Over the past several weeks, advertisements featuring images of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Al-Qaeda representatives, and other Islamic extremists have been displayed in public transportation stations and buses in several U.S. cities including Washington D.C., Chicago, and San Francisco.
The ads also feature direct quotes attributed to the pictured extremists saying such things as, “killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah” and “The first thing we are calling you to is Islam.” The ads are a blatant misrepresentation and attempt to slander Islam and Muslims. Unsurprisingly, the ads were commissioned by notorious Islamophobes Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer via their American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI).
The ads are a direct response to the ongoing #MyJihad ad campaign that debuted in cities last December. Initially, AFDI’s ads were nearly identical to the ads it opposes.
A legal battle forced AFDI to redesign its ads and refrain from using the “#MyJihad” phrase. Even so, the ads remain remarkably similar in design. AFDI’s ads only differ due to subtle changes to wording and border colors.
Ahmed Rehab, founder of the #MyJihad campaign stated the ads are “about reclaiming jihad from the Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists who ironically, but not surprisingly, see eye to eye on jihad.” Rehab’s campaign shows images of Muslims from different backgrounds and with their individual interpretations of “jihad” such as a student building “bridges through friendship” or a mother attempting to “march on despite losing [her] son.”
Pamela Geller claims the #MyJihad campaign is a “benign and whitewashed” interpretation of the term “jihad.” In response, AFDI’s ads use the same template the campaign uses, but exchange the positive testimonies with despicable philosophies of extremists like Osama bin Laden.
After redesigning its ads, AFDI resubmitted them to transit authorities. Their first run of ads debuted in mid-February on Chicago’s CTA buses. Beforehand, a CTA lawyer wrote Geller’s legal counsel bregrudingly accepting the ads, citing AFDI’s past legal victories over transit advertising on the grounds of free speech. The lawyer acknowledged that CTA’s hands were effectively tied and referred to the ads as “morally reprehensible.” Ads went on display in Washington D.C. and San Francisco transit soon after.
In San Francisco, city officials publicly condemned AFDI’s ads. “San Francisco won’t tolerate Islamophobic bigotry,” District Attorney George Gascon said. Officials also announced that revenue garnered from AFDI’s advertisement purchase will be donated to the Human Rights Commission. The city will also launch its own ad campaign to “promote peace and acceptance of all people,” according to David Chiu, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
When word of this arrived, Geller was furious. She immediately issued a press release denouncing the city officials. Additionally, she took to her blog in hopes to find a San Francisco resident willing to stand as a plaintiff in a potential lawsuit AFDI plans to file. Geller argues the city officials’ actions violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
The problem with Geller’s argument is that the City’s actions aren’t “giving ‘preferential’ ‘accommodation’ to Muslims to benefit one religion over all others.” Rather, they’re publicly condemning AFDI’s hate speech. If anything, the city’s commendation is merely bringing Islam and Muslims back to a status equal with other religions and their followers. This is hardly being “preferential.”
Whether Geller will file suit, or even find an eligible plaintiff willing to stand, remains to be seen.
Geller attempted to defend the AFDI ads on San Francisco-area public radio after the announcement and was immediately called out by other guests for hate-mongering. Geller decried the show on her blog calling it an “Attack Geller Fest” and claimed the show illustrated a “profound media bias” carried by “people ready to repeat the Islamic supremacists’ propaganda.”
Afraid of the opposition to her bigotry, Geller retreated back into the far-right media echo chamber. She appeared on Canadian Sun News’ Ezra Levant Show and Andrew Wilcow’s program on Glenn Beck’s Blaze TV to defend her actions and receive validation from other bigots.
Even those on the far-right are condemning Geller’s actions. This year she was barred from CPAC 2013 until Breitbart News, in an unsurprising attempt to drum up controversy, hosted a panel called “The Uninvited.” The panel featured Geller and other controversial members of the so-called “counter-jihad” movement as well as Rosemary Jenks of the anti-immigrant NumbersUSA.
Geller and her fellow “uninvited” colleagues are no less extreme than those that are the subject of AFDI’s recent ads. Geller and co.’s brand of hate is no different than other strains of nativism in our country. It is promising to see their words be discredited – from both sides of the political spectrum – with increased frequency.