Opinion: Drinking the kool aid: the dangers of Islamophobia

In our modern world, there seems to be a fine line between hate and free speech in regards to Islam. This fine line has been the subject of intense debate between moderate Muslims and right wing anti-Islamic pundits. Over the years, groups like the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have been advocating for better understanding and treatment of our Muslim population, while other groups such as American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) have fought back against what they see as “the Islamization of America.” AFDI is just one of the many American anti-Islam groups that uses social media and advocacy to “warn” us of the threat of Sharia law in the US and the “danger” that Muslims pose for a “civilized society.” Naturally, AFDI has been classified as a hate group. One of AFDI’s latest media exploits has now gained a lot of attention, adding more debate over freedom of speech. They are now attempting to spread a “cautionary” message addressing the perceived anti-Semitic factor of Islamic culture, and have been releasing ads that are nothing short of propaganda. This decision was rightfully met with backlash from New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), who argued that the ads are offensive and inflammatory. On April 21, however, a New York judge ruled that the MTA must allow AFDI to run the ads.

The ads in question, which are harshly critical of Muslims, contain messages like “Islamic Jew-Hatred, it’s in the Quran,” and “in any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” Other ads called Adolf Hitler “the leader of the Muslim world.” Basically, AFDI wants us to believe that all Muslims are savage Jew-haters who are inherently dangerous. And hundreds of thousands of people in New York are going to see these hateful and ignorant messages.

Of course, one would obviously see this debate as a “freedom of speech issue.” Perhaps it is, but nobody is necessarily telling AFDI not to have their own opinion. One could also see this as a “First Amendment issue.” It is not. The First Amendment of our constitution states, “Congress shall make no law that impedes free speech.” Until the federal government punishes the AFDI for producing the ads, their first amendment rights have not been violated. Don't bother trying to make this a free speech issue. MTA should have every right to decide which ads it will run.

As for the ads themselves, they are wrong on many levels: First, they are most certainly trying to inspire prejudice against Muslims as opposed to raising awareness about anti-Semitism. I would imagine that a real anti-Semitism PSA wouldn't try to single people out or specifically target just one perpetrator of hatred. A real message against anti-Semitism would be more sensitive and intellectual.

Second, you can cherry-pick a nasty passage from ANY religious text to make all its followers look evil. You can very easily claim that “Christians hate gays,” or “Jews hate women” by citing religious texts, but would you be 100 percent correct? No, you wouldn’t. By doing this, the ads don’t do a good enough job of properly identifying who the real “Jew-haters” are, as if to suggest that there are no Muslims that don’t hate Jews, which is very untrue. Third, the messages in these ads can be misinterpreted very easily. Somebody even more ignorant than an AFDI member could see the ads and think, “wow I guess its okay to hate Jews!” Even the MTA argued that the ads would incite violence against Jews. Not only that, but who’s to say an angry extremist wouldn’t target Jews because of these ads? Ironically, these ads seem more like a throwback to Nazi propaganda.

I’m not denying that there is plenty of anti-Semitism in certain Muslim communities, but I refuse to believe that their hatred is religiously motivated. I’m also not denying that the information that is presented in these ads is true, but like I said, this is cherry-picking. For every negative fact you dig up, I could find just as many positive facts about Muslims, or any other social group for that matter.

There are extreme Muslims in parts of the world who do want to harm us, but there is no merit for a deceptive media campaign against our fellow Americans, even if they belong to the same religion as our enemies. You can quote Hamas’ own hateful rhetoric, but it still, despite what you may think, cannot be attributed to all Muslims.

As an American of Jewish heritage (with family members buried in Israel,) I could not be more disgusted with AFDI and its leader, Pamela Geller. I feel ashamed that her group is trying to “defend” people like me and I don’t believe what she’s trying to sell us. I don’t look over my shoulder everyday and expect some “savage” to come attack me. I walk past Muslims every day – at work, at school, and around town – and I see no reason to be afraid. I see the AFDI’s work as jingoistic hatred disguised as a call to action against anti-Semitism. Believe it or not, you can speak out against anti-Semitism without succumbing to Islamophobia.