Anti-Islam crusader Pamela Geller says Texas cartoon event was free speech demonstration

Political blogger Pamela Geller, founder of the American Freedom Defence Initiative, speaks at the Mohammad Art Exhibit and Contest, which is sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, in Garland, Texas on Sunday before two gunmen opened f
Political blogger Pamela Geller, founder of the American Freedom Defence Initiative, speaks at the Mohammad Art Exhibit and Contest, which is sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, in Garland, Texas on Sunday before two gunmen opened fire on the event. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

DUSSEAU, New York (AFP) - 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 Defence Initiative (AFDI) and Stop the Islamisation of America (SIOA).

It was the former organisation 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 ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) 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. "The idea that there is a violent war, (that) there is a violent assault on freedom of speech, clearly was brought home."

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 centre were proposed for a site near Ground Zero, where the World Trade Centre 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 organisation, 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 Centre, a US civil rights watchdog.

"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 US$10,000 (S$13,337) 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."