A coalition of organizations is speaking out against new ads posted in subway stations Monday that refer to jihad as “savage” and call for support of Israel.
The Interfaith Center of New York, joined by other groups including the Cordoba Initiative and Jews Against Islamophobia, are denouncing the ads, calling them “dangerous” and “hate speech.”
The posters, paid for by political advocacy group American Freedom Defense Initiative, read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
“It’s not only a problem because we feel it is hate speech aimed at a specific group, but also dangerous because it uses strong language like the word ‘savage,'” Annie Rawlings of the Interfaith Center of New York said.
Rawlings said the ad is also raising concerns about the safety of Muslims and Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims.
“We’ve already seen violent actions against those groups — we just saw the Wisconsin [Sihk temple] shootings, and so it’s not a great stretch to be worried about it,” Rawlings said. “There are always people who are easily inflamed, and I think it’s not only troublesome speech, it’s dangerous speech.”
“May God forgive those behind this ad for any intent to create hostility,” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, added. “May God open their hearts so that they work with us to eliminate savagery.”
Pamela Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, told Metro last week that the ads are not directed at all Muslims.
“It refers to those who rejoice in the murders of innocent civilians. The war on Israel is a war on innocent civilians,” Geller said.
But Rawlings fired back that the word “jihad” has taken on a negative connotation associated with the entire Muslim community.
“The problem with hate speech is that it’s unnuanced,” Rawlings said. “I think the ad is one that makes a direct connection in peoples’ minds because people associate the word ‘jihad’ with Muslims.”
On September 10, the organizations denouncing the ads sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg urging him to “stand up to the politics of fear” and publicly speak out against the posters.
The MTA initially rejected the ads, but was forced to post them after losing the case in federal court in July on grounds of free speech. The Interfaith Center of New York said Bloomberg still could have issued a “reminder that New Yorkers have come together in times of crisis, across many lines of diversity.”
“It’s important to remember how we have and do come together and to not let groups inflame our senses of suspicion about each other, which is what the ads do,” Rawlings said.