In May, the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) and the Cordoba Initiative proposed plans to build a community center two blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City that would include “a mosque, performance art center, gym, swimming pool and other public spaces.” Since then, radical conservatives across the country have expressed open hostility to the construction of Muslim places of worship. Speaking about the Muslim center in New York City, right-wing radio host Michael Berry stated, “If you do build a mosque, I hope somebody blows it up.”
Self-described “anti-jihadist” and conservative blogger Pamela Geller — the executive director of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) — has joined the chorus of right-wing paranoia. Earlier this month on MSNBC, Geller suggested the Islamic center is a “triumphal mosque” on “conquered lands.” Now her organization has recently launched a series of bus ads reading, “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get answers!” in major cities, including San Francisco, Miami, and New York:
RefugeFromIslam.com, the website promoted on Geller’s ads, contends that Muslim Americans who “long to be free” of their religion are in danger of being killed, and offers protection, including “safe houses,” for those who want out. Muslim rights groups and religious leaders say there is no penalty for leaving Islam and that the Koran condemns killing as a sin.
While Geller claims that the bus campaign’s goal is “to help ex-Muslims who are in trouble,” several religious rights organizations have criticized Geller for inciting fear about a religion that is already misunderstood. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization that has voiced concerns over several of these bus ads, especially because it seems to imply the false claim that Muslims who choose to leave Islam are in danger. Furthermore, SIOA’s hateful rhetoric has reached as far as the FBI and Virginia’s Tidewater Joint Terrorism Task Force, which invited the group’s co-founder and founder of right-wing blog Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer, to offer training to state and federal law enforcement officers.
The U.S. government has refused the group’s request for a trademark designation for its name, stating, “The applied-for mark refers to Muslims in a disparaging manner because by definition it implies that conversion or conformity to Islam is something that needs to be stopped or caused to cease.”