A recent ruling by a federal judge permitted the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) to display hateful advertisements on New York subway cars and buses. The tasteless advertisements relate the killing of Jews to Islamic teachings. Since its inception in 2010, the AFDI has taken it upon itself to promote hateful advertisement by maligning the religious teachings of Islam under the umbrella of the practice of the First Amendment. Pamela Geller, the organizer of the ad campaign, fails to comprehend the long term consequences of the hate messages that may incite more anger and detestation in an already turbulent landscape. Although AFDI claims to exercise its right to free speech, it neglects to realize the responsibilities that come with practicing the first amendment.
Due to our fast paced media and modern-day technology, the ad campaign may quickly escalate in the hands of extremists such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Al Shabab or the like. By displaying these ads AFDI has, once again, provided a legitimate excuse for terrorist organizations to practice their heinous acts which have no religious foundation. In fact, it will not be incorrect to say that AFDI has provided the extremists with the very thing they long for. The dire consequences will not be felt only on far flung lands. The ripple effect may be deeply felt on our land where we practice our right to free speech as well. Just on Friday, there was a bomb threat at the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Though this turned out to be a hoax, nevertheless it did create fear.
Contrary to AFDI’s claim to educate, the interpretation of the message solely depends upon the knowledge and understanding of the viewer. If taken literally, the message may escalate the already inflating number of hate crimes due to religious beliefs. This would impact not only Muslims, but mainstream Jews and Christians as well. Many unfortunate recent incidents testify to hate inspired messages and ideology; shootings of three Muslim students at Chapel Hill being one of them.
We need to enforce the idea that ‘free speech’, when based on religious hatred, may be detrimental to the morals of a society as a whole. Hate messages on buses will influence the thought processes of our younger generations who will watch these buses drive by every day. Raising children who develop an extremist ideology and intolerance of others is every sane parent’s worst nightmare.
It seems unlikely for such a negative message to produce a positive outcome, yet it is not impossible. Hate messages may encourage many curious minds to search for the truth. Many may find solace in Hebrew Scriptures where it talks about Harmony among nations as it says, “Nation shall not lift up a sword against nation”. (Micah 4:3). Some may embrace the teachings of tolerance in the New Testament where it says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whosoever ye do. Do all to the glory of God. Give no offence, neither to Jews, nor to the Gentiles,” (Corinthians 10:31-32). In addition, many may distinguish the Islamic teachings of acceptance and just treatment of people of other faiths in the words of Prophet Muhammad as he said, “Beware, whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim Minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment” (Abu Daud).
There is a greater need to understand that the true Islamic practices are not what Hamas, Al Qaeda, or ISIS portray. Now is the time to identify that need and to recognize that true Islam is in practice when a Muslim youth leaves her seat in the subway for an elderly Jewish lady, or when a bearded Muslim man opens the restaurant door for a Christian customer, or when a hijab clad Muslim woman gives a big smile to a Hindu mother as she picks her daughter from Kindergarten school. To rationally answer the anti-Semitic and Islamophobic ideology it is imperative that Jewish and Muslim communities establish an open dialogue among each other. After all, these challenges are far more detrimental than spreading contemptuous messages against one another.
Lubna Qureshi is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and a free lance writer for the Women's auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United States. She is also an Air Force wife who has endured and supported numerous deployments and humanitarian missions of my husband in the past 22 years. Follow her on Twitter.
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