By Debra J. Saunders
Pamela Geller, most famous for fighting what she called the “ground zero mosque” in New York, bought ads on the sides of 10 San Francisco buses that feature hateful quotes from Osama bin Laden, accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad — under the headline “My Jihad.”
“Jihad, holy fighting in Allah’s cause, with full force and weaponry is … an obligation and duty in Islam to every Muslim,” reads the Shahzad quote. And underneath: “That’s my Jihad. What’s yours?”
San Francisco City Hall responded in knee-jerk fashion — holding a news conference drenched in sanctimony. “Hate has no place in our city,” announced Mayor Ed Lee, flanked by fellow camera-happy officeholders. Because the First Amendment essentially prevents the city from censoring ads based on ideology, Muni, the local transportation agency, will run the posters — but will give the $5,000 in revenue to the city’s Human Rights Commission to study the ads’ impact on the city’s Arab and Islamic community.
Geller’s campaign is a spoof on a campaign launched by a Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations staffer to promote a broader, kinder definition of jihad, an Islamic term for “struggle.” In one “MyJihad” ad, a woman in a headscarf asserts, “My jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule.” As Zahra Billoo of the local branch of the council explained, the campaign was designed “to reclaim the word jihad,” which had been “narrowly defined by extremists on both sides.”
Billoo has denounced the Geller ads as “Islamophobic and racist,” as “they wrongly suggest that all Muslims are defined by extremism and violence.”
I happen to agree with Billoo on the offensiveness of Geller’s campaign. Though Geller has a point in challenging the notion that one can put a happy face on violent jihad, her American Freedom Defense Initiative feeds on hyperbole. As Billoo noted, Geller’s billboards amplify the terrorist message in a way that “ignores the fact that every major American Muslim organization has condemned time and again the very acts of terror that she attempts to attribute to the Muslim community.”
For me, that’s like 2012, when Democrats seized on one deluded candidate’s view on “legitimate rape” and accused the GOP of being like-minded even as Mitt Romney and every other major Republican denounced that view. Oh, wait. I forgot. It’s OK to define the right by its extremists.
Of course the news conference was really about politics. Lee and company never pass up a chance to use tax dollars to lecture on what they see as wrong thinking on the right.
Now, I think the $5,000 would be better spent on buses. Maybe spring for a few steam cleanings. But Muni doesn’t think so. Spokesman Paul Rose told me that even though Muni has to run the ads, it doesn’t “want to accept revenues from an ad campaign that has such a hateful message.” So Muni is transferring the funds to the HRC, to be used, Lee spokeswoman Christine Falvey told me, on “education and outreach.”
Exactly how? HRC Chairman Michael Sweet told me the commission hasn’t decided how to spend the funds. What did you do with the $5,000 Muni sent you last year after Geller ran ads on a few buses? Sweet answered, “It hasn’t yet been committed to a specific resource.”
A news conference — for Lee and company, that’s their jihad. What’s yours?
Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is email@example.com