Even though this campaign’s design is not “wow”, it gets its message across. Not only is it presenting two sides, the civilized man and the savage, but it is telling you which side to take. “Support the civilized man,” when written as such, who wouldn’t want to pick that side? This is all understood from the words written in white. When your eyes scroll downward, the message is elaborated even further. The campaign doesn’t want you to bother guessing who is who, the civilized man is Israel and the savage is jihad.
Freedom of speech is one of the golden rules. That is not debatable. However, the debate surrounding the limits of freedom of speech date back to the harm principle, if not even earlier. The copywriter of any public campaign selects words very meticulously in order to deliver the controlled message to the public and ensure they understand it as he wants them to understand it. That is why this campaign is very controversial.
According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, jihad is defined to be: “a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty.” A call to defeat jihad is an open attack against Islam itself. The battle implied in this ad is one between a political entity (Israel) and a religious ideology (Islam), encompassing all Muslim believers.
Pamela Geller, a blogger and executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), filed the suit to post this campaign in the US transit system. It ran August 13 til September 4 in San Francisco, while it was deferred by Washington DC due to the riots in the Middle East in response to the film “Innocence of Muslims.”
Geller described New York’s allowing of the ads as “a victory for the First Amendment.” In principle, it was a victory. However, one needs to go back in time and assess her consistency. Pamela Geller also heads a group called “Stop Islamization of America.” She objected and refused to follow through with the plan of an Islamic center a few blocks away from the World Trade Center area, as she dubbed it the “ground zero mosque.”
This is where the question lies. If she is so keen on applying the First Amendment as a justification for running her campaign, why not allow the Muslims build a community center? Do they not also have the right to freedom of expression and assembly? This is where her intentions and accountability are at stake.
Was her campaign a mere provocation? Why run it now? Is it a coincidence that she decided to post it as the Middle East witnessed protests against the ridiculing of the Prophet Mohammad?
These are all questions that come to mind when examining this campaign’s context critically. Yes, freedom of speech exists. And, yes, freedom of speech should not be hindered by religious establishments. However, we live in a world with religious, ethnic, racial, cultural, social, economic differences. And, if one’s main concern is harmonious living and coexistence, one should be more careful about what he says or does because one doesn’t live in a vacuum by himself. There is always a reaction to an action. And, in this case, the message is clear and deliberate. So, a counter campaign should not be surprising if it came to be.
Needless to say, the campaign has faced internal opposition with the US. The Interfaith Center of New York objected Geller’s ads and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York described them as “prejudiced and dangerously inflammatory.” The underlying implication behind the campaign is a dangerous one, as the latter organization agrees with this by stating that the general New York Jewish community “does not equate its unwavering support for Israel with intolerance for Muslims or their faith.”
United Methodist Women launched a campaign of ads that they stuck by Geller’s ads which preached love instead of hate. The first line attacked AFDI’s campaign in direct reference by stating, “Hate speech is not civilized.” It is a relief to know that the community didn’t allow Geller’s initiative to pass by without being condemned for its implications, given that it expressed hate and ridiculed a faith’s followers by calling them “savages.”
This peaceful, yet straightforward counter campaign, reminded us that one should be careful when practicing freedom of speech. Yes, I can say whatever I want because no one can stop me. However, if I believe I can say anything at no cost, I should be open to the other point of view which opposes me.