An anti-Islamic ad campaign that will begin appearing this week on public buses in the city of Philadelphia has raised concerns among Muslims about rising Islamophobic sentiments in the country.
The city's transportation authority announced last week that it would not appeal a federal judge's decision that to deny the ads’ publication would breach First Amendment rights of free speech.
The campaign, sponsored by the pro-Israeli group American Freedom Defense Initiative, features a number of ads that links Nazism with Islam. In one such ad, Palestinian Muslim leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini is depicted chatting with Adolf Hitler under the headline, “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s in the Quran."
Jacob Bender, who directs the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country's largest Muslim advocacy group, said the city's Muslim community was very distraught and disturbed by the upcoming practice.
"They feel it is an attack upon their identity, and that if these ads were against African Americans, or Nazi ads against Jews, they would certainly not be allowed on public buses," Bender told The Anadolu Agency.
The Southern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, or SEPTA, acknowledged that the ads may be "disparaging" to the city's large Muslim population, and said the company revised its policy last year to allow it to reject these type of ads without violating the First Amendment.
"However, this policy change was made after the American Freedom Defense Initiative's, or AFDI, initial request to purchase advertising space and is not applicable in the matter," the company said in a statement.
Jerri Williams, SEPTA's director of media relations, told The Anadolu Agency that the company chose not to appeal the court ruling because a number of other cities that had been sued by the same pro-Israeli group lost their lawsuits.
"We believe, if that group wishes to come to us again in order to run their ads in the future, we will have a stronger case to fight in court," she said, referring to SEPTA’s recent policy change to restrict the placement of controversial ads.
Similar ads have already run in the transit systems of other U.S. cities including New York and Washington.
"There are people with a lot of money who are engaged in the constant campaign against Muslims and trying to picture them as disloyal, prone to violence, anti-women and anti-Jewish," said Bender.
The ads will be seen on the sides of 84 public buses and will be displayed for a month, under terms of a $30,000 contract, according to local news website Philly.com said.
Bender is the first Jewish activist to lead a chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, also known as CAIR. He helped to initiate dialogue with the American Muslim community following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"I'm not a Muslim. I'm a Jew, and the Muslim community feels no contradiction about having me as somebody speaking out for them because the defeat of racism and anti-Muslim bigotry is not only the responsibility of Muslims, but a responsibility of all people in the U.S. to condemn prejudice, racism and sexism," he said.
"We need to find ways to reach out to our non-Muslim neighbors and citizens in the United States to tell them that these ads are lies and distortion of Islam."
He urged SEPTA to donate the money it had received from the ads to organizations serving the city’s homeless population, thus turning hate into an action of charity and love.
Beginning this week, members of CAIR will also distribute leaflets to commuters in an effort to counter the messages of hate on the buses with information about Islam and the Muslim community.
The Philadelphia Muslim community will organize “A Day of Service” on June 13, during which Muslims will volunteer to help their non-Muslim neighbors around the city.
"These ads are the worst example of what human beings are capable of," according to Bender. "They are meant to instill hate against fellow human beings and the content of them must be rejected," he added.
© Copyright Andolu Ajansi