In the newest poster, a Saudi Arabian highway sign is pictured, which instructs drivers travelling to Mecca to keep to the left, while non-Muslims must stay to the right to travel to the nearby city of Jeddah instead. “This is Islamic Apartheid,” the ad declares, imploring that the government “Stop U.S. Aid to Islamic Countries.”
It is unclear what the ad means when it suggests that Saudi Arabia is carrying out “apartheid” against non-Muslims. In apartheid South Africa, the ruling class carried out a series of policies that stripped black Africans of their citizenship, segregated their education, medical care, and other government services, and denied them of the right to assemble or own property. Riyadh’s ban on non-Muslims entering Mecca is definitely a form of segregation, but is a one-off rule, given the city’s unique role in Islamic theology, and one that does not hold true in even the second-most holy city, Medina.
It is true that many other troubling instances of segregation occur throughout Saudi society, particularly when it relates to the treatment of women. It can even be argued that a form of “gender apartheid” exists within the Kingdom, where women are systematically denied legal rights and status. But the example Geller puts forward in her ad does not address that inequality, and fails to reach the same level as seen in the white dominance in Apartheid South Africa. Instead, it seems far more likely that Geller is looking to raise baseless fears of similar policies taking hold in the United States.
It’s also unclear what the ad means in calling on the U.S. to stop sending aid to “Islamic countries.” Without defining what “Islamic countries” means, it could refer to one of two things: either states that have a majority Muslim population or countries that incorporate some degree of Islamic law into their legal system. If the former, Geller could be calling for an end to humanitarian aid to Syria and Somalia, military aid to NATO-ally Turkey, or disaster relief to Indonesia. If the latter, that would mean ending ties between many key U.S. allies in combating terrorism including Pakistan and Yemen, and ceasing assistance to Afghanistan after U.S. combat forces leave in 2014.
The ad is the latest in a series from the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), a group headed by Geller and whose sole purpose is to trumpet the supposed threat that all Muslims pose to the United States. The AFDI has placed the posters in public transit systems around the country for almost a year now, including in San Francisco, New York City, and DC so far. The posters have sparked a massive backlash wherever they’ve been placed, inspiring response ads from interfaith leaders, Muslim advocacy groups, and grassroots campaigns.
Unlike San Francisco, however, a DC transport press official confirmed to ThinkProgress that DC’s public transit system does not donate the proceeds from Geller’s ads to charity. Instead, WMATA has instituted a policy of placing a disclaimer at the bottom of the ads, disavowing themselves of anything resembling agreement with the content.