Pamela Geller, most famous for fighting what she called the "ground zero mosque" in New York, bought ads on the sides of 10 San Francisco buses that feature hateful quotes from Osama bin Laden, accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad -- under the headline "My Jihad."
"Jihad, holy fighting in Allah's cause, with full force and weaponry is ... an obligation and duty in Islam to every Muslim," reads the Shahzad quote. And underneath: "That's my Jihad. What's yours?"
San Francisco City Hall responded in knee-jerk fashion -- holding a news conference drenched in sanctimony. "Hate has no place in our city," announced Mayor Ed Lee, flanked by fellow camera-happy officeholders. Because the First Amendment essentially prevents the city from censoring ads based on ideology, Muni, the local transportation agency, will run the posters -- but will give the $5,000 in revenue to the city's Human Rights Commission to study the ads' impact on the city's Arab and Islamic community.
Geller's campaign is a spoof on a campaign launched by a Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations staffer to promote a broader, kinder definition of jihad, an Islamic term for "struggle." In one "MyJihad" ad, a woman in a headscarf asserts, "My jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule." As Zahra Billoo of the local branch of the council explained, the campaign was designed "to reclaim the word jihad," which had been "narrowly defined by extremists on both sides."
Billoo has denounced the Geller ads as "Islamophobic and racist," as "they wrongly suggest that all Muslims are defined by extremism and violence."
I happen to agree with Billoo on the offensiveness of Geller's campaign. Though Geller has a point in challenging the notion that one can put a happy face on violent jihad, her American Freedom Defense Initiative feeds on hyperbole. As Billoo noted, Geller's billboards amplify the terrorist message in a way that "ignores the fact that every major American Muslim organization has condemned time and again the very acts of terror that she attempts to attribute to the Muslim community."
For me, that's like 2012, when Democrats seized on one deluded candidate's view on "legitimate rape" and accused the GOP of being like-minded even as Mitt Romney and every other major Republican denounced that view. Oh, wait. I forgot. It's OK to define the right by its extremists.
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