What Does Jihad Mean? Dueling Ad Campaigns Fight A Holy War Of Semantics

on December 14 2012 1:35 PM

The controversial pro-Israel group that caused a commuter ruckus earlier this year when it posted inflammatory ads in New York City subways is at it again, only this time it has competition.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative, the group led by the anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, said this week that it has purchased its largest block of advertising space yet. The New York Times reports that Geller and company have reserved space beside roughly 220 clocks in city subway stations, where the group will post ads featuring the burning twin towers next to a quote attributed to the Koran. “Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers,” the quote says.

In September, the MTA lost a battle to block the group’s previous ads, which featured Stars of David alongside the tagline, “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” The ads were posted just as tempers were flaring up throughout the Middle East over the Islamophobic YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims.” Asked at the time whether she was worried about the campaign exacerbating the situation, Geller told IBTimes, “I will never cower before violent intimidation, and stop telling the truth because doing so is dangerous. If someone commits violence, it is his responsibility and no one else’s.”

At the time they were posted, the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s “Defeat Jihad” ads were heavily vandalized by pro-Muslim activists. This time around, however, Geller tells the Times that the ads will hang high above subway platforms where would-be vandals would “need a ladder” to deface them.

Meanwhile, one Muslim civil-liberties group is fighting back with a commuter campaign of its own. In a press conference Friday morning, the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago) announced that it is launching “MyJihad,” which it calls an educational campaign to reclaim the word jihad “from Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.”

 

The campaign includes several bus ads featuring people of various races along with descriptions of the word jihad in different contexts. One ad features two twenty-somethings, one black and one white, with the quote, “My Jihad is to build friendships across the isle. What’s yours?” 

In Arabic, jihad literally translates to “struggle.” It is used in the Koran to refer to a religious duty of multiple definitions, including internal struggles, the struggle to build a good Muslim society and the struggle to defend Islam through military force if necessary. It’s that last meaning that has led to widespread association with jihad as meaning “holy war.”

“Jihad is a term that has unfortunately been widely misrepresented by the actions of Muslim extremists first and foremost, and by attempts at public indoctrination coming from Islamophobes who claim that the minority extremists are right and the majority of Muslims are wrong,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago, in a statement.

CAIR-Chicago’s “MyJihad” campaign will begin with advertisements on 25 buses throughout Chicago. The group hopes to follow up with similar campaigns in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Houston and Seattle. The effort was launched, in part, as a response to Geller’s “Defeat Jihad” campaign, which arrived on Chicago buses in November. In a press release, CAIR-Chicago dubbed Geller a “hate blogger.” Geller is known as an outspoken critic of Islam through her Atlas Shrugs blog.

CAIR has its share of critics as well. The group has long been accused of having ties to terrorist organizations, including Hamas. In a lengthy diatribe on American Thinker earlier this month, Geller suggested that CAIR “should always be called Hamas-CAIR.”

On thing is certain, as the war over jihad heats up, the messages will become more and more visible. And commuters, like it or not, will be caught in the middle.  

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