For the second time in recent months, billboards on side of San Francisco's fleet of buses have become the front lines in a fight over the place of Islam in American popular culture.
A new series of ads from the Council on American-Islamic Relations' spinoff group My Jihad promote an awareness campaign directed at redefining the widespread conception of the meaning of the controversial word. The advertisements are slated to run on 35 city buses throughout the month of January,
(SCROLL DOWN TO SEE SOME OF THE ADS)
"The intention of the campaign is to educate our fellow Americans on what the word 'jihad' means," Zhara Billoo, the executive director of CAIR's Bay Area chapter, told ABC 7 News. "A common misconception of the world 'jihad' is that it means armed struggle or holy war...The proper meaning of jihad, as many of us frequently describe it, is 'to struggle' and that's it...For many that means building relationships with their neighbors to making it to work on time or doing better on their diets."
Billoo explained to The Huffington Post that her organization has seen an rise in anti-Muslim attitudes across the country in the past few years and this campaign is an effort to counter that. "We're troubled by how the word 'jihad' has been hijacked by people who...have made careers out of pushing anti-Muslim sentiment," she said. "For too long people outside the Muslim community have been telling us what our religion really teaches."
KTVU looked at how the ads, which have also run on public transportation in Chicago, have been received:
Reaction by the public has been mixed. "At least it will get the conversation going," said Meryle Tank of El Sobrante. "And conversation is always good."
"I think anything that's going to help raise people’s awareness, and maybe help diminish some negative stereotypes people have is probably a good thing,” said Phil Dinuzzo of San Francisco.
In addition to depicting Muslims talking about their own personal goals, such as to "not judge people by their cover" and to "build friendships across the aisle," the ads encourage viewers to join in on the conversation themselves with the #MyJihad Twitter hashtag. Unsurprisingly, while some Twitter users have been supportive of the project, others have used #MyJihad to criticize both CAIR's effort and Islam as a whole.
These ads come in the wake of a series of controversial advertisements sponsored by conservative blogger Pamela Gellar's American Freedom Defense Initiative that ran on buses both in San Francisco and around the country last year. Those ads, which immediately sparked a firestorm and denouements from both local Jewish and Islamic groups, read, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man...Support Israel Defeat Jihad."
Citing the backlash, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which didn't want to remove the ads following a judge's ruling, donated the proceeds from the campaign to the city's Human Rights Commission and ran its own ads condemning the sentiment of Gellar's.
In a post on her website lambasting CAIR's campaign, Gellar pledged to submit a new set of ads satirizing "My Jihad." Geller's ads, which mimic the layout and font of "My Jihad" ones, feature quotations from Osama bin Laden and failed Times Square car bomber Faisal Shazad along with images of the September 11 attacks.
SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said that the agency has not yet received an official request from Geller's group to run the parody ads.
"As a public agency, we have to respect the First Amendment," explained Rose, who noted that all ads are approved by Titan Outdoor, a private firm contracted by SFMTA to run campaigns on its vehicles.
The agency is prohibited from running ads that are obscene or pornographic, advocate lawlessness or are "clearly defamatory."
"As with all ads posted on SFMTA vehicles, the views expressed in the ad do not necessarily reflect the views of the SFMTA," Rose added.
Check out some of the My Jihad ads:
Check out some of the #MyJihad tweets: