‘Leaving Islam?’ Bus Ad Still In Limbo in Detroit February 14, 2011

‘Leaving Islam?’ Bus Ad Still In Limbo in Detroit

Last year, the group Stop Islamization of America paid for bus ads in places like New York City and San Francisco encouraging people to leave Islam. They also told them where to find more information about leaving the faith and getting support.

When the same ads were to go up in Detroit, they were rejected.

The ad reads:

Fatwa on your head?

Is your family or community threatening you?


Got questions? Get answers!”

“It’s a purely anti-Muslim hate issue,” Dawud Walid of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the Detroit News on Friday.

“The SMART bus company, or any bus company, should not be used to marginalize a minority group.”

Walid is wrong about that. This is not anti-Muslim at all.

This is anti-Islam. And there’s a very important distinction between the two.

(Actually, I’ll correct myself. It’s not even anti-Islam. It’s only calling out to people who are leaving Islam and letting them know they’re not alone and there is support available for them.)

I would oppose an anti-Muslim ad, but I fully support alternatives-to-Islam ads.

There’s no reason an inoffensive ad like that should be rejected in Detroit. And if this ad was rejected, what will become of atheist ads encouraging people to leave their religion?

But all of that was last year. Why do I bring it up now?

The Detroit Free Press reports that the judge who has to decide whether the ads can go up isn’t even looking at the issue anymore:

Freedom Defense Initiative is asking federal Judge Denise Page Hood to get moving. It’s been seven months since she heard arguments.

[Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation] marketing manager Beth Gibbons says the ad was rejected because it held a “group of persons up to scorn or ridicule.”

First of all, no group of persons is being scorned or ridiculed. All ideas — including religious ones — ought to be subject to scrutiny and criticism.

There’s also no reason it should take seven months to decide something that should really take all of seven seconds. If pro-religious ads are allowed in the SMART system, then anti-religious ads must be allowed as well.

I have no doubt that a similar-looking ad reading “Considering Islam?” would have been perfectly fine. So what’s wrong with this one?

(Thanks to Larry for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • JimG

    I disagree. I think this particular wording is offensive because it assumes anyone leaving Islam is threatened by violence from their friends and family, feeding the stereotype that Muslims are inherently violent.

    Reword it as “No longer believe in Allah? Don’t want to sit though more sermons at mosque?” – no problem. As it is now, however, it does indeed unfairly characterize Muslims.

  • Brice Gilbert

    The group Stop Islamization of America from what I can tell appears to be a group of tea party style libertarians with some pretty weird beliefs about 911, Obama etc.

    That being said I don’t see an issue with this billboard in a purely content context. Obviously when you look into who made it you realize they are are painting a very broad brush about Muslims themselves.

    EDIT: Wow they associate themselves with Pamela Geller. These people are full on cranks.

  • Marty

    Although let’s not forget that the koran clearly calls for DEATH for any apostate and any unbeliever. So who’s being intolerant? We hear many, many stories of people who are reluctant to leave their religion because of how they will be treated by their family. With islam it’s even worse. It’s time to stop pussy footing around with islam. They need to get over their overdeveloped sense of “offense”. How dare they threaten free speech? Where do they think they are? Maybe they would be more comfortable in Pakistan where such speech means the state can kill you as it is an offense to allah. They may not like the ad but they better damn respect anyone’s right to say it.Period

  • Sackbut

    It is no more anti-Islam than an ad for a lawyer who handles domestic violence or divorce cases is anti-marriage. The ad is specifically offering assistance to people who are having trouble because of leaving Islam. Those who are not having such trouble leaving, or who are not leaving, are not being addressed.

  • JimG

    The Bible also calls for those who leave the faith to be shunned, and the OT has loads of laws demanding death for minor infractions of nonsensical rules. Yet only the tiniest fraction of Christians or Jews take those injunctions literally, and they’re generally considered fanatics by their coreligionists. To merely say “The Quran demands death for apostates, so this is justified!” assumes that every Muslim is a fundamentalist literalist, ready to implement that order – an assumption as mistaken about Muslims as it would be about Christians.

  • As soon as I started reading this I knew you were going to pull out the anti-Islam vs. Anti-Muslim argument. However, we must be careful treading this ground because it’s eerily similar to the, “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude that we all deplore.

  • Demonhype

    Well, it would be nice to have some kind of support system in place for people who are actually in danger if they try to leave Islam–or even if they just want to leave a fundamentalist Islamic family but still be a moderate or liberal Muslim. Kind of like those groups that help young Mormons leave. Well, technically it would be nice to have a similar system for anyone who is trying to leave an abusive fundamentalist family/community, but right now it’s Islam that’s got a significant chunk of itself mired in the Dark Ages–no different than Christianity about five hundred years ago, of course, but it does seem to me that people who want to leave Islam might need a little more support right now.

    Don’t know if this group is the one to do it though, if they’re a bunch of libertarian conspiracy theorists–lesser of two evils is still evil and all that jazz. Plus, it doesn’t sound like they’d be interested in helping Muslims who just want to be moderate or liberal and are just trying to escape a fundie community or family safely.

  • L.Long

    Actually Islam? Muslim?? what’s the difference? I thought one was the people and the other the religion then was told they are the same, now told they are different? I wikied it and they said they are the same sort of. IsLame is the actual religion and Muslins are the followers of the religion, so not much difference.
    And I do not see the sign as an insult, its their BS religion with their BS rules and they are the ones that refuse to acclimate.
    They can always show that the sign is incorrect by changing their stupid holey book so it no longs mentions killing…Fat chance!

  • mal99

    I second what JimG said… it’s offensive because it portrays Muslims in general as violent. Attacking parts of the Muslim faith is okay. Even admitting that Islam has a problem with violence, intolerance and radicalism is okay. But this advert just goes one step too far.

    I’m not sure if the analogy is perfect, but what if someone made a similar advert about people of a specific race or other group? We should be allowed to talk about problems that some may perceive in any community, but painting all the members of a community in the same negative way just seems wrong to me.

  • Marty

    Clearly not all muslims are fundamentalists and apply the barbaric edicts in the koran. Just as xtians and jews don’t follow their barbaric directives in their respective works of fiction. However, islam clearly sets the standard for intolerance of any al all other views in many parts of the muslim world. US muslims are now trying to make any criticism of their religion illegal by calling it a hate crime. Talk about the kettle calling the pot black

  • I was wondering if this would ever show up here! I e-mailed Hemant when I saw some of these ads in the San Francisco Bay Area last year. As far as I can tell, the local Muslim community ignored them, and there was never any kind of uproar or controversy. The ads were on buses for a few weeks, and then they quietly disappeared.

    Frankly, the people putting out the ads seem very extreme. For anyone interested, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer co-founded a group called Stop the Islamization of America. IMO, this group does not appear to be legitimately concerned with Muslims who are facing repression. They just seem to be seething with hatred for Islam in general. I think that comes across in the sensationalistic wording of the ads.

    Of course, I’m against any form of censorship. Offensive or not, these ads have every right to run. Even if Spencer and Geller are looney-tunes, the ads themselves are no different from any other ads encouraging people to leave or join a certain religion.

  • I also agree with JimG. This sign looks like it’s painting Muslims as violent or “threatening”. Not surprising when you learn who’s behind putting the sign up. It’s true that Muslims in America are trying to pass any anti-Muslim/anti-Islam message as a hate crime by decreeing it as “Islamaphobia”, but I think some of us here are a little too quick to call BS on it.

    It’s a very muddy line though… at what point does something constitute being hateful?

  • Brian Westley

    I would oppose an anti-Muslim ad, but I fully support alternatives-to-Islam ads.

    If by “oppose” you mean you’d be in favor of SMART rejecting the ad, I have to disagree.

    From SMART’s website:
    SMART is supported by federal and state funding, local contributions through a transit property tax millage from opt-in communities and bus fares.

    From my perspective, ads on federal & state financed buses can’t be rejected on viewpoint grounds.

  • Jeanette

    I agree that it paints all Muslims as violent, and that’s not okay. I personally have a number of close Muslim friends who get tired of being portrayed this way while all the “moderate” Christians get a pass. I think it’s totally unfair. And yeah, most Muslims don’t follow the Koran any more than most Christians follow the Bible. Luckily.

  • Question:
    Who are the only people that would really be offended by this billboard?

    The fanatical Muslims that would threaten, intimidate or kill those that have lost their faith.

    I’m sure there’s an inappropriate joke in here somewhere about the ads getting a better response via taxi cab than on the side of a bus…but I’ll try to refrain

  • Peter Mahoney

    I think the ad is fine.

    If there was an ad for abused women, would we complain that it implies that ALL men abuse women?

    No, we would recognize that it’s nice for people to have some support when in transition, whether that’s a woman leaving an abusive partner, or someone leaving a religion, or even someone moving to a new town.

    Where’s the problem? The only problem would be censoring free expression. People do not have a ‘right’ to NOT be offended.

    (and the ad isn’t offensive anyway).

  • BrettH

    I have seen ads that say things like “Afraid to leave your husband? We can help” and as a man, I’m not at all offended. I suppose if it were a group that was never known to hurt someone for leaving it would seem ridiculous (“Afraid to cancel your gym membership? We can protect you!”), but whenever someone has a legitimate fear of harm being done to them, I don’t care if the extremists are theist/atheist/man/woman/whatever. You get the person safe first, and worry about feelings later. I bet in most of these cases there is no risk of physical harm, but that’s no reason to let one or two people get hurt to show how tolerant we are.

    (I feel weird defending a group as hateful as that, but that particular message of theirs doesn’t offend me)

  • I like the ad, I just don’t like the folks who pay for it. This group Stop the Islamization of American are the same people who think Obama is an undercover socialist muslim (i know what the hell is that?).

    I hope to see more ads like this maybe supported and paid for by Atheists…? I would donate…

    the sad thing is that the only folks really putting these ads out are fundamentalists Xians.

    maybe we should organize something?

  • Lost Left Coaster

    I loathe the organization that wants to run this ad, but I don’t think that’s enough. Just looking at the ad itself, I think it is unobjectionable from the point of view of what should be prevented from appearing on a bus. The ads should run.

  • Timely piece, since yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, marking the day we all were told that we “insult” Islam on pain of death. I wonder how many adherents would escape or at least question the faith if they had the right to free speech.

  • I definitely think the ad should be allowed. I don’t know enough about the group itself to know whether I’d agree with them or not. (If dantresomi is correct, I don’t agree with them.) They have the right, though, and the ad isn’t advocating hatred or discrimination against Muslims.

    Also, when I think about it, an ad that was (for example) advocating that people should join Christianity is implicitly saying that people should leave other religions and that other religions are wrong. An ad advocating any religion is basically saying that all the other ones are wrong, and this seems to be similar to that.

    @dantresomi: I agree. I wish more atheist and/or secular groups were putting up ads about Islam, instead of just Christian groups.

  • MV

    Whatever your take on the ads, there is absolutely no reason for a judge to take seven months to rule on the issue. That is political and judicial cowardice. Something a judge should not have.

  • Godless Lawyer

    What bothers me about this is that these people probably saw an atheist bus ad and decided that it was exactly the sort of thing they could use as an outlet for their hatred of a particular group.

  • Here’s a brilliant idea. Let’s place ads on buses that allude to violent Islamists (which is just another word for “Muslim”) in a city with the single largest Muslim population outside of the Middle East. Has anyone read the news about buses being bombed or the near attack on a plane in Detroit 2 years ago? History tends to bear out that if you think people are violent, they will become violent. If you think they don’t care, they will not care…about you or anyone else they decide to hurt in their selfishness. Detroit is a GREAT example of this when you look at the ghettoes, the politics, the education system, and the economy. I live there. This is the reality we face. As Americans, people have the right to say what they want. I get that. But, just because something is lawful doesn’t mean its expedient.

    C.E. Moore
    Cogito | Credo

  • I do think this particular wording is perhaps unnecessary. The first poster mentioned the unfair characterisation of all Muslims as inherently violent – and while this is no doubt the experience for some, it’s not for all. This ad would probably be more relevant in Iran, to be honest – thouogh of course, it would *never* be allowed there!

    I think the concept itself is good, but the wording should be toned down a bit. It does make a rather unnecessary assumption that people reconsidering Islam are automatically in fear of their lives.

  • I think the concept of providing services to people who may actually be in fear of reprisal for apostasy is great. These people certainly exist. I think the wording is offensive, though, and it should be reconsidered. I agree with JimG. Tossing around terms and ideas of murderous families is marginalizing. We can do better, and apparently those in fear could do better than this group.

  • Staceyjw

    People, especially women and girls, are KILLED if they leave the faith of Islam. while not every family or community is violent, enough are that offering help in an area with lots of Muslims is a good service.

    Of all the things going on in Detroit, THIS is what they worry about?

  • Robster

    Have they considered using TV, Radio or the press? Probably a better way of getting the message out.

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