internet, in encouraging hate crimes and would create recommendations to address such crimes. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachussetts) and Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (D-New York 8th District) are sponsoring the measure and have been praised by organizations, including the National Hispanic Media Coalition, for proposing this long-awaited bill.

It is no surprise that activists who use the Internet as their primary platform for fearmongering are not joining in that praise. Instead, Pamela Geller and others are arguing that HCRA is a “revolution against freedom in a pretty package.”

“Our free speech is threatened by Islamic supremacists and their Democrat lapdogs under the guise of ‘hate speech,’” Geller wrote on her blog last week. “The (HCRA) is shariah. … This is the line in the sand. If we lose this, it’s over.”

Geller, of course, is no stranger to hyperbole or the free speech debate. As in this case, she regularly accuses the government of caving to ‘stealth jihad.’ In December, she and her collaborator Robert Spencer were banned from entering the United Kingdom after officials there said her presence could “foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the U.K.”. Headlines from Geller, Spencer and others on the far-right declared that free speech “died in the UK” with that decision.

“We live in an increasingly Shariah-compliant world, where freedom loses almost every time,” Geller wrote on in an appeal for money to help cover the costs of their legal challenge in Britain.

The problem is not that anti-Muslim activists criticize Islam or its variety of interpretations or practices. Nor is this a call for a sweeping ban on speech that some may find distasteful. This is about challenging — with more speech — how Geller, Spencer and others chose to exercise their freedom of expression and about the consequences of such incendiary speech.

Dehumanizing and demonizing language that originates in email, blog posts and tweets has a significant impact on media content, public opinion and public policy. Professional fearmongers continue to pretend that inflammatory rhetoric has no impact beyond the “information battlespace,” as Geller likes to call it. But, it’s hard to imagine they would invest so much time, energy and money on their efforts if that’s what they truly believed.

Unfortunately, incendiary speech often acts as a spark for violent hate crimes against the targets of such speech. It is not “capitulation to the Shariah” — as Geller has argued — to point that out. Nor is condemning discrimination against Muslims — or any other religious community — an endorsement of the religion they follow.

Examining and documenting hate speech will not end discrimination or violent hate crimes; it certainly won’t stop hateful speech. Only increased social pressure can change the cultural climate that allows hateful speech and violent attacks against already marginalized communities. Geller’s willful disregard of the impact of incendiary speech underscores the need for the HCRA and the importance of efforts to understand and counter hate crimes.