Freedom to Misunderstand

Sometimes people like to make mountains out of molehills.

This week, when the NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority finally let the American Freedom Defense Initiative put up their anti-Jihad ads in subway stations in order to preserve their first amendment right, the Muslim world was again in an uproar.

In this case, like the last one this past September, many other people agreed with the uproar, explaining that the ads were just inciting hate and racism. However, what most people are neglecting to realize is that the ad is criticizing Jihad, not Muslims.

According to the authoritative Dictionary of Islam jihad is defined as: “A religious war with those who are nonbelievers in the mission of Muhammad … enjoined especially for the purpose of advancing Islam and repelling evil from Muslims.”An accurate interpretation of the concept of Jihad is provided by the BBC about how Muslims describe three different types of struggles; this refers to a believer’s internal struggle to live in the Muslim faith, the struggle to build a good Muslim society, and, lastly, a holy war: the struggle to defend Islam, with force if necessary.

When the AFDI formed their anti-Jihad ad, I do not believe they intended that it target all Muslims. I believed that they intended to target the Jihad-supporting, radical Muslims that tend to stand prominently in certain aspects of our lovely Western society. I cannot forget living in Brooklyn, NY in the aftermath of 9/11, when the aforementioned radicals gave candy to the children in the streets around Atlantic Avenue. I cannot forget the UN allowing Ahmadenijad speak time and time again at their NY headquarters, constantly calling for the annihilation of the West, their values, and, specifically, Israel. It is those radicals the ads are targeting, not every Muslim.

I understand that people can misinterpret the ads. I understand that many people associate Jihad with all Muslims. But when you look at the media’s portrayal of Muslims, especially as of late, they are never shown to be a peaceful people. Rather, they kill US ambassadors because of a Coptic Christian’s film. They go riot with weapons at US Embassies instead of using dialogue and friendly gestures. They call for a violent shariah law to be implemented rather than a democracy throughout their Arab Springs. So when the general public reacted the way they did to the ads, I wasn’t surprised. They thought the ads were equating all Muslims to savages. And that’s just not true.

Muslims are only savages when they act like savages. And that is when they act in the last definition of Jihad. And sadly, as of late, that title seems appropriate.

About the Author
Melanie Goldberg is a current student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She also serves as the research assistant for Versa: The Israeli Supreme Court English Language Repository, and founded a chapter of The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights on her campus. Most recently, she was one of the recipients of The Jewish Week's "36 under 36" award.