Group Sues Detroit for Saying No to 'Leaving Islam' Ads
Provocative campaign deemed unfit for Detroit by city transit.
An American group calling itself Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) is generating attention for its campaign of provocative ads so far seen on buses in Miami and New York. The ads, entitled “Fatwa on your head?” ask “Is your community or family threatening you? Leaving Islam?” They feature a link to a website “for people who are thinking of leaving Islam or are leaving Islam and need resources” to protect themselves.
The controversy seems to be further heating up with SIOA’s attempt to get their ads displayed on buses in Detroit, whose metropolitan area numbers the highest concentration of people with Middle Eastern backgrounds in the US. A quarter of a million Muslims live in nearby Dearborn and Detroit’s northern suburbs are home to a large Arab Christian population.
The bus authority in Detroit has told SIOA, run by Manhattan-based conservative blogger Pamela Geller and funded by online readership, that it has made the decision not to run their ads, prompting Geller’s organization to file a federal lawsuit this week in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Geller is alleging that the bus authority’s unwillingness to accept her ads is a violation of her free speech under the First Amendment. She has stated that she will take the cast all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
“It is against the law, and I tell you, those ads will go up whether they like it or not,” Geller told the Washington Times.
A similar reluctance to run the ads on the part of Miami’s transit authority occurred. However, a lawsuit initiated by Geller impelled the city to reverse its decision within less than 24 hours.
Geller, whose group is currently trying to stop a proposed mosque from being build near the site of the World Trade Center, told CNN that religious Muslims who are offended by the advertisements should “ignore it.”
She went on to say that “it’s not directed to them.”
In an interview with conservative Sean Hannity on his radio show, Geller said, “It’s time for Americans to stand up against the evil of Islamic jihadi terrorism and Islamic supremacism.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in New York called the ads “Islam bashing.”
“Islamaphobes are notorious for their cheap tactics that seek to marginalize American Muslims and divide communities,” CAIR Community Affairs director Faiza Ali said in a statement. “Pamela Geller uses the same tactics as tobacco companies, hiding the cancerous nature of her agenda behind a smokescreen of feigned concern. Geller is free to say what she likes, just as concerned community members are free to critique her tactics and movites.”
Geller hit back, calling CAIR an “unindicted co-conspirator Muslim-brotherhood front for Hamas-tied organizations.”
Geller is referring to the US Justice Department’s designation of CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas terror funding case.
While controversy over the bus ads erupted in Miami, according to the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTI), New York has not received any complaints so far against the campaign, which is running for one month on NYC subway cars and buses.
“We have not gotten complaints on it, to be honest,” Aaron Donovan, a NY Transit spokesperson, told CNN.
He noted that in April, MTI ran subway ads of a group called whyislam.org, which advocates for the exploration of the Quran and attempts to “challenge popular stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam.”
Dawud Walid, the executive director of CAIR Michigan, told the Washington Times that even if the ads run in Detroit, he expects they will only cause “puzzlement” among Muslims.
“If she’s planning to put those Islamophobic ads in Detroit, she’s wasting her time,” he said.
Geller responded that the SIOA campaign has gone national to counter bus ads in Florida that encourage people to convert to Islam.
The controversy involves the question of whether Muslims are free to leave Islam without fear of reprisal, with Geller pointing to cases such as that of 17-year old Rifqa Bary, who ran away from her parents’ Ohio home and ended up staying with a Christian minister in Florida after she converted. During the custody dispute, her Muslim parents have denied that she will be in harm if she goes back home.
Geller cites a fatwa issued by Al-Azhar University in 1978 that stated, “This man has committed apostasy he must be given a chance to repent, and if he does not, then he must be killed, according to Sharia.”
However, Walid denied Geller’s reference, calling her a “well-known anti-Muslim bigot” in the Washington Times, and saying, “She makes no distinction between extremist Muslims and mainstream Muslims.”
In an interview with the NY Daily News, Geller told the newspaper that it doesn’t bother her if Muslims find the ads offensive.
“Will it bother Islamic supremacists? Yes,” she said.