(RNS) Religious leaders are rallying against controversial ads placed in 10 New York City subway stations that insinuate that Muslims are savages.
The ads, purchased by the American Freedom Defense Initiative say, “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority initially rejected the ads, citing a policy against demeaning language. However, after AFDI filed suit, a federal court upheld the ads.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative is led by Pamela Geller, a right-wing blogger and activist best known for her staunch opposition to a proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Geller's Stop Islamization of America as a hate group.
As rioting continues in the Middle East over the “Innocence of Muslims” movie trailer, there is concern that the subway ads could inflame tensions even as they are protected by the First Amendment.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke about the ads on his weekly radio show, “America is different. We tolerate dissenting views. We tolerate things that we may find despicable. … The belief is that the First Amendment protects you and me, but we have to protect everyone else if we’re going to have that freedom, and it’s the right ways to go about it. In this case the courts ruled and the MTA has to comply.”
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, fears that the ads will “contribute to the atmosphere of anti-Islam hostility,” adding that there has been a “widespread repudiation of the hate message promoted by these ads.”
The Interfaith Center of New York gathered on the steps of City Hall Tuesday (Sept. 25) to rally against the ads. "These ads fuel anti-Muslim sentiment that aims to divide us, but we will always come together, louder and stronger, for respect and dignity," said Valarie Kaur, director of Groundswell at Auburn Seminary.