By Luqman Patino –
Police and FBI agents raided the Phoenix apartment shared by the two gunmen who opened fire May 3 in the parking lot of a “Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” in Garland, Texas. The award for the contest winner was $10,000. The event was hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). AFDI is led by well-known, and often controversial, activist Pamela Geller. An officer posted at the event was wounded. The officer shot and killed both assailants.
Attention shifted from Texas to Arizona when it was discovered that the assailants were residents of Phoenix. As investigations into the individuals unfold, Phoenix area mosques are receiving attention due to the assailants’ professed association with Islam.
Usama Shami, President of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, where both of the shooters, Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi, occasionally attended prayer, commented on extreme perspectives on both sides of this event. “I think those two groups feed off of each other, they need each other,” said Shami. “Pamela Geller, she needs this group to show that Islam is a violent religion and these guys who are holding these extreme views, they need someone like Pamela Geller to show that the West are anti-Islam.”
Geller, the president of AFDI and Stop Islamization of America, has been receiving a lot of press attention after the shooting.
Geller has a long history of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam activity in the United States. Her more publicized demonstrations include her 2010 opposition to the building of a mosque in New York City, claiming that Muslims who pray are “cursing Christians and Jews five times a day,” and her group’s bus ad campaign that included one that read, “Islamic-Jewish hatred: It’s in the Qur’an. Two-thirds of all US aid goes to Islamic countries. Stop racism. End all aid to Islamic countries.” In an April 13 post on AtlasShrugs.com, Geller’s blog, she claimed that, “[President Barack] Obama is a third worlder and a coward. He will do nothing but beat up on our friends to appease his Islamic overlords.” The Southern Poverty Law Center includes Geller in the “Extremist Files” describing her as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
She stated on her group’s website that despite the potential risk of violence at the May 3 event in the Dallas area, the event had to be held in support of freedom of speech.
An op-ed written by the editorial board of the New York Times, printed on May 7, positioned the opinion of the board firmly on the side of free speech but not in support of the Dallas-area event. The editorial board wrote in the piece, “There is also no question that however offensive the images, they do not justify murder, and that it is incumbent on leaders of all religious faiths to make this clear to their followers. But it is equally clear that the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Tex., was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom.”
The piece ended with the following statement, “Some of those who draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad may earnestly believe that they are striking a blow for freedom of expression, though it is hard to see how that goal is advanced by inflicting deliberate anguish on millions of devout Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism. As for the Garland event, to pretend that it was motivated by anything other than hate is simply hogwash.”
As investigations continue into the motivations and influences of the shooters, a new press narrative seems to be emerging, one that sees signs of extremism on both sides of the barrel.