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Muslims ‘hurt’ by new SEPTA ads

A SEPTA bus featuring a controversial anti-Islamic ad in Center City on April 1.Charles Mostoller

On Wednesday SEPTA buses first began rolling with ads the transit agency was forced to run after losing a legal battle on First Amendment grounds.

“Islamic Jew-hatred: It’s in the Qu’ran,” state the ads, which feature a picture of Hitler.

Eighty-four articulated buses operating out of three depots will carry the ads, SEPTA said.

That message doesn’t sit well with local Muslims.

“That’s wrong,” said Amira Muhammed, 30, of Northeast Philly, of the ad, after she got off a Route 33 bus carrying the new advertisement. “That’s not in the Koran. It says we have to respect other religions.”

Muhammed was shocked to learn that SEPTA lost a legal battle with the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), which paid $30,000 for ad space, and that SEPTA is required to run the advertisements.

“What we need to do is go in front of CIty Hall and say that this needs to stop,” she said.

Other commuters were troubled as well.

“It’s not true,” Jahliel Washington, 27, of West Philly, said of the advertisements’ message -- that the Muslim faith dictates hatred of Jews.

“Our peoples’ land and language are practically the same,” he said, pointing out that the word “Salaam,” meaning “peace,” which Muslims use as a greeting, is similar to “Shalom,” the Hebrew word for peace, which is also used as a greeting amongst Jews.

“They’re trying to divide us,” he said. “It’s just sad.”

John Phillips, 26, an activist, said he was “disgusted” by the new ads.

“You allow Pamela Geller [head of AFDI] and her group to spread hate against us?” Phillips asked. “This is not freedom of speech. This is hate speech.”

Phillips said the Muslim community to an extent already feels targeted, isolated and unfairly associated with violent extremists.

“As Muslims we’re told we’re anti-American,” Phillips said. “A lot of us enjoy the freedoms here. A lot of us fled fascist countries to come be here. What did we do? You call us terrorists.”

Geller responded via email to say that the ads are not inaccurate.

“No one can honestly claim that Islamic Jew-hatred is not in the Quran, and so they make false statements about our ads to make them seem inflammatory -- i.e., that they are akin to Nazi propaganda,” Geller said.

“Islamic antisemitism is growing worldwide and is not being addressed. … If these Muslims find my ad so offensive, do they find Islamic antisemitism offensive? Instead of attacking me, they should be working for genuine and sincere reform of Islam and a decisive Muslim repudiation of antisemitism.”

The AFDI previously called their legal victory over SEPTA a win for “freedom” and the First Amendment, but that victory may be short-lived.

In response to the ads, SEPTA changed it’s advertising policy in October to forbid political and issue-advertising.

Any attempt to extend the AFDI advertising beyond their four-week contract will be denied for violating that policy, said SEPTA communications director Jerri Williams.

Geller said she intends to renew the contract.

Note: This story was updated to include a response from Geller submitted after print deadline.

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