Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Group at Center of Controversial 'Draw Muhammad' Contest Erects Billboards in St. Louis

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Group at Center of Controversial 'Draw Muhammad' Contest Erects Billboards in St. Louis

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * The group that was attacked by armed assailants in Texas last month for sponsoring a contest to draw the prophet Muhammad, founder of the Islamic religion, has brought the debate to St. Louis, in the form of what it says are 100 roadside billboards.

The group, American Freedom Defense Initiative, erected the billboards in and around St. Louis as part of a campaign in several parts of the country. Pamela Geller, a conservative activist and the group's president, said in a public statement that the billboards were a response to "media and the cultural and political elites' " refusal to show depictions of Muhammad.

Any image purporting to be that of Muhammad is offensive to many Muslims.

Geller and her organization didn't respond to emails Thursday seeking information about where the billboards are, and the claim of 100 of them in the area couldn't be independently confirmed. But the Post-Dispatch did locate and visually confirm two of them Thursday.

The signs say, "Support Free Speech," and show a line drawing figure of a bearded man in a turban, presumably Muhammad. The figure is being drawn by a large hand holding a pencil. The man is saying, "You can't draw me!" The unseen artist is responding, "That's why I draw you."

Geller, in her statement, said the image, by "former Muslim Bosch Fawstin," is the winning cartoon from AFDI's Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest last month.

That contest, in Garland, Texas, drew international attention after two gunmen opened fire on authorities. The assailants were fatally shot by police.

That shooting was followed this month by the fatal police shooting of Usaamah Rahim, after he wielded a knife at law enforcement officers in Boston. Federal authorities alleged on Friday that Rahim and two other men were part of a "terror cell" that planned to behead Geller. The two surviving suspects are in custody facing various charges.

One of the St. Louis-area billboards is on a desolate section of Banshee Road in Hazelwood, running alongside the airport, with no homes or businesses near it. …

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