Hatem Bazian: Anti-Islam ads on San Francisco buses put Muslims at risk

Ads running on San Francisco municipal buses, paid for by noted anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller and her American Freedom Defense Initiative, have sparked controversy about hate speech and fears they could stoke more violence against the American Muslim community. The ads come at a time when American Muslims have suffered at least nine attacks across the nation over a two-week period in August.

The advertisements, cribbed from an Ayn Rand quote, state: “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the American Freedom Defense Initiative as a hate group.

The outcry has focused on discrimination against adherents of Islam, and rightly so. On Aug. 10, pigs’ feet were strewed on the lawn of a mosque in Ontario, while Muslim worshipers in Hayward were pelted by oranges and lemons as they walked into prayer. In Illinois, an acid bomb was thrown at an Islamic school and shots were fired at a mosque. In both cases, worshipers were inside attending to Ramadan prayers. A mosque in Joplin, Mo., was torched and burned to the ground, and other mosques in Oklahoma and Rhode Island reported incidents of vandalism. In Panama City, Fla., a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Muslim family’s home.

Geller’s ads demonize Muslims at a time when they are under attack.

As an educator, I fully support free speech and the open exchange of ideas.

But hate speech like the bus ads has a destructive, cumulative impact on society. The term “savages” has been used to demonize people of color and marginalize them throughout this country’s history.

The San Francisco Transportation Authority has posted ads condemning Geller’s language next to her ad, and has set up a commission to review its advertising policies.