The American-Muslim community and rights groups are pushing back against Islamophobia, which they worry is on the rise due to heightened concern about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or ISIS).
On Wednesday, 120 religious scholars and Muslim leaders released an open letter refuting the ideology of ISIS, calling on its supporters to repent, and debunking "the falsehood that ISIS in any way represents Islamic beliefs or practices," as Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations put it.
The letter reads, in part:
Islam is mercy and its attributes are merciful. The Prophet (peace be upon him), who was sent as a mercy for all the worlds, summarized a Muslim's dealings with others by saying: 'He who shows no mercy, will not be shown mercy;' and: 'Have mercy and you will be shown mercy.' But, as can be seen from everything mentioned, you have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder. As elucidated, this is a great wrong and an offence to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world. Reconsider all your actions; desist from them; repent from them; cease harming others and return to the religion of mercy.
But the message clearly hasn't reached everyone. Later this month, a series of anti-Islamist ads paid for by a blogger-run organization called the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI)—listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group—will appear in two New York City subway stations and on 100 city buses. A 2012 federal court decision ruled that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the region's mass transit system, must run so-called "viewpoint ads," though they will include a disclaimer that the views they express are not shared by the MTA.
"It is unfortunate that segments of American society continue to demonize Muslim Americans."
—Azhar Azeez, Islamic Society of North America
One of the ads, according to the Huffington Post, "shows two photos side by side—on the left, a photo of a British man in a recording booth wearing a red tracksuit, and on the right, a picture of James Foley and his black-clad executioner, moments before Foley's death. The man pictured on the left is suspected of being the same person as Foley's killer. 'Yesterday's moderate is today's headline,' reads the ad." Another reads: "Islamic Jew-hatred: It's in the Quran."
The ads allegedly highlight "the uselessness of the distinction between 'moderate' and 'extremist' Muslims," AFDI's Pamela Geller explained at Breitbart.
At a rally outside New York City Hall on Tuesday, the the National Network for Arab American Communities called on New Yorkers to "denounce the anti-Muslim hate advertisements."
"These ads are vile, hateful, indecent and only serve to fan the flames of intolerance," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday. "They have no place in a civilized society and should be resoundingly denounced throughout the four corners of our great and diverse city."
The following day, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, President Barack Obama—who as of Tuesday has overseen the bombings of seven predominantly Muslim countries—said: "We have reaffirmed again and again that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no us and them, there is only us—because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country."
Muslim leaders responded positively to Obama's statements.
"We appreciate President Obama's remarks recognizing that the Muslim American community is a welcomed part of our diverse country," said Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). "It is unfortunate that segments of American society continue to demonize Muslim Americans."
Also Wednesday, Obama presided over a meeting of the UN Security Council, during which he successfully pressed for a resolution that requires all UN member states to counter violent extremism by taking measures to “prevent and suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping" of people who travel (or attempt to travel) abroad for terrorism training, or who help finance such efforts. The resolution, which gained unanimous support from the 15-member body and applies to all 193 member states, also urges intensified and accelerated intelligence-sharing among nations.
The American Civil Liberties Union used the passage of the resolution, aimed at "countering violent extremism" both at home and abroad, to caution against further stigmatizing American-Muslim communities.
Such counterterrorism messages "may sound prudent," the ACLU said, "but far too often in recent years the fight against 'extremism' has involved targeting and abusing innocent Americans on the basis of their political activism and religious observance."
"Crimes motivated by religious, racial, or other biases do not occur in a vacuum," the letter reads. "They occur in the context of a broader public discourse in which members of minority communities are frequently vilified, stereotyped, and demeaned. Particularly in the current climate of heightened public concern, [administration] officials can profoundly impact the way that Americans understand racial, ethnic, and religious differences."