Last week we noted that Pamela Geller’s group had put up ads at New York commuter stations seeking to justify Islamophobia by linking Islam to violence across the Middle East. This letter went out today from a number of community leaders in Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York. Signatory list is being updated regularly at Wespac. Notable among the signatories is Henry W. Clifford, whose ad dramatizing Palestinian dispossession, at many of the same MTA Metro-North stations, got so much attention earlier this summer. The letter:
AN EXPRESSION OF SOLIDARITY WITH OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS:
ANTI-MUSLIM HATE SPEECH HAS NO PLACE IN WESTCHESTER.
A nationwide campaign of hatred and bigotry directed against Muslims has now come to Westchester. In mid-August an advertisement vilifying Islam was placed on Metro-North train platforms. By signing and endorsing this letter, we the people, political leaders, community organizers, and clergy of Westchester wish to express our solidarity with the Muslim community. We affirm our respect for all religious traditions and reject the ethnic and religious bigotry that this vicious ad so ominously expresses.
The source of the ad is the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) run by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. Geller and Spencer are national leaders in some of the many U.S. campaigns to malign Islam. Despite AFDI’s name, its websites publish a broad array of anti-Islamic materials that are widely used by right-wing, extremist organizations. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who in August 2011 at a youth camp killed seventy-seven of his compatriots, quoted Geller among anti-Muslim activists in the manifesto that he posted shortly before the killings. The respected Southern Poverty Law Center lists Stop Islamization of America, a group co-founded by Geller and Spencer, as a “hate group.”
The headline of the ad says “19,250 Deadly Islamic Attacks Since 9/11/2001.” It ends with: “It’s Not Islamophobia, It’s Islamorealism.” The ad encourages us to think of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center as the work of Muslims rather than of terrorists. The figure “19,250” counts the number of deadly attacks by and/or against Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other predominantly Muslim countries. The ad attempts to deceive readers by turning into perpetrators those who are actually victims of the tragic conflicts in the Middle East and West Asia. It demonizes Muslims and must be universally condemned.
We see this anti-Islamic ad campaign in the context of a post-9/11 atmosphere of fear, hate, and bigotry that targets Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, Sikhs and other South Asians. The increase in hate groups and hate speech in the United States does not reflect simply “individual” sentiments. From arson attacks on mosques to police infiltration of Islamic religious organizations, the spread of Islamophobia in the United States is a growing danger that calls on all people of good will to speak out and take action.
Muslims have experienced numerous violent attacks and harassment in the last few weeks: the burning to the ground of a mosque in Missouri; the firing of an air rifle at the Muslim Education Center in Illinois while 500 people were praying; the throwing of a homemade bomb at a Muslim school in Illinois and a Muslim home in Florida; harassment by teens of worshipers at a California mosque; and the vandalism and desecration of mosques, including recently on Staten Island. The hatred of Muslims expressed in these acts and the common conflation of Sikhs with Muslims, along with anti-Sikh sentiment, contributed to the August attack by a white supremacist who killed six Sikhs at their gurudwara in suburban Milwaukee.
We the undersigned urge all residents of Westchester to take action to counter the threat that this ad represents.
• Discuss these issues with your family, friends, and colleagues and in your houses of worship.
• Send letters to the local media and to Metro North expressing your concern and revulsion.
• Propose that Metro North categorically distance itself from the ad and use any revenue from it to support an organization that combats extremism.
• Contact local and regional officials to get them to denounce hate speech and Islamophobia and to condemn this ad, as have Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and the village board of Hastings-on-Hudson.
• Call upon local communities of faith to assume their natural role in educating their congregations about the moral issues posed by the ad.
• Sign this letter.
Join with us in a county-wide effort to raise awareness, and gather with us in coming days at a public meeting and press conference to rally around our Muslim neighbors.
Priscilla Read, Tarrytown, NY
Howard Horowitz, New Rochelle, NY
David Samel, Chappaqua, NY
Felice Gelman, Tarrytown, NY
Andrew Courtney, Croton-on-Hudson, NY
Julie Davis Carran, White Plains, NY
Artie Alfreds, Hastings, NY
Henry Clifford, Essex, CT
Mirene Ghossein, Manhattan, NY
Jon Moscow, Teaneck, NJ
Rebecca Vilkomerson, Brooklyn, NY
JVP – Westchester
Westchester Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute for Nonviolence