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