Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
An ad campaign targeting transit in San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington corrects a few misinterpretations of the word "Jihad."
First Amendment advocates have a blanket axiom for how to handle constitutionally protected but heinous hate speech: The best way to respond to it, the saying goes, is with more speech.
Someone intentionally mangles a core tenet of your religion and equates it with savagery on a New York City subway ad? Put up one of your own in reply. Maybe something like this:
That ad and others like it debuted on buses in San Francisco just before the New Year, then in Chicago earlier this month. This week, they’ve come to public transit in Washington, D.C., thanks to a campaign sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The ads look like a direct retort to the incendiary Pamela Geller-sponsored campaign that ignited free speech debates – and a series of court cases – last year involving the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA was ordered to carry the ads (“In any war between the civilized man and the savage," the ads said, "support the civilized man").
Legally unable to take them down, the best thing offended (and implicated) Muslims could do was try to correct the record. The purpose behind this new campaign, according to MyJihad, is to “share the proper meaning of Jihad as believed and practiced by the majority of Muslims”:
Jihad is a central tenet of the Islamic creed which means “struggling in the way of God“. The way of God, being goodness, justice, passion, compassion, etc (not forcible conversion as wrongly claimed by some).
The bold emphasis is theirs. We particularly like this feisty take-down on their website of some of the more common interpretations of the word (and the people pushing them):
For Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists (who ironically are on perfect agreement), Jihad is synonymous with terrorism, blowing up things, and spilling innocent blood. This campaign is about reclaiming our faith and its concepts from these extremists, both Muslims and anti-Muslim, as well as their cheerleaders and clap-trappers, all of whom have for too long now effectively hijacked and dumbed-down the conversation about Islam and Muslims.
Too bad all of that wouldn’t fit on a 400-point bus ad.
Here are a few other ads from the series, which pair the giant word “Jihad” with images of the least threatening-looking people we’ve ever seen: