A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew turn up together on a Washington, D.C., bus.
It’s no joke. They’re the faces of a new ad campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group. And the ad is the latest volley between Muslim and anti-Muslim groups that has played out most recently on the sides of buses in the nation’s capital.
First, the American Muslims for Palestine ran ads during peak D.C. tourism season, the Cherry Blossom Festival in April, condemning U.S. aid to Israel.
A month later, blogger Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative responded with bus ads featuring photos of Hitler meeting the grand mufti of Jerusalem and a text equating opposition to Israel’s territorial policies with Nazism.
Muslim-American civil rights groups are criticizing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for vetoing a bill on Tuesday that would have created an independent inspector general to oversee the New York City Police Department.
The New York City Council passed the bill June 27 as a check against controversial NYPD policies that critics say violate the civil rights of Muslim and other minority New Yorkers. Reports that the NYPD spied on mosques, Muslim businesses, organizations, and students began surfacing in 2011.
“The NYPD is out of control and discriminates against innocent Americans, and Mayor Bloomberg has let Americans down by allowing the NYPD to use discriminatory policies without any accountability,” said Glenn Katon, legal director for Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group based in San Francisco.
When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a 2010 ballot measure that prohibits state courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit within two days challenging the constitutionality of the measure, and won.
But when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar measure, one that its sponsor said would forbid Shariah, on April 19 of this year, no legal challenges were mounted.
Why the change?
The biggest difference is that the older bill — and others like it — singled out Islam and Shariah, but also raised concerns that they could affect Catholic canon law or Jewish law. Many early anti-Shariah bills also made references to international or foreign law, which worried businesses that the new bills would undermine contracts and trade with foreign companies.
The new bills, however, are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam. They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom.
“These bills don’t have any real-world effect. Their only purpose is to allow people to vilify Islam,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s legislative affairs director, of the more recent bills.
An ad campaign on San Francisco buses is aimed at trying to change public perception of the word “jihad,” which the program’s founder says has been distorted by extremists — Muslim and anti-Muslim alike.
Ahmed Rehab, a 36-year-old political activist, started the campaign in Chicago in December and expanded it to 25 San Francisco buses at the start of the year.
Rehab, who heads the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says his MyJihad campaign, which defines jihad as a personal struggle in many areas of life, is aimed at reframing a debate over a word that has become synonymous in many quarters with armed struggle and terrorism.
He said the debate has been taken over “more or less by two extremes — Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim extremists.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights group that has frequently drawn fire from conservatives, has regained its tax-exempt status.
The Washington, D.C.-based CAIR and its related foundation were two of about 275,000 nonprofits that lost tax exempt status last year for not filing tax returns for three years in a row. Last month, the Internal Revenue Service sent a letter to the CAIR-Foundation Inc., saying the nonprofit had regained its tax-exempt status.
"We are obviously pleased that all the paperwork issues have been resolved and our tax-exempt status has been restored," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR. Hooper did not know the details of what paperwork, including tax returns, had been filed.