After anti-Muslim ads were posted in several D.C. Metro stations, two Georgetown students, Nabeel Zewail (SFS ’15) and Saaliha Khan (COL ’13), petitioned the D.C. Subway Commission to remove them. The ads read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Despite the fact that, as of now, over 1,850 people have signed the petition nationwide, the D.C Subway Commission has chosen to keep the ads posted. Zewail and Khan, along with other students, have turned to other means to oppose the advertisements.
The advertisements were paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group which, according to its own website, “acts against the treason being committed by national, state, and local government officials, the mainstream media, and others in their capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism.”
Zewail highlighted his two current goals. “First,” he said, “we are continuing to engage with the D.C. Subway Commission so that they will understand that these ads are hateful and have no place in our Metro. And, second, we are trying to counter the AFDI’s message of hate with one of compassion. A group of students went to the various Metro stops where the ads were posted and distributed flyers for peace, and other groups in DC are raising funds to run ads that will counter this message of hate.”
Zewail remained optimistic about the success of this latest effort, but recognized that “we still have more work to do to ensure that more people in DC recognize the hate that these ads are espousing and that they have no place in our Metro.”
Khan and Zewail have received the full support of Georgetown’s Interfaith Council. Jordan Denari (SFS ’13), co-president of Interfaith Council, agrees that the best way to defy such a message of intolerance, fed by misinformation, is by going out and directly demonstrating the ads’ erroneous nature.
“We fully recognize the First Amendment rights of the AFDI to post these ads. We take no issue with that,” she said. “But we must go out there and provide a counter-narrative. We must show that Muslims are an important part of the community here.”
Denari stated the importance of standing up to the AFDI in particular. She pointed out that the AFDI, and its executive director, Pamela Geller, were among the largest opponents to the planned construction of an Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan in 2010. They termed it a “victory memorial” for Islam at Ground Zero.
Denari criticized the AFDI for its divisive fear mongering. “Fear is a money-making machine for these people,” she said.
Saaliha Khan added to this critique of the AFDI’s stance: “This kind of ‘us versus them clash of civilization’ mindset is detrimental to our American society and the global community at large as it perpetuates a false dichotomy between people, specifically in reference to Muslims v. the West, which in reality, is not an accurate reflection/account of what is happening.”
Khan, like Zewail, was pleased with the kind of “counter-narrative” which was displayed when students handed out flyers at D.C. Metro stations. “It did help change some people’s perceptions by making them re-think the underlying message. Our aim was and remains to try to spread tolerance, mutual respect, understanding, and love — in stark contrast to the ad, which is quite hateful, ignorant, and Islamophobic,” she said.
“We all, Muslims, and non-Muslims alike, ought to stand up for the rights of one another, speak up for each other, and promote unity, not division.”