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The ad from the American Freedom Defense Initiative declares: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Its organizer, Pamela Geller, insists the ad targets violent extreme Islamists, not Muslims. The critics insist it’s an attack on Islam.
Among those critics is the New York-based United Methodist Women, whose counter ad responds: “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.” The head of the church women’s group joined a press conference on the New York City Hall steps on September 24 to denounce the anti-jihad ads.
“We needed to be present with a counter voice, we need to stand for the work of peace, and to say that free speech should not be used recklessly or in an inflammatory or divisive way,” declared Harriett Olson, president of the once formidable United Methodist Women. Once the largest women’s group in America, with well over 1 million members, the UMW is now closer to half a million and falling. Long sustained by the bake sales and holiday bazaars of local church women who were unaware of the New York staff’s radical politics, the mostly grey haired group has minimal appeal to younger women and is imploding much faster than the U.S. membership of its denomination. Like other declining liberal church groups, the UMW increasingly depends on the bequests of deceased supporters as its living members dwindle.
It’s unclear from the United Methodist Women whether any criticism of jihad, or holy war, is acceptable. UMW officials over the decades have loudly denounced U.S. wars. Almost immediately after 9-11, its officials denounced U.S. military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Does it oppose jihad by radical Islamists? If so, it never says. Instead, it seemingly accepts the premise that all critique of jihad and violent Islamists defames all Muslims, which seems unfair to non-jihadist Muslims.
The anti-anti-jihad ad press conference was convened by the New York Interfaith Center to denounce the “anti-Muslim hate advertisements” as “harmfully provocative and inherently divisive.” The Interfaith Center’s chief, the Rev. Chloe Breyer, explained: “While legal, the ignorance, prejudice, and disrespect the ads display betray the American ideal of E Pluribus Unum ‘Out of Many, One’ and dishonor the efforts of New Yorkers who, after 9/11, overcame their religious differences and worked together to rebuild our great city.” A religious activist from Auburn Seminary involved with the press conference concurred: “These ads fuel anti-Muslim sentiment that aims to divide us, but we will always come together, louder and stronger, for respect and dignity.” A “progressive traditionalist” Muslim activist at the press conference complained: “When I ride the subway and see messages smeared that demean me, I am scared.”
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