Subway ads: A right to hate speech, a duty to condemn

The Muslim Time’s Chief Editor’s note: The goals of Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster seem to be similar to ours.  She wants to discourage discrimination against the Muslims.  She, however, wants to give free reign to hate speech and only as a response to provocation, condemn it.  She did not say whether she will be equally liberal and generous towards hate speech, if it is anti-Semitic.  Nevertheless, we applaud her for shared goals of multiculturalism.  The Muslim Times, however, believes that there should be limits against hate speech.  Like holocaust denial laws prevent antisemitism, laws against hate speech will prevent discrimination and violence not only against Muslims but other minorities as well:  The Muslim Times’ Response to an Anti-Islam Film.  Hate speech against Muslims is no different from antisemitism, the horror of which most of us can easily understand.  If hate speech is given free reign it will destroy the very fabric of our pluralistic society.

CNN Editor’s note: Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster is director of North American Programs for Rabbis for Human Rights — North America, where she directs campaigns against torture, religious discrimination, slavery and human trafficking.

(CNN) — My daily trek to work is the last place I would expect to encounter a hateful message. But anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller is determined to make that happen to me and my fellow commuters.

This week, at 10 subway stations around New York, commuters will encounter ads from the virulently anti-Islam group headed by Geller, the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Geller has been cited both by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center for her anti-Muslim activity.

The subway ads say, “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man.” Below that are the words: “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” with a Star of David on either side of the phrases. The coded message makes clear who the savages are: those who support jihad, which in Geller’s mind includes all Muslims. She has called Islam “an extreme ideology, the most radical and extreme ideology on the face of the Earth.”

As a rabbi, I find the ads deeply misguided and disturbing. The Jewish community is deep in the heart of our High Holidays, the Ten Days of Repentance that encompass the holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. One of the most powerful moments in the holy days is when the community rises for a recitation of public confession, beginning Tuesday night.

I have always been struck by how many of the foibles of daily life have to do with speech. The words from our mouths have power: Once released, whether intentionally or by accident, what we say shapes reality. It can bring about healing or atonement, or it can unleash violence and hatred. Geller’s ads, sharply dividing the world into civilized people and savages, are only intended to hurt and tear fragile relationships apart.

‘Defeat Jihad’ ad to appear in New York subway stations

At first, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rejected the ads, but a district judge ruled the ads were protected under the First Amendment. The ads follow similar ads in San Francisco as well as posters at New York’s Metro North train stations that made unsubstantiated claims about the number of people killed in terrorist attacks since 9/11. The Metro North ads denied their bigotry by stating, “It’s not Islamophobia. It’s Islamorealism,” claiming the actions of a few represented the “reality” of Islam. But when did it become acceptable to spread bigotry against any American religious, racial or ethnic group in the name of “realism”?

As an American, I believe in the right to free speech, even when I detest the message or disagree vehemently with the messenger. But I can still raise my voice against words of hatred.

I have only to look at the news of the past several months to see how unchecked messages of hatred manifest themselves into acts of violence. The growing number of attacks against mosques in places such as Joplin, Missouri, and the killings in August at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh temple are the extreme end of a growing domestic threat against religious minorities. Here in New York, hate crimes surrounding Muslim religious services and at a Holocaust memorial site have been committed. These acts of hatred are not individual tragedies but for all of us as Americans.  Read further.

2 replies

  1. I received this email from the founder of the Dialogue Project and it is important to note the Jihad (strugge) is also for Jews.

    On Yom Kippur, I am fasting and reflecting. I am a Jewish Jihadi.

    Jihad is an Islamic process of reflection and struggle to bring thoughts, words and actions in alignment with prayer and best ethical practices. So too as Jews we practice sleichot (asking for forgiveness), and teshuva (return to good), offering compensation, asking for forgiveness from the humans whom we have offended.

    Indeed this Jewish Month, Elul, comes from a Semitic language of ancient times called Akkadian – and it is also the month of Eylul in Arabic. Our roots are interwoven as is our spirituality. I ask my Muslim brothers and sisters to forgive those Jews whose fear and ignorance only points outward, rather than inward as this day of Yom Kippur asks us to do. To my fellow Jews – G’mar Hatima Tova.

    Marcia Kannry
    Founder – The Dialogue Project

  2. Yes, I agree and support freedom of speech. I am grateful to have been born and raised in this great country. But what people fail to realize is when freedom of speech creates disorder and prejudice towards a group of people to the extent of the unfortunate events that have unveiled in this great nation and around the world, it crosses over from freedom of speech to hate speech.

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