During my junior year of high school, I remember seeing a cartoon of a map that was comfortably politically incorrect. It showed Canada as the land of “[expletive] music and bears” and South America as the place for “drugs and supermodels.” I knew that this map was a joke, ignoring the brilliance of every country or region simply for humorous effect. I am capable of understanding when stereotypes are funny and acceptable, and that also makes me capable of understanding when they are not. The new anti-Muslim advertisements that the American Freedom Defense Initiative — an anti-Muslim hate group — has been allowed to display on New York subways and buses are not acceptable.
These advertisements display a man with a keffiyeh wrapped around his face, followed by a quote from a music video by Palestinian militant group Hamas that says, “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.” The ad then states, “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”
One of the things that irritates me the most in this ad is the use of the word “Jihad.” What’s my Jihad? None! Jihad is an Islamic term that refers to the religious duties a Muslim has, and hence it is not appropriate to ask a global audience what our Jihad is. We are not supposed to have one. I understand that in this day and age, the usage of that word has been assimilated to meaning “objective to fight,” but that is cultural appropriation. We have duties toward our countries, and some have duties toward their own individual faith. If people are Muslim, they have a Jihad.
The next obvious disturbance is the aforementioned stereotype. It sickens me that we claim to be a globalized world, a world where we understand the value and importance of every country and culture and where we encourage diversity, yet this ad clings onto a stereotype. To imply that every Muslim is a symbol of terror is not only racist and ignorant, but it is dangerous. It is dangerous for the Muslim population that lives a life just as everyone else, except that this life is scrutinized, feared and even sometimes ridiculed. In other words, these stereotypes prevent people from living their harmless and normal lives.
The advertisement has been approved under the First Amendment, where U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled that New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority could not prevent the ad from running because everyone is entitled to freedom of speech and because the judge believes that the message in this ad is not enough to trigger a violent response. Violence is the one thing the MTA can restrict from being shown. I am a big advocate for freedom of speech — I write my opinions every week on this blog, do I not? — but with the advocacy of freedom of speech, there is an awareness one should have: words are as dangerous as they are powerful.
I will say whatever I want to say whenever I want to say it because I can, but will I ever purposefully publish something racist or offensive in the media? No, I will not. Because I am aware that words have repercussions. Technically, this advertisement is only an exertion of free speech, like it has been in Chicago and Washington D.C., but a public platform is so much more than that. A public platform ignites responses and can influence others. Engaging in freedom of speech is essential, but freedom of speech should be directly connected to the speaker and the speaker’s opinions. When freedom of speech becomes a means to convince someone of something, as this advertisement tries to do, it is brainwash.
It saddens me that this advertisement is going to go up. It makes me nervous for all of the people this advertisement is going to personally affect. I cannot help but be reminded of World War I and II propaganda, and it scares me that the shameless bashing of another religion and culture is still considered a legitimate method of convincing. I thought we had moved past that. What’s my Jihad? None. What’s my wish? That hateful stereotyping does not become a public engagement.