CTA hate ads must be countered with tolerance

By Editorial Board

A startling new ad campaign appeared on CTA buses Nov. 14. The “Defeat Jihad” ads display a black background with large bold text that reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” and urges viewers to support Coptic Christians in Egypt. The advertisements are sponsored by Pamela Geller, a conservative blogger and co-founder of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization that opposes Islam’s presence in America.

The ad’s message is a paraphrase of a 1979 comment by the late Ayn Rand, an author who is popular with some conservatives and libertarians for her strong support of limited government. She  also believed that Arabs had a “primitive culture” and “don’t want to use their minds.” Rand was addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with broad statements about Arabs and Muslims as a whole, just as this ad does.

The argument the ad makes is based on ignorance. Geller is using foreign religious conflict to create controversy about Islam. It also perpetuates the sensationalism surrounding the word “jihad,” an Arabic word that means “struggle,” which traditionally refers to the inner spiritual struggle Muslims face, and only recently has been exclusively linked to extremism and “holy war.” With her use of the word, Geller seeks to libel an entire religion for the actions of a few.

Unfortunately, the CTA cannot stop the ad from appearing because a U.S. District Dourt judge ruled Aug. 29 that ads are a protected form of speech.

The First Amendment protects even the most vicious hate speech, and censoring speech on the basis that it could incite violence only applies if it results in “imminent lawless action,” as stated in the 1969 Supreme Court case of Brandenburg v. Ohio.

With the law on Geller’s side, commuters, many of whom have no choice but to ride the CTA, are being put in the crossfire of very hateful advertising. They will have to see this ad on their way to and from work. It is most insulting to Muslim commuters, who will have to face hate on the very transit system they rely on.

The only rational response to the courts’ rulings may be to counter them with tolerance. The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Chicago chapter is doing just that with an ad campaign called #MyJihad. The ads feature people from all walks of life sharing their definitions of “jihad” and asks viewers, “What’s yours?” CAIR-Chicago is taking donations at MyJihad.org to pay for advertisements that will appear on billboards in 15 cities around the world.

The CTA is being paid $4,500 to display Geller’s ads, according to a Nov. 15 Chicago Sun-Times article. That is how much it costs to publicly attack the character of Muslims in Chicago. Hopefully, #MyJihad will be able to raise even more money to drown out the hateful speech the CTA has been forced to display.