Is the #MyJihad Campaign a “CAIR project”?
by Sheila Musaji
When American Muslims attempted to take back the narrative (and define ourselves and our beliefs) from both the Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists, starting with the word “jihad”, they were met with a vicious response from the Islamophobia network. Both the “My Jihad” bus ad campaign, and the #MyJihad twitter campaign were attacked.
Interestingly, the two groups who share extremists views about Islam - the Muslim extremists and the Islamophobes - both attacked the campaign. Geller & Spencer accused the #MyJihad campaign of inspiring a Chicago bus threat. They also began churning out articles with the hashtag #MyJihad in their titles, and then tweeting the titles of those articles and encouraging others to re-tweet, in an attempt to take over the #MyJihad hashtag by overwhelming it with hateful messages. Many of the articles they have come up with have been, even by their standards, disgraceful. TAM has now set up an article collection called Anti-Muslim Propaganda Against #MyJIhad Campaign which we will continue to update. It lists these hateful claims, and clicking on any of them will take you to a response to that claim.
THE PURPOSE OF THE #MyJIhad CAMPAIGN
Ahmed Rehab, the Executive Director of the Chicago chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations, conceived of the idea last fall after hearing that controversial advertisements using the term “jihad” were slated for New York and Washington, D.C. subways, and Chicago city buses and transit stations.
There are two components of the #MyJihad education campaign in response to the AFDI “savage/civilized/jihad/Islamorealism” ads. The My Jihad ad campaign was spearheaded by Ahmed Rehab, and CAIR-Chicago agreed to sponsor the initial ads on buses. The #MyJihad twitter campaign grew out of this campaign. The motto of the campaign is “Taking back Jihad one hashtag at a time from anti-Muslim and Muslim extremists. Taking back Islam.” The spirit behind the campaign is that: “Neither extremists/terrorists or Islamophobes have the right to co-opt or hijack or defame Islam or the term jihad by their criminal interpretations. We reject the extremist/terrorist definition and we reject the Islamophobes definition of Jihad in favor of the traditional, legitimate, respectable, spiritual concept. JIHAD is not a dirty word.”
In November Ahmed Rehab explained his concept and its’ relation to the AFDI anti-Muslim ads to WBEZ News “Rehab said he appreciates the CTA’s position, and the agency’s public statements that disavow the message of the ads. Still, he said if a similar campaign targeted other minority races, religions, or orientations, he would expect to see a wider mainstream backlash against it. He said his organization will attempt to counter the ads with its own, drawing from a growing social network campaign called “My Jihad” that it launched on Twitter and Facebook just months ago.”
In December the HuffingtonPost reported that “Founded by Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago executive director, the campaign was conceived as a response to the anti-Islam ad campaign created by conservative blogger Pamela Geller, who ran a series of controversial “Defeat Jihad” ads on city buses last month. ... In addition to the public ads, the campaign urges supporters to use the #MyJihad hash tag to share insight into their own personal struggles or efforts. Muslims and non-Muslims alike have already contributed to the campaign.”
In January, Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon reported that ” In fact, the ads were directly inspired by Geller, the anti-Muslim blogger and activist, who has plastered her own billboards on subways and buses in New York. They label Muslims as “savages” and incite viewers to “defeat Jihad.” “Everybody was talking about the ‘savage’ part, but to me, that’s just sort of an insult — she thinks I’m a savage, I think she’s an idiot, we’re even,” he said. “But the problem for me was the use of the word ‘jihad.’ When no one seemed to care about that, I realized that we have a problem.””
About the claim that this is a CAIR project
Ahmed Rehab explained his idea for this campaign, and ordinary Muslims thought it was a good idea and joined him in the effort. Most of them have no connection with CAIR-National or local.
The fact that Ahmed Rehab is director of CAIR-Chicago caused some to conclude that this is a CAIR project, and gave the Islamophobes an opportunity to raise the usual alarmist claims about CAIR. From the beginning, Ahmed Rehab made it clear that this was an independent project that he was undertaking with others, and not a CAIR project. The http://myjihad.org/ site clearly states:
The MyJihad educational campaign was founded by Chicago activist Ahmed Rehab as an independent initiative which, in its founding stage, is currently sponsored by CAIR-Chicago (of whom Ahmed is Executive Director) with the vision for sponsorship by other local and national groups at later stages. The project is expected to take on a life of its own. The crux of the MyJihad team are students, as well as working moms (led by Naperville mom Angie Emara) who are disturbed by the prospects of their children growing up in an environment of gross misinformation about Islam that sometimes spills into outright hatred such as with the Geller ad campaigns. The campaign photographer is award-winning photojournalist, Sadaf Syed (http://www.sadafsyed.com). Over two thousand other participants have already contributed to the MyJihad campaign.
The website also states that the core group working on the project is asking anyone who agrees with what they are trying to do to donate to “Sponsor an Ad For only $500, you can sponsor your own bus ad. You could do so alone or with friends. Every penny helps us get the ads to more cities and suburbs in the US.” I have communicated with Ahmed Rehab and Angie Emara, and know that they are hoping that other individuals and organizations will participate and sponsor ads, and also work on the campaign in any way they can. They are grateful that CAIR-Chicago agreed to sponsor the first ads. Hopefully, we will be seeing bus ads in other cities sponsored by other groups.
As Yasmina Blackburn (one of the moms working on the twitter campaign) notes:
“The #MyJihad Public Education Campaign is not a CAIR project, rather- it is an independent project run by concerned citizens, activists, students and moms. CAIR-Chicago (not to be mistaken with CAIR National or any other CAIR affiliate) did sponsor the Chicago-based bus ads along with other sponsors.”
A few months ago, Rabia Chaudry did a two part article on CAIR and its supporters and detractors, and she discussed criticisms and concerns from the Muslim community about the national organization and some of its’ leaders in depth. In that article she noted that:
“A number of CAIR chapter folks made it clear that there is a difference between CAIR National and the chapters, to presumably distance themselves from the shortcomings of National. CAIR chapters operate much like franchises of CAIR National, legally independent, but bound by the principle entity’s philosophy, mission, and certain rules.”
In that article Rabia Chaudry also discussed the important question of why CAIR continues to be supported by the American Muslim community. She said:
“So how is it that, in the middle of controversy and negative attention, major CAIR chapters keep managing to grow their supporter base? ... coupled with rising anti-Muslim sentiment, American Muslims are finding CAIR to be the best-equipped organization to defend the community. ... Despite faults, CAIR remains our strongest and largest Muslim organization, with the greatest reach, and appeal, to American Muslims. ... And we need CAIR — there is no doubt about that. No group can replace the valuable work they do on a local level. Sure, like other groups, it may be a bit broken, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed.”
So, overall, the community realizes that almost two decades of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into building what is the only anti-defamation organization the community has. The organization has both positive and negative points. They have done a lot of good as well as making some errors. There are issues that need to be addressed, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater would be foolish.
As an example, of just how varied the local CAIR groups are, and how varied the Muslim communities responses are to this organization, Zuhdi Jasser the Islamophobes favorite Muslim despises CAIR, but his father in law, Ahmed Banna, is a CAIR chapter president in Cleveland.
Why the focus on CAIR since organizers say that this is not a CAIR project?
Predictably, the focus of Geller and Spencer’s wrath is aimed at CAIR, as if CAIR members were the only people who found their ads offensive. Every Muslim organization is attacked regularly by Islamophobes, but CAIR particularly is connected by them to the infamous Muslim Brotherhood document, the unindicted co-conspirator label, and accusations of not condemning Hamas, or of being “Hamas-linked”, or of telling American Muslims not to talk to the FBI, etc. Click on the links for any of the keywords in this passage and it will take you to an article responding to the particular claim.
In a sense, CAIR is an easy target, but focusing on them is simply a diversion.
Why is the #MyJihad campaign really being vilified?
Both Muslim extremists and Islamophobes are so angry about these ads because they both see the handwriting on the wall, that they are becoming irrelevant. American Muslims are defining themselves, and not allowing the Muslim extremists or the Islamophobes to define us. This is what freedom of religion looks like.
The Muslim extremists and the Islamophobes are angry because their message is being rejected by the majority of American Muslims. Muslims have been speaking out for a long time against our own extremists. (See Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism for fatwas, articles, and statements, by scholars, organizations, community leaders, and activists.) Too often those statements did not get media attention. Perhaps efforts such as the #MyJihad twitter campaigns and the My Jihad ads on buses in Chicago, being carried out by ordinary everyday American Muslims will be heard. That is the message that Muslim extremists like Hizb-ut Tahrir received, and, they don’t like it one little bit. That is also the message that the Islamophobes received, and they also don’t like it one little bit. As Ahmed Rehab said “The MyJihad campaign is about reclaiming jihad from the Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists who ironically, but not surprisingly, see eye to eye on jihad.”
The “civilized” Pamela Geller says: “You cannot ask me to sacrifice my freedom so as not to offend savages”. We are responding: “You cannot ask Muslims to sacrifice their freedom so as not to offend hateful Islamophobic bigots.” We are using our freedom of speech to counter their hate speech. This is what freedom of speech looks like.
Like David Duke’s failed attempt to re-image the KKK as a “moderate” group who are simply proud of their race, AFDI/SION/SIOA are attempting to present themselves as “freedom fighters”, “truth tellers”, and “patriots” to cover their extremism and hatred.
The good news is that most decent people are able to see through this deception, and to reject that re-branding of hate. The bad news is that they still have an appeal to a segment of the population that is looking for someone to look down on. The concern is that some among this group who might be unstable could be incited to engage in violence.
The least that we can do is to continue to speak out against their hateful message, and to magnify the message of the bridge-builders.
Here are the latest ads that the AFDI hate group leaders Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer plan to run to counter the ads being run by the My Jihad campaign. Geller posted pictures of these planned ads on her site January 4, 2013
Since this article was posted, CAIR-Chicago issued a press release stating “Ads for the #MyJihad Public Educational Campaign, sponsored by the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago), launched today in Washington D.C. and are currently appearing at the Shaw, Waterfront, Rockville, and Dunn Loring train stations. In the past month, the #MyJihad campaign launched in two other major U.S. cities, Chicago and San Francisco. The campaign has also made its way to Cairo, Egypt, where it displayed messages of Muslim and Christian unity during the Christmas season.”
Also, at this point in time, all of the articles in mainstream media referring to this campaign have only included quotes from CAIR representatives in the various cities.
I am becoming concerned that the strong statements that this is “not a CAIR project” may not be accurate. These new ads no longer have CAIR printed on them, but the new “My Jihad logo. But just how separate these two entities are is becoming more unclear by the day.
AFDI hate ads: On TAM, we have published a number of articles on the current controversy over this series of AFDI hate ads. These articles include many sources and references regarding discussion of different aspects of this controversy. They are listed in the order published to make it easier to follow the chronology.
- Pamela Geller: A Tale of Two Bus Ads
- A Tale of Three Bigoted Ads
- AFDI/SIOA Bus Ads Inspired by Ayn Rand’s Racist Views of Arabs and Muslims?
- Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer announce new “Islamorealism” anti-Islam ad
- 17,000+ “Islamic terrorist” attacks exist only in fevered Islamophobic brains
- The origins of the term “Islamophobia”
- Bus Ads: Of Savages and Idiots
- 17,000+ “Islamic terrorist” attacks exist only in fevered Islamophobic brains
- Freedom of speech does not include freedom from condemnation of that speech
- Pamela Geller Does Not Understand Freedom of Speech
- American Muslims and Arabs respond to the ads.
- All extremists are “savages” and “civilized men” need to counter the hate
- How Muslims understand the term “jihad”
- Is vandalism an appropriate free speech response to hate speech? .
- The legal battle over AFDI/SIOA Anti-Muslim Ads
- American Jews Are Speaking Out Against Anti-Muslim Ads
- AFDI/SIOA Roll Out 9 More Anti-Muslim Ads
- Americans support tolerance and reject hate about the ads being placed by Rabbis for Human Rights, Sojourners, and United Methodist Women.
- Could a boycott of public transport carrying AFDI/SIOA ads be effective?
- Rep. Mike Honda Has Been There for American Muslims, We Need to Stand With Him
- 127-Member Coalition Asks DC Transit to Support Anti-Hate Efforts in Wake of ‘Savage’ Ad
- Interfaith Alliance and the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center Issue What is the truth about American Muslims?: Questions and Answers
- Public transportation ads: to hate or not to hate? about yet another series of planned ads.
- MPAC to Launch NYC & DC Metro Ads Opposing Racism & Bigotry
- Christian Religious leaders ask Congress to condition Israel military aid on human rights compliance
AFDI hate group leaders Robert Spencer & Pamela Geller can’t take a hint, (pointing out the overwhelming negative response from the American public to the AFDI hate ads, and the fact that these folks are becoming irrelevant.)
Glenn Beck’s ‘The Blaze’ gets it wrong on the #MyJihad campaign, Yasmina Blackburn (responding to the “trying to ‘rebrand’ jihad claim” http://chicagomonitor.com/2013/01/the-blaze-gets-it-wrong-on-the-myjihad-campaign/
Can “jihad” survive Pam Geller? (It’s an uphill fight, but Muslim activists are trying to reclaim a holy word that’s become synonymous with terror), Alex Seitz-Wald http://www.salon.com/2013/01/09/can_jihad_be_rebranded/
Did AFDI’s “Savage/Jihad” hate ads inspire bus threats? (responding to claim that #MyJihad ads inspired a man to threaten “jihad” in Chicago), Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/geller-and
Pamela Geller’s obsession: Countering tolerance, Matthew Barry http://chicagomonitor.com/2012/12/pamela-gellers-obsession-countering-tolerance/
Pamela Geller’s self-defeating quest to “defeat” jihad, Matthew Barry (response to Geller’s attack on his article http://chicagomonitor.com/2013/01/pamela-gellers-self-defeating-quest-to-defeat-jihad/
How Muslims understand the term “jihad”, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the-real-meaning-of-jihad/0019390
Love thy neighbor, unless that neighbor is a Muslim (response to attacks on ‘Love thy neighbor’ ads), Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/it-takes-courage-for-non-muslims-to-speak-out-against-islamophobia/0019607
“My Jihad” Campaign Angers Hizb-ut Tahrir and AFDI Extremists, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/my-jihad-campaign/0019568
http://myjihad.org/ official site of the campaign.
#MyJIhad hashtag on twitter
#MyJIhad Facebook page for the campaign https://www.facebook.com/myjihad.org
My Jihad: Dealing with the Pain of Loss and Heartbreak, Hesham Hassaballa http://www.chicagonow.com/midwestern-muslim/2012/12/my-jihad-loss-and-heartbreak/
My Jihad: Dealing with Autism, Faith and Everything In Between. What’s Yours?, Dilshad Ali http://www.patheos.com/blogs/muslimahnextdoor/2012/12/my-jihad-is-autism-faith-and-everything-in-between-whats-yours/
#MyJihad: Campaign to amplify the voice of mainstream Muslims, Qasim Rashid http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/myjihad-campaign-to-amplify-the-voice-of-mainstream-muslims/2012/12/26/3bc3c318-4f88-11e2-950a-7863a013264b_blog.html
The Vilification of CAIR, Rabia Chaudry http://www.patheos.com/blogs/altmuslim/2012/05/the-vilification-of-cair/
Who are you calling a jihadist?, Sumbul Ali-Karamali http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sumbul-alikaramali/who-are-you-calling-a-jihadist-_b_2303361.html
Why are American Muslims Critical of CAIR?, Rabia Chaudry http://www.patheos.com/blogs/altmuslim/2012/06/4818/
RESOURCES FOR RESPONDING TO ISLAMOPHOBIA SUMMARY
The Islamophobia Industry exists and is engaged in an anti-Muslim Crusade. They have a manifesto for spreading their propaganda, and which states their goal of “destroying Islam — as a culture, a political ideology, and a religion.” They produce anti-Muslim films. They are forming new organizations and coalitions of organizations at a dizzying speed, not only nationally, but also internationally. They have formed an International Leadership Team “which will function as a mobile, proactive, reactive on-the-ground team developing and executing confidential action plans that strike at the heart of the global anti-freedom agenda.”
Currently, the Islamophobia Industry is engaged in a full-scale, coordinated, demonization campaign against American Muslims and Arabs. In just the past few months we have seen a series of inflammatory provocations: There was the Innocence of Muslims film Titanic, a German satire magazine plans an “Islam” cover article to be published later this month. Charlie Hebdo, a French satire magazine published an issue with inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Newsweek published their ‘Muslim Rage’ cover. Terry Jones held a “trial of Prophet Muhammad”. SION held a “global” gathering in NYC to plan propaganda strategy. A group in Toronto publicized a “walk your dog at the mosque” day. AFDI/SIOA has run a series of anti-Muslim ads on public transportation across the country. AFDI/SIOA are planning to run 8 more anti-Muslim ads. There are three more films on Prophet Muhammad in the works by Ali Sina, Mosab Hassan Yousef and Imran Farasat. They are even bringing their hate messages into public schools.
Daniel Pipes is encouraging publication of “A Muhammad cartoon a day”, and says “So, this is my plea to all Western editors and producers: Display the Muhammad cartoon daily, until the Islamists become accustomed to the fact that we turn sacred cows into hamburger.”. Pipes joins Daniel Greenfield (aka Sultan Knish) who published an appeal on David Horowitz’ Front Page Magazine Is It Time for ‘Make Your Own Mohammed Movie Month’?. And, both are following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Pamela Geller, who promoted just such a plan back in 2010 with her promotion of Draw Muhammad Day, even after the cartoonist who drew the first cartoon and suggested the idea, Molly Norris apologized to Muslims and asked for the day to be called off, and American Muslims had issued a defense of free speech. None of this is surprising as one of the Islamophobes laid out their strategy as “The Muslims themselves have shown us their most vulnerable spot, which is the questionable (though unquestioned) character of the ‘Prophet’ himself. We need to satirise and ridicule baby-bonking Mo until the Muslims fly into uncontrollable tantrums, then ridicule them even more for their tantrums, and repeat the process until they froth at the mouth and steam comes out of their ears.”
The Islamophobia of these folks is very real, it is also strikingly similar to a previous generations’ anti-Semitism, and it has predictable consequences. The reason that this is so obvious to so many is that rational people can tell the difference between legitimate concerns and bigoted stereotypes.
The claim that the Islamophobes are “truth-tellers” and “defenders of freedom” who actually “love Muslims” and have never engaged in “broadbrush demonization” or “advocated violence”, or that nothing that they say could have had anything to do with any act of violence, are nonsense. The claim that they are falsely being accused of Islamophobia for no reason other than their legitimate concerns about real issues and that in fact there is not even such a thing as Islamophobia, or their claim that the fact that there are fewer hate crimes against Muslims than against Jews or that some Muslims have fabricated such crimes “proves” that Islamophobia doesn’t exist, or that the term Islamophobia was made up by Muslims in order to stifle their freedom of speech, or that anti-Muslim bigotry is “not Islamophobia but Islamorealism” are all nonsense.
These individuals and organizations consistently promote the false what everyone “knows” lies about Islam and Muslims (including distorting the meaning of Qur’anic verses, and distorting the meaning of Islamic terms such as taqiyya, jihad, sharia, etc.). Islamophobes falsely claim to see “JIHAD” PLOTS everywhere, particularly where they don’t exist. They, like Muslim extremists, don’t understand the true meaning of the term jihad. The Islamophobes have uncovered countless examples of “shocking”, non-existent Muslim jihad plots.
Islamophobes generalize specific incidents to reflect on all Muslims or all of Islam. Islamophobes consistently push demonstrably false memes such as: - we are in danger from creeping Sharia, - the Muslim population is increasing at an alarming rate, - 80% of American Mosques are radicalized, - There have been 270 million victims of “jihad” - There have been 17,000+ “Islamic terrorist” attacks since 9/11 - Muslims in government are accused of being Muslim Brotherhood plants, stealth jihadists, and creeping Sharia proponents and should be MARGINALIZED or excluded. Muslim and Arab organizations and individuals are connected to the infamous Muslim Brotherhood document or the unindicted co-conspirator label, or accused of not condemning Hamas, telling American Muslims not to talk to the FBI, of being “Jew haters”, etc.
There is a reason that many, even outside of the Muslim community see such demonization of Muslims as Islamophobic. There is a reason that the ADL has stated that Brigitte Gabriel’s Act for America, Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer’s Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE) are “groups that promote an extreme anti-Muslim agenda”. There is a reason that The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated SIOA as a hate group, and that these individuals are featured in the SPLC reports Jihad Against Islam and The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle. There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured prominently in: — the Center for American Progress reports “Fear Inc.” on the Islamophobia network in America and Understanding Sharia Law: Conservatives skewed interpretation needs debunking. — the People for the American Way Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism. — the NYCLU report Religious Freedom Under Attack: The Rise of Anti-Mosque Activities in New York State. — the Political Research Associates report Manufacturing the Muslim menace: Private firms, public servants, and the threat to rights and security. — The ACLU report Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System — in The American Muslim TAM Who’s Who of the Anti-Muslim/Anti-Arab/Islamophobia Industry. There is a reason that the SIOA’s trademark patent was denied by the U.S. government due to its anti-Muslim nature. There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured in just about every legitimate report on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.
See Resources for dealing with Islamophobes for many more reasons that these people cannot be trusted.
Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim (TAM). Sheila received the Council on American-Islamic Relations 2007 Islamic Community Service Award for Journalism, and the Loonwatch Anti-Loons of 2011: Profiles in Courage Award for her work in fighting Islamophobia. Sheila was selected for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan. Biography You can follow her on twitter @sheilamusaji ( https://twitter.com/SheilaMusaji )