NEW YORK - The first time Irfaan Noorudin saw the black-and-white ad equating Islam with antisemitism, he was sitting in traffic not far from the US Capitol when a bus bearing the incendiary message rolled past.
“It’s still so jarring”, he said, even though the ad, which also features a picture of the colonial-era mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Al Husseini, with Adolf Hitler, is only the latest in a string of ads placed on public transport across the country by anti-Islam groups.
The next time Mr Noorudin was confronted with the ad, he was dropping off his young daughter at her church-run daycare.
“How is that even allowed? That’s so weird”, members of the church staff and fellow parents said to him.
A few days later, the financial advisor and a group of friends were enjoying a Saturday night at a Washington cafe when a bus emblazoned with the message was stuck in traffic beside the patio where they were seated, drawing eyes and muting conversations.
“Even though you may not want that to be a message that’s received, it will be because so many people are going to see it, and it may substantiate what they think or just become all they know,” Mr Noorudin, 32, said. “And I don’t think there’s any way to really thwart it – how do you respond?”
Along with the Second World War-era photograph, the ads feature the slogan, “Islamic Jew-hatred: it’s in the Quran”, and says US foreign aid to Muslim countries should be cut off to “stop racism”. The group that placed the ad to run on 20 of Washington’s public buses through the middle of this month plans to place them in other cities after raising more than US$20,000 (Dh73,400) in donations from many individual supporters over the past two weeks, according to its co-founder, Pamela Geller.
The American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI), Ms Geller’s organization, has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a non-profit organisation that tracks hate groups in the US. She was banned from entering Britain to attend a far-right rally last year.
Ms Geller is one of the country’s most prominent Islamophobes, and has sown controversy – and gained support – in North America and Europe for her high-volume activism against Islam, a religion she claims is antisemitic and whose followers are actively seeking to impose Sharia on the US.
AFDI has been involved in pushing state legislatures to pass bills that ban Islamic law, even though there is no legal recognition of Sharia in the US. Ms Geller gained notoriety for leading the successful 2010 movement against the construction of an Islamic centre in lower Manhattan.
The latest ads were placed in response to a bus-ad campaign by a pro-Palestine pressure group, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), that coincided with the US tax deadline and called on the US to “stop aid to Israel’s occupation”. Even though the ads did not mention Jews or Judaism, the “basis of the Islamic opposition to Israel, and the reason why there has been no negotiated settlement and all attempts at one have failed, is Quran-inspired antisemitism”, and that the AMP was “stirring up Jew-hatred” because criticism of Israel is inherently antisemitic, Ms Geller told The National in an email.
In response to AFDI’s ads, the AMP said they reject Ms Geller’s “attempt to conflate our political speech with anti-Semitism. AMP also rejects Geller’s response to our political speech ad with a racist and Islamophobic one”.
Many Americans, Muslim and non-Muslim, are puzzled that a public transport system is carrying AFDI’s ads, and some feel the issue is more political than legal.
“If the KKK or other groups [placed] ads like that it wouldn’t be allowed, so why is it allowed for Muslim Americans to be targeted in that way?” Mr Noorudin said.