Add the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to the list of Religious Left organizations snapping up ad space on Washington, D.C.’s mass transit system this week. The Muslim advocacy organization announced a new slate of 16-foot banners designed to counter ads sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). The AFDI ads read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The AFDI ads, maintains CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad, promote an “atmosphere of anti-Muslim hate” for using the word “savages”. AFDI Executive Director Pamela Geller counters that the ads are intended to be pro-Israel, and that calling for the defeat of violent extremists is fair game.
CAIR has frequently been at the center of controversy: the Department of Justice named the council an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism trial. According to CAIR spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper, 127 coalition members, including Jewish Voice for Peace, have lined up against the AFDI ad campaign.
“It’s not just CAIR and the Muslim community,” Hooper noted. Other groups – including the United Methodist Women’s Division (UMW) plan to announce their own ads in the coming week.
The AFDI ads have already stirred controversy in New York and San Francisco. The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) had attempted to stop or delay the AFDI ads, only to have a U.S. district judge last week order the ads permitted on free speech grounds.
Awad debuted CAIR’s ads, featuring a smiling young Muslim girl alongside a reading from the Qur’an stating “Show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant,” at a Friday press conference held at the council’s Capitol Hill headquarters.
“Civility needs to be reintroduced in the public discourse,” Awad asserted, adding that those behind the “Defeat Jihad” ads were a “small group of activists, experts in misinformation.”
While Israel went unmentioned at the press conference, Awad waved about a report from the liberal think tank Center for American Progress entitled “Fear, Inc.” which he claimed contained facts that “there is an orchestrated campaign” to create “an atmosphere of fear” against American Muslims.
“The best industry in America today is to write something against Islam and you will be able to make money,” claimed fellow press conference speaker Naeem Baig, Vice President for Public Affairs of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
“Anyone has the right to free speech – even bigoted and hate speech and the like,” Baig stated, but added that the AFDI ads were designed to “provoke and stigmatize” Muslims and that the word “savages” was the problem. Asked by a reporter if the term “savages” could be legitimately used to describe those who use violence to perpetuate an extremist cause, Baig restated that the term was inappropriate to be used against any group.
“Pamela Geller has a routine,” charged Hooper, who called the relatively small AFDI ad buy an attempt at free publicity. Asked by a reporter why CAIR did not simply ignore the ads, Hooper replied that the group had to respond and counter Gellar’s “voice of hate.”
“We’re talking the extreme of the extreme here,” assessed Hooper.
The CAIR ads will appear in three of the four metro stations where AFDI has already purchased space. A fourth station, Takoma Park, did not have any remaining ad space available, and the group is looking for another station to substitute, as well as funds to expand the campaign. The ads will run for one month.
IRD’s press release on the controversy can be viewed here.