Islamophobic propaganda: coming to a bus near you

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Aug. 9 approved a bus advertisement protesting the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” (which, as we have pointed out, is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque). AP writes that the ads depict “a plane flying toward the World Trade Center’s towers as they burn along with a rendering of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero.” But we question whether the ad’s depiction of the “proposed mosque” (sic) is accurate. An image of the ad at MSNBC shows a tall building inlaid with a giant star-and-crescent, whereas a rendering of the proposed Cordoba House (actually an ecumenical community center, now dubbed Park51 for its address on Park Place) on the progressive Jewish website Tikkun Olam shows it without the star and crescent. Poking around on the site of the Cordoba Initiative, the group behind the project, we were unable to find a depiction. The ad’s caption reads “WTC Mega Mosque—Why There?” The ad was produced by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, whose website banner (in vivid contrast to pacifistic imagery at the Cordoba Initiative site) features an image of a charging soldier with an assault rifle below an American flag.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative sued the MTA in Manhattan federal court to demand it accept the ad. An MTA spokesman said: “While the MTA does not endorse the views expressed in this or other ads that appear on the transit system, the advertisement…was accepted today after its review under MTA’s advertising guidelines and governing legal standards.” American Freedom Defense Initiative lawyer David Yerushalmi gleefuly told the NY Post that the decision is “a victory not just for free speech but against political correctness and Mayor Bloomberg’s bullying.” Bloomberg has taken a principled stance in favor of freedom of religion on the issue, saying the opponents “ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League compared the idea of a “mosque” near Ground Zero to the Roman Catholic Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, ordered moved by Pope John Paul II in 1993 in response to Jewish protests. “We’re saying if your purpose is to heal differences, it’s the wrong place,” Foxman said. “Don’t do it. The symbolism is wrong.”

The liberal Jewish lobby group J Street is supporting the Park51 project, saying that “in the battle against violent extremism, core democratic values like respect for minorities and freedom of religion can be potent weapons in ensuring security and advancing tolerance and understanding. Now is the time to stand in support of those core values.”

However, self-congratulation on our tolerant values is missing a greater point: A brief look at the Cordoba Initiative website indicates that they are thoroughly opposed to radical Islamism. Their kicker is “Improving Muslim-West relations,” and there is much verbiage about promoting “interfaith tolerance and respect.” Having an Islamic institution that favors co-existence with the West (and whose name consciously invokes the most open and enlightened period in classical Islamic history, the Caliphate of CĂłrdoba) 600 feet from Ground Zero will be viewed as an insult, not as vindication, by the real jihadis. It will represent a victory of precisely the values they so violently reject. There’s a case to be made that we shouldn’t merely tolerate Park51 despite its proximity to Ground Zero, but should actually welcome it precisely because of its proximity to Ground Zero.

Don’t expect the American Freedom Defense Initiative, also known as Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), to grasp such distinctions, however. The national Arab-American newspaper Watan reports that their leading light Pamela Geller claims on her blog (dubbed Atlas Shrugs, in homage to right-wing pseudo-intellectual guru Ayn Rand) that “Hitler and the Nazis were inspired by Islam.” There are also references to the Prophet Muhammad captioned “Piss Be Upon Him.” She has also referred to President Obama as a “ball sucker” and posted a photo-shopped image of him urinating on an American flag. High intellectual content, eh?

Geller also wrote of Obama: “[O]ne thing is for sure: Hussein is a muhammadan [sic].” Geller also wrote: “[I]t is well known that Obama allegedly was involved with a crack whore in his youth.”

The US Patent & Trademark Office evidently refused to grant SOIA a trademark, finding: “The applied-for mark refers to Muslims in a disparaging manner because by definition it implies that conversion or conformity to Islam is something that needs to be stopped or caused to cease.”

AFDI/SIOA has already got a vigorous campaign of transit system ads in cities around the country. The Christian Science Monitor reported July 28 on ads the group has placed on buses in New York, the San Francisco Bay Area and Miami that read: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get answers!” (Although this blogger, who lives in New York, has not seen them.) They were reportedly placed in response to bus ads from a Muslim group that read, “The way of life of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Islam. Got questions? Get answers.” These were apparently placed by the group Gain Peace Through Islam, whose online rhetoric and imagery is also very tame and inoffensive (in vivid contrast to their antagonists).

Most ironically, the CSM report implies that the SIOA ads in New York were also intended to counter ads placed by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community reading: “Muslims for Peace. Love for All—Hatred for None.” (Gee, what a subversive message.) Conflating the Ahmadiyya with the jihadis is a stunning combination of arrogance and ignorance: as we have noted, the Ahmadiyya in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt have been singled out for persecution and terror attacks as “apostates” by the real jihadis.

The SOIA ads use photos of girls and women murdered in honor killings to promote its Leave Islam Safely website. Now, the issue of honor killings in the name of Islam is an absolutely legitimate one, but it is clear that SOIA is just cynically exploiting it. The top post at Leave Islam Safely (also dubbed reads:

If you long to be free…
If you are thinking of leaving Islam, be wary, be careful. Do not tell your Muslim friends or family. The Qur’an commands your death for leaving Islam (4:89 calls for the murder of renegades from the faith), and Muhammad is explicit in a hadith: “If anyone changes his religion, kill him” (Bukhari). Many, many ‘honor killings’ have been committed for “crimes” that are in Islamic law considered far less serious than leaving Islam.

Think you’re safe in America? Rifqa Bary has been threatened numerous times for leaving Islam… If you doubt that you’re in danger in America, be aware that apostates have been threatened or murdered in recent years in Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere. It doesn’t matter how free or open your country’s society is: the law of Islam recognizes no national borders.

If you fear for your life, contact If you are unsure of how your family or community will respond to your admitting that you’re leaving, don’t take chances. Write to Pamela Geller at or Robert Spencer at If you need immediate protection from a threat, call the police immediately.

At the very bottom of the page, there are addresses of some women’s shelters in Miami. The astute blog Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion notes:

That’s it. No links to any serious resources on either honour crimes or protection for women—instead, there’s a motley collection of websites critical of Islam, some of which are primarily concerned with gaining converts to Christianity. What little practical advice is given is contradictory…” [Contact Geller versus “call the police”…]

Aside from “call the police immediately”, the rest of this is useless: “” is the website of a Christian writer named Nikki Arana, who lives in Idaho. Arana is the co-author of Through the Eyes of Christ, which presents strategies for persuading Muslims of the truth of Christianity; she doesn’t even claim to have any useful practical advice for ex-Muslims fearful of honour killings. And what exactly do Geller and Spencer [of JihadWatch] know about running a “safe house”? Again, if a “safe house” is needed, that should be a matter for the proper authorities—and not for a pair of publicity hounds more interested in using ex-Muslims as trophies than in offering discrete assistance.

As for Rifqa Bary, she was a 17-year-old Christian convert from Islam (born to Sri Lankan immigrants in Ohio) who was given shelter by one Pastor Blake Lorenz of the apocalyptic Florida-based Global Revolution Church last year. When even the ongepotchket Global Revolutionists expelled Lorenz for his unseemly propaganda exploitation of the young woman, he retaliated by accusing the church board members of “demonic possession,” Bartholomew reports. If AFDI/SIOA wishes to maintain any mainstream credibility, they might want to consider steering clear of this case.

See our last posts on Islamophobia, the struggle within Islam, the fear in New York City, and the long aftermath of 9-11.

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  1. Cordoba House to cave in?
    The Israeli daily Haaretz Aug. 16 cites anonymous “insiders” to the effect that the Cordoba Initiative “will soon back down, agreeing to move to a new site… Sources in New York said on Monday that Muslim religious and business leaders will announce plans to abandon the project in the next few days.” This despite the fact that “New York Governor David Patterson said last weekend that Muslim leaders had rejected outright his proposal to swap the site in for another in Manhattan.”

    Haaretz also noted comments by Hamas leader Mahmoud a-Zahar that Muslims must build a mosque near the site of the 9-11 attacks. Muslims have to build everywhere so that followers can pray, just like Christians and Jews build their places of worship, Zahar said in an interview with right-wing talk radio host Aaron Klein. Of course this is just the kind of thing Klein’s listeners love to salivate over. Haaretz notes that one spokesman for the Tea Party movement said the center would be used for “terrorists to worship their monkey god.”

    That quote has of course been widely circulated, but most media accounts have been vague on its precise source. MSNBC informs us Aug. 14 that it was first uttered by one Mark Williams, who was publicly ousted by the National Tea Party Federation last month after posting a racist satirical letter from “the Colored People.” The Daily News reported at the time (July 18) that the letter purported to be from freed slaves to Abraham Lincoln protesting emancipation:

    Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house.

    We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

    Williams also apparently referred to President Obama as an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug.”

    We suppose it is a glimmer of hope that Williams was ousted by the Tea-baggers, but we want to know: When will the supposedly liberal “mainstream media” start calling these anti-Islam “activists” what they really are—part of the radical right?

  2. Anti-mosque “activist” salivates for genocide
    Pamela Geller wrote after the Mumbai attacks:

    …islam has declared war on the west and its political and social institutions, and upon the two great religions which are the pillars of same… the left enables it, and indeed, encourages it as they see the declared aim of islm ot destroy the west congruent with their own goals.

    …to me, the answer is simple.

    they wage war on us, so we kill them, and we kill them in sufficient number and with sufficient purpose and zeal that it causes them to stop killing us, and then we should kill them a little bit more, just to drive the point home. by this i mean.–

    our governments should not only declare war on “terrorism,” but on the states and societies that support it. we should declare war on iran, syria, egypt and saudi arabia, as well as libya and the sudan and somalia, and we should kill people by the scores. no science. no precision bombing. no shock and awe designed to “impress” and send “signals,” but old fashion war with wholesale slaughter including indiscriminate death of innocents and babes. down to the last muslim, if necessary…

    finally, our religious leaders, such as the pope, and the recognized spokesmen of the great religions and affiliations of the world, ought to lend their sanction and approval to both governmental and private killing of identified terrorists, or their aiders and abetters. this is not unprecedented in the religions of the world: during the crusades papal bulls were issued justifying the faithful of christianity in killing muslims or those who attacked the faith. the pope should issue such bulls, the leaders of the world religions should follow suit…

    Poor punctuation in original. Thanks to Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion for bringing this, um, indiscretion to our attention.

    What’s wildly hilarious is that Geller’s Stop Islamization of America website describes the group as a “human rights organization” (sic!). File under words-mean-whatever-we-say-they-mean.

  3. Cordoba House already compromised —on the name

    It seems the Cordoba Initiative decided to change the name of the center from Cordoba House to Park51 in response to criticisms from that noted Islamic scholar Newt Gingrich. The blog Yes, But, However! provides dueling quotes from Imam Rauf and the Newt (and their respective proponents) as to what the word "Cordoba" connotes:

    How can the same word be used as evidence to support two polar opposite conclusions? To find the answer, let's begin by letting Imam Rauf explain why he chose that name:

    After the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain, and its name reminds us that Muslims created what was, in its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth. Cordoba Initiative aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago. (From the Cordoba Initiative website, and from Imam Rauf's 2004 book, What's Right With Islam)

    Newt Gingrich doesn't buy that for a second:

    Most of them (the mosque's supporters) don't understand that "Cordoba House" is a deliberately insulting term. It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world's third-largest mosque complex.

    In critiquing Gingrich's comments, the progressive Christian website Faith Forward sees it totally differently:

    Gingrich chooses to see Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest of Christians. He misses another opportunity for interpretation – of a time where a nation under Islamic rule emphasized interfaith collaboration and rights and freedoms for people of all faiths. In light of this we can see the reason the founders of Cordoba House/Park51 chose this name for a community center that will be for all – an Islamic institution with gifts and resources and inclusion for a wider community. By rejecting the possibility of a spirit of Cordoba in the heart of New York City –and blocks from Ground Zero – Gingrich rejects the possibility of interfaith engagement as a path forward. Despite what Mr. Ginrich feels, Cordoba is recognized as a symbol of a time when Islam and other faiths were able to flourish side by side, learn from each other and coexist.

    But don't tell that to The New Republic's Martin Peretz:

    Have you wondered, as I have, why this project is called the Cordoba Initiative? Well, the city was conquered in 1148 by a Muslim dynasty, the Almohades, who offered the Jews a rich choice: conversion to Islam, death or exile. The family of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides was born in Cordoba and Moses ben Maimon spent his childhood there. Until, that is, the Muslims arrived. When given their options, they left. Which is what most of the Jews did then. And there started the long journey of exile from Spain until 1492 when nobody was left.

    Whoops. Looks like Martin Peretz has no idea what he's talking about. If he would take the time to read any of the standard primers on Arab or Islamic history (e.g. The Arabs: A Short History by Philip K. Hitti) he would know (or maybe he does know, and is trying to pull a fast one) that the Muslims took Córdoba not in 1148 but 711! In the ensuing four centuries that the Caliphate of Córdoba ruled, there was far more tolerance for Jews than there had been under Spain's previous Christian kings, or than there was in the rest of Europe. There was a flourishing of intellectual and cultural freedom unsurpassed anywhere in the West in that age. It was only when the Caliphate was under siege by the reconquest campaign of the Catholic kings in the north (whose successors would unleash the Inquisition) that Córdoba's rulers sought aid from the Almoravids and Almohades, proto-fundamentalist military orders from North Africa. These shortly became the real power in Muslim Spain, and for the next three centuries Iberia was divided between intolerant Catholic kings in the north and intolerant Muslim zealots in the south. Córdoba had already been under Muslim rule for more than 400 years when Maimonides was forced to flee by the Almohades. The first four centuries of Muslim rule in Spain, which saw a flowering of tolerance and enlightenment, are neatly excised from history by Peretz! Alas, most of his readers are probably too ignorant to catch the sleight-of-hand.

    And Peretz conveniently fails to mention that when Maimonides was forced to flee Spain, he didn't go to Christian Europe—where Jews at that time faced expulsion and persecution—but to Muslim Egypt!

    Also, monstrously untrue that there was "nobody left" among the Jews in Spain in 1492, when the Catholics seized the entire peninsula. It was only subsequent to this that the Jews were expelled en masse (or forced to covert) by the Catholic Inquisition.

    Meanwhile, AP informs us that the supposedly extremist Imam Rauf is currently on a State Department-sponsored "goodwill tour" of the Middle East! And while nobody has yet demonstrated that he has any links to Islamic extremists, Bartholomew's Notes on Religion does inform us that he committed the faux pas of speaking at a "Global Peace Festival" in Malaysia in 2008 sponsored by right-wing Christian cult leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon!

    File under "life's little ironies."

  4. Domestic terrorists target mosques
    With all this hoopla about the supposed terrorist ties (for which there is zero evidence) of the “Ground Zero Mosque” (which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque), it has made terrifyingly little splash that there was actually a terrorist attack on a Jacksonville mosque, the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, back in May. The pipe-bomb went off as approximately 60 people were inside praying. Fortunately, nobody was injured. There have been no arrests. (AOL News, May 12)

    An isolated incident? That same month, unknown hoodlums twice vandalized a mosque in suburban Detroit, smashing windows and breaking a door. Two years ago during Ramadan, there was a chemical attack on a mosque in Dayton, Ohio. In 2006, a mosque in Melbourne, Fla., was shot up during Ramadan prayers, again with casualties narrowly averted. Weeks earlier, a mosque in Lewiston, Maine, was desecrated, with a pig’s head rolled down the aisle during a prayer service.

    Then of course there’s the recent imbroglio on New York’s Staten Island, where a Catholic parish has capitulated to a wave of xenophobic protests and canceled plans to sell an unused convent for a mosque. Ominously, the affair comes amid a wave of violent attacks on Mexican immigrants in Staten Island’s Port Richmond district—10 since April. (Daily News, Aug. 5) There have been similar attacks on Muslims in Staten Island in recent years…