It is unfortunate that in the midst of all the negativity and Anti-Muslim bigotry, voices of reason and religious tolerance have been drowned out. The media - partially complicit in this mess - has an annoying tendency to focus on negative stories that shock the conscious, while giving little coverage to positive stories that warm the heart.
Case in Point: the hoopla over the Islamophobic ads posted in New York City and Washington D.C. public transportation systems.
By continuously giving attention to these anti-Muslim hate groups, an impression is created that such lunacy is part of the main-stream discourse. But, as the overwhelming advertisements in support of an inclusive America that embraces its Muslim neighbors has proven, hate mongers are far from mainstream and only a tiny fraction of an out of touch extremist camp.
Many times the media alone is responsible for providing a platform for these anti-Muslim hate groups. In fact it was the media who placed non-stop calls to the CAIR-NY office at the urging of anti-Muslim groups to comment on the latest round of hate ads. We understand controversy brings more ratings but we refuse to support "the triumph of spectacle over reason."
Consider this blog a humble attempt to highlight the genuine outpouring of support by several Christian, Jewish and other faith organizations whose positive ad campaign serve as a stark contrast to the hostile environment promoted by the Islamophobia network.
T'ruah--the Rabbinic Call For Human Rights
Rabbis for Human Rights, a New York based group now known as T'ruah, placed ads in 20 subway stations across New York City for four weeks. The MTA agreed to feature the ads in the same subway stations where anti-Muslim hate ads were placed. Take that haters!
The ads stated “In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.” The wording was a play on the theme of a recent anti-Muslim ad that was the spotlight of media stories from San Francisco to New York City.
Ads by T'ruah- the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
"We are a group of 1,800 rabbis and we want everyone to know that we have to work in partnership with the Muslim community and do not believe in dehumanizing them," said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, in a New York Times article about the ads. Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster also submitted an opinion piece that was featured on CNN.com at the time the group revealed its advertisements.
United Methodist Women
United Methodist Women, an affiliate of United Methodist Church, also organized an ad campaign co-sponsored by 23 organizations. “We needed to be present with a counter voice, we need to stand for the work of peace, and to say that free speech should not be used recklessly or in an inflammatory way,” said Ms. Harriett J. Olson, United Methodist Women General Secretary, in a press conference unveiling the ads.
Ads by United Methodist Women
The ads were featured in 10 subway stations across New York and can still be seen today. The United Methodist Women were able to get ad placement directly next to every anti-Muslim hate ad across the New York subway. It is worth noting that the ads were not only directly next to the now gone hate ads, but that they also outlived them. You can now see some of these ads at select subway stations across the city.
Denver, Colorado Inter-faith effort
Not to be outdone in this outpouring of tolerance and inter-faith outreach, a group of faith leaders in Colorado got together and organized an ad campiagn of their own. Rabbi Joe Black, senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel, Jeremy Shaver, executive director of Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, and Imam Karim Abuzald, Imam of Colorodo Muslim Society spearheaded this initiative. Their ads, featuring a simple and universally understood Biblical edict to “Love thy neighbor,” were placed on 10 buses in December of 2012, through January 2013.
The ad, seen below, features a theme of forgiveness and love, with a passage from The Bible, Torah and the Qur'an.
Inter-Faith effort from Denver, Colorado
Perhaps most intriguing about the Colorodo ads, is that it was the only market where peaceful ads had a monopoly on the messaging at the time of their unveiling. Fortunately for that community, anti-Muslim hate groups did not receive the media attention they sought in the Mile-High State.
Sojourners, a progressive Christian group headed by Rev. Jim Walls, organized a unique ad campaign in the fall of 2012. “Love your Muslim Neighbor,” ads went up in Washington D.C. and NYC subway stations at the same time commuters were exposed to the ads of anti-Muslim hate groups. The Sojourner ads like many before them, were strategically placed in the same subway stations as the anti-Muslim ads.
Ads organized by Sojourners
Sojourner ads were also placed on billboards in Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri. Why these states? Going beyond simple anti-Muslim hate expressed through transit system ads, Sojourners wanted ads in three of the states where recent cases of mosque vandalism occured.
‘Everyone – regardless of race, religion, or creed – deserves to feel welcomed and safe when riding public transit in America. Sojourners hope this simple message will stand in stark contrast to the anti-Muslim ads that are drawing so much attention and provide a more hopeful, peaceful, and faithful witness in New York City,” states a press release on the Sojourners website.
The groups mentioned above represent only a portion of the communities that have organized to promote positive messages consistent with values we embrace as Americans. As I write this blog post, even more groups are planning their own ad campaigns which only compliment the ongoing efforts on the ground to make our communities a more welcoming and inclusive place for all of us. While these stories may not receive the welcoming media attention that a fringe group of lunatics can, they will definitely receive the welcoming public attention of those who live outside of media headlines.
One of the billboards sponsored by Sojourners
Fahad is a Community Outreach Intern with CAIR-NY. He is studying Political Science and Journalism at the CUNY Queens College.