The news: Your Washington D.C. metro commute is getting a little more unpleasant, thanks to a few intolerant people. At least one D.C. bus is now running with a noxious rant about Muslims on its side.
PolicyMic's Laila Alawa said that she rode a bus sporting the following look in D.C.:
(Note: the image above was not actually taken by Alawa, but is a promotional image showing what the ads are supposed to look like generated by the AFDI itself).
Who's behind this? Notorious bigots Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, who are the co-founders of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA)/American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), both of which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as hate groups. They're well known for buying up public ad space to send anti-Islamic messages, specifically putting up New York City subway system ads that called Israel's enemies "savages" and depicted the exploding Twin Towers beside quotations from the Quran.
These ads are clearly the work of SIOA and AFDI. An AFDI-run IndieGogo page for this project has raised $3,154 of its $20,000 goal for these ads, and the "totally unbiased" IslamicJewHatred.com is just a redirect to Geller's hate-filled blog. The ad's banner statement "Islamic Jew-Hatred - It's in the Quran" is a a long-running catchphrase among members of the far right and Geller in particular.
Classy. Besides blatantly labeling all Muslims as anti-Semites, this isn't even come close to historically accurate. Haj Amin al-Husseini was not the leader of the "Muslim world," but the head of the Muslim community of Palestine until 1937 (well before the pictured meeting in 1941), then the head of Jerusalem until 1948. While al-Husseini was almost certainly anti-Semitic and personally recruited Muslim volunteers for the Waffen-SS, the reality is that al-Husseini in 1941 was only the leader of one city. In 1948, Jerusalem commanded a population of just 165,000, of whom only 40,000 were even Muslim.
For the claims about "Islamic Jew-hated" being "in the Quran" — OK. No one would deny that there is a strain of anti-Semitic thinking in some corners of modern Islam or that the Quran contains disparaging references to the Jews. But scholars have a wide range of opinions on how "authentically" Islamic this is, saying modern presentations could be the result of factors ranging from the spread of modern European anti-Semitism to the establishment of the Israeli state.
But cherry-picking phrases from the Quran to plaster Muslims as sword-waving jihadists is wrong. As the Daily Beast's Arsalan Iftikhar wrote in 2012, when the previous wave of Geller ads hit the NYC subway:
"Imagine how millions of peace-loving Christians would react if they saw a subway advertisement during their morning commute showing cherry-picked Bible quotes such as "I come not to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34) or "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled" (Luke 12:49-51), trying to wrongfully portray Christianity as a religion of violence. I think it would be fair to say that most fair-minded Americans would be able to see right through the sinister veneer of these blatantly ridiculous advertisements. Now imagine that we are talking about Islam instead of Christianity."
What to do about it: Geller's ads have run into court battles before, winning against NYC's MTA and appearing in San Francisco as well. In Boston, Geller is appealing a decision prohibiting her from purchasing MBTA ad space to run the Twin Towers ads. Another federal appeals court recently rejected her attempts to trademark the SIOA name.
It looks like D.C. has either decided to forgo the court battle or determined it isn't interested in challenging Geller's anti-Muslim tirades. But while it's unfortunate Geller has yet another platform to spread her hate, the best response will likely be measured tolerance and support for fair-minded people all over the world, regardless of race or religion.
Update on May 14th: Geller has confirmed the arrival of the new ads on her blog.