A few weeks ago, Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch and one of the most outspoken critics of Islamic groups, said the debate among Muslim organizations, their allies and their opponents was to a large degree "a propaganda war in the information battle space."
He was referring to Rep. Peter King's hearings, but the propaganda war is being waged on the streets of American cities as well. Spencer's counterpart, anti-Park51 activist Pam Geller, recently won a legal victory when a court ruled in favor of her right to run controversial bus ads in Detroit, proclaiming, "Fatwa on your head? Leaving Islam? Refuge from Islam.com. Got questions? Get answers!" The ads ran in New York City last year.
However, Muslim New Yorkers and their allies have been mounting their own publicity blitz lately. A few days ago, they were on the steps of City Hall, speaking out against terrorism. Before that, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA conducted its "Muslims for Loyalty" campaign, handing out leaflets speaking to the patriotism of Muslim Americans. The group has also been running a "Muslims for Peace" ad in Times Square, underneath the CBS eye.
Now the ACLU is getting into the game, with its own pro-Muslim ad, which happens to be on the same digital billboard as the Ahmadiyya campaign. The silent ad, which you can watch below, opens with a stark image -- a burqa-clad Muslim woman encountering the words "Muslims Go Home" scrawled in red paint on the outside of a house. The next image suggests the need for co-existence: demonstrators (who appear to be in front of the Park 51 building) holding signs stating "Freedom of Religion" and "Love thy Neighbor."
"We wanted to respond to the recent wave of hostility against American Muslims with the message that religious bigotry and hatred are un-American," said Hina Shamsi, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "The best response to bigotry is to raise our collective voice even louder in support of religious freedom - and what better way to do so than on a 20-foot-tall video screen in Times Square?"
Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
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