Muslims Condemn Violence|at Muhammad ‘Art Show’

     DALLAS (CN) – Muslim leaders swiftly condemned the attack on a Dallas art show of Muhammad cartoons but also denounced the “hate speech” they say incited it.
     Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, both of Phoenix, Ariz., reportedly drove into the parking lot of the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, shortly after the American Freedom Defense Initiative wrapped up its “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest.”
     Armed with assault rifles and wearing body armor, the men immediately began shooting at an unarmed Garland Independent School District security officer. A Garland police officer returned fire with his service pistol, killing one shooter immediately. The other gunman was hit and reached for a backpack inside the vehicle. He reportedly died as well.
     The Council on American-Islamic Relations – the country’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization – condemned the attack “without reservation” on Monday.
     Muslims support freedom of speech, even bigoted speech, CAIR said.
     “We also reiterate our view that violence in response to anti-Islam programs like the one in Garland is more insulting to our faith than any cartoon, however defamatory,” the group said in a statement. “Bigoted speech can never be an excuse for violence.”
     The executive director of CAIR’s Dallas chapter, Alia Salem, condemned the shooters as “violent criminals” during a press conference Monday evening. She expressed “shock and sadness” at the attack “that has shaken our community life and brought turmoil and fear into our midst.”
     “The fact that the violence exhibited on Sunday was committed by people identifying themselves as Muslims is equally horrifying,” she said.
     CAIR criticized the American Freedom Defense Initiative and its founder, Pamela Gellar, for holding the event in the first place, saying that “human history shows us that hatred breeds more hatred,” and extremism breeds more extremism.
     “Pamela Geller, [author] Robert Spencer, [Dutch politician] Geert Wilders and the perpetrators of yesterday’s attack all seek to provoke a downward spiral of mutual hostility and mistrust in America and around the world,” CAIR said. “People of good will must work together to ensure that extremists of all faiths and backgrounds do not accomplish that malevolent goal.”
     Geller was not swayed by the criticism, telling NBC News on Monday, “we should be holding these meetings every month”
     “We absolutely must have other events like this to stand up for free speech,” Geller said. “I will not abridge my freedoms so as not to offend savages.”
     Saying that she believes Western civilization is “superior,” Geller defended the drawings of Muhammad as “political critique.” She also defended the anti-Islam views of Wilders, saying he “shouldn’t have to be worried about being slaughtered” for his views.
     “There is a problem in Islam,” she said. “The problem is we can’t talk about it.”
     AFDI received approximately 350 submissions to its contest, which offered a first prize of $10,000. The group organized the event after Muslim groups held an event at the same facility in January called “Stand With the Prophet Against Terror & Hate.” Hundreds of locals had protested that event, complaining about the use of a public school facility by religious group. School district officials had cited nondiscriminatory facilities policies in permitting both events to occur.
     Azahar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America, told reporters the group asked its members for several weeks to ignore AFDI’s event and “stay away from any kind of protest” associated with it.
     “We were concerned that people like Pamela Geller and her American Freedom Defense Initiative were disrupting peace in this city and inciting hatred by bringing their followers from out of state to disrupt harmony, peace and foster hate among the citizens of this great city,” Azeez said.
     Dallas attorney Khalid Y. Hamideh said that many Muslim parents were too afraid to send their children to school today for fear of retaliation.
     “Retaliation for what?” Hamideh asked. “We’ve done nothing wrong. But the fear exists, so we must speak out about what is wrong with both sides. To clear up that 99.9 percent of Muslims are god-loving, god-fearing people. They don’t stand for either extreme.”

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