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."
It seems odd that liberal Christians and Muslims would accept the premise that anti-jihad ads “demean” all Muslims. Instead of playing the game of proclaiming personal offense, the United Methodist Women and their interfaith belligerents could have modeled a non-“hateful” way to denounce violent Islamists and jihad. Surely they oppose Islamist war and terror. But in response to the ads, and historically in recent decades, the Religious Left typically will not specifically critique radical Islam or its carnage. Instead, religious leftists speak euphemistically of “religious extremism” and strain to draw parallels between mass terror or genocide by Islamist radicals and regimes with occasional American or Western killers whose motivations are almost always non-religious and who do not represent mass movements.
Particularly significant is that the Religious Left relishes denunciations of Christian jihad in the form of the Crusades of nearly 1000 years ago. Ostensibly millions of Muslims are still offended by the military exploits of European knights from the early Middle Ages and can only be mollified if 21st century church elites repeatedly apologizing. Presumably the Religious Left would have no objection to New York subway ads that urged: “Renounce Crusade.” A widely publicized and endorsed Christian statement that emerged out of Yale Divinity School in 2007 called “Loving God and Neighbor Together” apologized for both the Crusades and War on Terror, combining the two across a millennium, and imploring: “We ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.”
So Crusade is bad but evidently jihad is not so bad, or at least not suitable for public concern. Meanwhile, a religion columnist for The Huffington Post objected to the subway ad’s citation of “savages” as also a defamation of all Muslims. “Viewing all Palestinians as Muslim savages plays into the worst temptation of settlers to regard a Palestinian life as less valuable than an Israeli,” he warned. “The use of savage to talk about ‘the other’ is, of course, an old trick -- just talk to the Native Americans, who were the original ‘savages’ in our country; or the people of Africa for Europeans.” The ad implicitly targets terrorists, especially anti-Israel terrorists. Can the murderers of innocents be justly called “savage”? Christianity and Judaism teach that humans have free will and are quite willing and able to commit savagery. Yet to say so is increasingly politically incorrect.
“We all need to leave off the ‘savage’ language and the mindset that is behind it,” according to the HuffPo columnist. “Instead Americans need to double down on the strength of our country which is our commitment to pluralism and respect of the other.” But how then to describe and react to terrorists and jihadists who reject pluralism and murderously disrespect “the other”? The Religious Left critics of the New York subway ads offer no answer. Instead, like United Methodist Women, they only denounce those who try for their supposed “hate speech.”
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