My apologies to my few remaining readers for my delayed absence – I was in the Bay Area from thursday morning until late last night and have rather enjoyed the hiatus from my electronic overlords. My email inboxes have certainly taken their revenge on me this morning, though.
While in San Francisco, I kept an eye out for buses carrying the “Why Islam?” adverts being placed by the Islamic Circle of North America, in conjunction with the 877-Why-Islam project. These adverts are different from the “Dial a muslim” campaign run by the Florida chapter of CAIR, which was less about Dawah and more about simple interfaith outreach (which I highly approve of). Instead, these advertisements are jarring, promoting Islam in a superficial and awkward way. ICNA has sponsored ads in partnership with regional Islamic groups on Bay Area buses and cable cars, the Chicago CTA, the New York City subway, the Seattle Metro, and others. They are also sponsoring billboards overlooking major freeways with the same general message, which reads:
Islam: Submission to God
The message of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad
I understand that some muslims interpret their faith as requiring them to do active Dawah (prosletyzation) but there’s something very heavy-handed about these ads which i think will rub people the wrong way. The attempt at linking Islam to the prophets of the other faiths, while theologically correct, comes across as condescending and arrogant. The message itself, “Why Islam?” is trite and reduces the complex decision of faith to a mere slogan. What next, a “Got Islam” campaign? (wait…)
If these ads did nothing more than make muslims seem like Jehovah’s Witnesses in the public eye (which would be an improvement, actually), then I wouldn’t care one way or the other. However, these ads also act to focus Islamophobia and thus are doing active harm. For example, the Why Islam? campaign in New York managed to draw negative attention from New York Representative Peter King (a Republican, of course – the GOP War on Muslims continues apace):
King, noting that the ads would be up during the seventh anniversary
of the September 11 attacks, said, “I’m calling on the MTA not to have
these ads, not to go forward with them, and I don’t see this as a free
speech issue at all.” King said he sent a letter to the MTA on Monday night demanding that it reject the ads.
The New York Post has reacted strongly to the ads, running a cover
photograph of Wahhaj on Monday with the headline “Jihad Train” and
posting an article on its Web site with the headline “Train-ing day for
jihadists” and the first paragraph saying, “Allah aboard!”
Instead of promoting Islam as a faith worthy of exploration, we now have a connection between Islam and 9-11, as well as the pushing of the Jihad meme – two of the most defamatory stereotypes about Islam and muslims that the muslim American community in the post-9-11 era. The ad campaign in Florida also drew in the mandatory accusation of anti-semitism, as well:
Some Jewish groups have protested the ads, describing them as
anti-Semitic and as provocative given the conflict in Gaza. Joe
Kaufman, chairman of Americans Against Hate, organized a protest Friday
outside the county government center that attracted 100 people.
Note how the idea of muslims exercising their free speech is considered sensationalist. The defenders of Western Civilization, so quick to cry dhimmitude and proclaim free speech as inviolate when criticism of Islam is at stake, are completely absent.
Still, as an ardent advocate of free speech, I don’t believe that ICNA should be prevented from running this campaign. They can do as they please; unfortunately the rest of us will have to deal with the consequences. In the spirit of responding to bad speech with more speech, here’s my own suggestion for a bus campaign:
(image courtesy of the Bus Slogan Generator)