By Nisa Islam Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
(NNPA) WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – First the signs went up on San Francisco buses. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority vowed to fight their placement on the city’s subway in court. That battle was lost and the highly controversial ads by American Freedom Defense Initiative were placed in the New York subway system.
The ads, which read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel … Defeat jihad,” have been denounced by Muslims, Christians and Jews.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority also lost its battle in court Oct. 5 and was ordered to place the ads at four metro stations by Oct. 8 for one month.
“The ads are horrendous. They are designed to both malign and provoke—malign Islam and Muslims and provoke a negative reaction. Just look at the negative reaction from the public. At the end of the day, the ads will prove to be counterproductive,” Mauri Salaakhan, executive director of the Peace and Justice Foundation told The Final Call.
“This harkens back to the distasteful part of the American history with Native America and the colonial past. It was a dark period of European colonial history,” he added.
A broad-based coalition of 127 organizations in the city, led by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Council on American Islamic Relations, Jewish Voices for Peace-DC Metro and the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace sent a letter Oct. 9 to WMATA expressing concern about the advertisements.
In the letter, the coalition states, “We respect the protections afforded to political speech, and do not wish that our position be misinterpreted as advocating for the curtailment of such speech. This being said, we do believe there are measures WMATA can take to mitigate the effect hate speech has on the community … in crafting a principled and effective response.”
“In an example of respecting free speech while choosing to promote tolerance, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency issued a statement noting that (the ad) ‘has no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace and justice’ and donated the ad proceeds to the San Francisco Human Rights commission.”
Rep. Mike Honda’s (D-Calif.) response to the ads was to call for a boycott of the transit subway system. “The right to free speech is a right I will defend to my grave. I understand why the U.S. District Court is forcing Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, against their will, to run the ad equating Muslims to savages,” he said.
“These are rights, however, that come with great responsibility and I hope that Americans will always use them responsibly. The right to not support hate speech is also a right, which is why I encourage people to boycott, if possible, WMATA (and in other places, like NYC, where the ad is running) until the ad buys are finished. We do not have to support hate speech.”
From San Francisco to New York the ads have been met with spray paint and vandalism as well as counter campaigns by progressive Christian groups. Some campaigns plan to expand to Washington, D.C.
Mr. Salaakhan believes Muslims should respond to the ads by showing who the real savage is.
“The ads are getting attention because of the controversy. We should be engaged in a public discussion behind the language of the ads. We need to show how savage the occupation in Palestine is by the Zionists. Any reasonable person will be able to see who the real savage is. We need to take this as an opportunity to shine the light on Zionism,” he said.
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