'Anti-Islamic' bus ads appear in major cities
A group called 'Stop Islamization of America' is promoting ads on major city public transportation that urge people to leave the Muslim faith. The anti-Islamic campaign is sparking thought about the religion's place in American society.
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RefugeFromIslam.com, the website promoted on Geller's ads, contends that Muslim Americans who "long to be free" of their religion are in danger of being killed, and offers protection, including "safe houses," for those who want out. Muslim rights groups and religious leaders say there is no penalty for leaving Islam and that the Koran condemns killing as a sin.Skip to next paragraph
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The campaign has whipped up controversy in several cities. In Detroit, which has one of the highest Muslim populations in the country, Geller sued the SMART transit agency in federal district court after it rejected the ads.
In the Bay Area, more than 125 religious leaders of various faiths signed a statement in July denouncing the ads as "Islamophobic" and saying they "promote fear of Muslim Americans."
Geller says calling the ads anti-Islam is "a tactic to divert attention" away from the "plight" of ex-Muslims.
In Florida, the Miami-Dade Transit agency initially pulled the ads but then reinstated them days later after Geller and her group threatened to sue. Miami-Dade Transit spokeswoman Karla Damian says the county attorney had reviewed the ad campaign and determined that "although considered offensive by some, it did not constitute removal."
And in the Bay Area, where both tolerance and free speech are regarded as sacred, the 30 bus ads that recently began rolling through San Mateo County have been met with surprise and bewilderment.
Omar Ahmad, a Muslim city council member in San Mateo who also sits on the board of directors for SamTrans, the bus agency running the ads, says he found the campaign "bizarre" but didn't think it would have much effect. "I have a great deal of faith in folks in the Bay Area to take a critical eye to what they see and read," he says.
Geller and her supporters point out that transit agencies in Detroit and elsewhere had no problem with a controversial campaign sponsored by a group of atheists last year. Those ads, also on buses and billboards in many cities, read: "Don't believe in God? You're not alone." Although the ads offended some, they were deemed free speech.
The ads in New York City sponsored by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community recently began appearing on 100 New York City buses and promote the website MuslimsForPeace.org, which condemns terrorism and advocates for a separation of church and state.
Waseem Sayed, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community spokesperson, says the campaign is not a response to Geller's ads but an ongoing effort to reclaim the public image of Islam, which he says has been "hijacked by extremists."
"It's an effort to have the Muslims, the silent majority, snatch the flag of Islam away from these extremists and hoist it above ourselves," he says.
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