Federal officials have decided to remove ads that displayed images of wanted terrorists on Seattle buses after receiving complaints they encouraged discrimination against Muslims. But now an anti-Islam group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, has taken it upon themselves to ensure the offending ads return to the Seattle streets.
While the AFDI has been called a human rights organization by some, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League classify it as a hate group.
Pamela Geller, one of the masterminds behind AFDI, applauded the Seattle ads.
Geller is known for her own controversial ads. As Mint Press News previously reported, she produced ads that appeared on New York City’s subway, featuring images of the World Trade Center engulfed by flames during the 9/11 attacks and a select quote from the Quran: “Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers.”
Geller says she put up the New York City ads because Islam is “the most radical and extreme ideology on the face of the earth.”
The Seattle ads originally went up at the beginning of June as part of a campaign by the FBI’s Puget Sound Joint Terrorism Task Force. In a press release, the group announced the launch of the ad campaign in Seattle as part of the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program, which involved putting photos of wanted terrorists on highway billboards, airport displays, bus posters and more.
The campaign was created to entice people to come forward if they have information on the whereabouts of wanted terrorists. It offered a reward of $25 million to those with information that could lead to an arrest of an individual on the list.
But after an ad showed the faces of 16 wanted terrorists — all of whom appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent — U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) wrote a letter to Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, asking that they be removed.
McDermott said the ads were offensive to Muslims and ethnic minorities, and that he was concerned they encouraged racial and religious profiling.
“I agree that civilian vigilance is important to the fight against extremism,” he wrote. “Representing terrorists, however, from only one ethnic or religious group, promotes stereotypes and ignores other forms of extremism.The FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List includes individuals of other races and associated with other religions and causes, but their faces are missing from this campaign.
“This limited representation in the ‘Faces of Global Terrorism’ bus ad will likely only serve to exacerbate the disturbing trend of hate crimes against Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Muslim-Americans.”
After McDermott asked the Seattle ads be taken down, Geller responded, “If McDermott wanted the FBI to leave the Muslims off the Most Wanted Terrorists ad, he’d first have to convince Muslims to stop committing terror attacks in the name of Islam. But instead, he succeeded in getting the FBI to remove the ads.
“The FBI caved to this ridiculous imposition of Sharia blasphemy laws and political correctness… And that means that we’re going to have to do their job for them. We’re taking it upon ourselves to alert the public to the nature and magnitude of the terror threat. At our own expense, we’re going to run the same ad on Seattle buses.”
While McDermott said that he recognized that showing the faces of wanted terrorists is important in identifying and apprehending the wanted individual, the place to put such a picture is not on the side of a bus.
Especially since the buses were flying by Seattle residents so quickly, McDermott cautioned, “The impression you get [from the ads] is that terrorism is caused by brown-skinned men with beards, and occasionally they wear a turban — which isn’t true.”
After receiving McDermott’s letter, FBI and State Department officials reportedly met with Seattle community leaders, including the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, where it was decided that the ads would be removed. Instead, the Joint Terrorism Task Force would include an ad on the buses that stressed the same message but in a different way, without pictures of the terrorists.
Jeff Siddiqui, a member of American Muslims of Puget Sound, told the Seattle Times the ad campaign “was stunning.” He said that he had received phone calls from many Seattle residents who were practicing Muslims who were concerned for their safety because of the ads.
He said the ads were producing fear and hate. Islam is the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity, with an estimated number of followers around the world around 1.6 billion, and Muslims make up the majority in 49 countries — most of which are in the Asia-Pacific region.
While the U.S. has historically had a largely Christian population, the number of Americans practicing Islam has doubled since 1992. A 2011 survey from the Pew Research Center estimated that there were about 2.75 million Americans who identified themselves as Muslim. But since the U.S. Census does not track religious affiliation, this number is debated, and estimates vary widely, from 2 million to 7 million.
Siddiqui said, “Every Friday, the mosque is full of people who look just like this. I just took one look and thought, ‘Every bigot out there is going to be jumping for joy, saying, look, the FBI is reiterating what we’ve been saying about Muslims and terrorism.’”
Siddiqui says that while federal officials notified Seattle’s Muslim community about the ad campaign, at least one organization expressed concern, saying, “It’s a really bad idea. Don’t include pictures.”
So far, Seattle is the only city in the U.S. to have a similar government campaign. The FBI says it chose Seattle because the city has a diverse population and many international connections.
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