A pro-Islam campaign launched in Chicago two years ago still echoes, much like Ralph Waldo Emerson's "shot heard 'round the world.”
The Islamic organization GainPeace.com launched the original campaign in 2008, and Atlas Shrugs founder Pamela Geller recently parodied it. An anti-Muslim activist and author, Geller’s newsworthy battle, which looks to be lost, rallied against the construction of a Mosque and Islamic community two blocks from Ground Zero.
The organization's campaign on Chicago Transit Authority buses read: "The Way of Life of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Islam. Got Questions? Get Answers." Since the launch, the ads have appeared in other major cities.
Geller's effort asked, “Leaving Islam?” It debuted in May New York City and in San Francisco last week. Leaving Islam’s ads read: "Fatwa on your head? Is your family threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? Get Answers!" (A "fatwa" is a religious ruling from an Islamic religious authority.)
In an interview with ILLUME (whose self-stated purpose is "to become the leading Muslim-American media organization"), GainPeace director Dr. Sabeel Ahmed accused Geller’s campaign of "inciting Islamophobia" before suggesting that media companies discourage the content due to bias and hatred. GainPeace is the Chicago arm of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which also runs WhyIslam? in San Francisco. The ICNA’s goal is to rectify misconceptions about Islam, especially those of “fear mongers” like Geller.
Fear monger or not, a visit to Atlas Shrugs crystallizes one of the main reasons behind Geller’s media and advertising: stopping honor killings. According to a taped interview with Geller on FOX, the Leaving Islam? campaign links directly to the ongoing case Fathima Rifqa Bary. Bary, an illegal immigrant and Muslim-to-Christian convert fled from her Ohio home to Florida in 2009 seeking refuge.
Bary claimed she feared her father would kill her or send her back to Sri Lanka (most likely a death sentence) because she converted to Christianity. According to the interview, Geller flew to Florida in support of Bary and came into contact with the pro-Islamic bus ads. In response, and as a means to provide sanctuary for women similar to Rifqa Bary, Geller initiated the Leaving Islam? advertising campaign and Web site RefugeFromIslam.com.
The war of words started on city transit spilled into the national media, and the accusations ran rampant. Both sides rallied around the banners of free speech and religion, and likewise, seed mistrust in one another.
Questions, accusations, and investigations on funding sources and terrorist ties, in tandem with the recent and emotionally rife Ground Zero Mosque and Bary stories, have created a tense and potentially explosive atmosphere.
It’s clear no one will emerge as winner from the centuries-old rift stemming from religious, cultural, and ideological beliefs; however, someone will lose. The unforeseen and unanswered question: Will any loss be worth the sacrifice?