Yeah, yeah, yeah: the New York Post is a sensational tabloid, a scandal sheet that blows things way out of proportion. We’ve heard it before. Well, guess what: the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, and the Post is blowing something out of proportion yet again. This time, it’s a series of advertisements set to appear in the subway this September. They’re sponsored by the 877-WHY-ISLAM Project, which is a division of the Islamic Circle of North America. The goal of the project is to, as the Post describes, “promote Islam with the goals of clearing up long-held misconceptions about the faith and reaching out to those interested in becoming Muslim.” It’s the last part that helped earn this article the fear-mongering headline of “JIHAD TRAIN” on page 1.
Why the outrage? It’s because one Brooklyn imam appears in a YouTube video promoting the project. Siraj Wahhaj served as a character witness for Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who is serving a life sentence for the attack. Wahhaj has also called the FBI and CIA the “real terrorists.”
The Post frames the ad campaign as “TRAIN-ING DAY FOR JIHADISTS” in the story on page 5, but in reality, it sounds like the hysteria that the Post is manufacturing is exactly the kind of irrational thinking that the campaign seeks to curb. I’m not saying in any way, shape or form that Wahhaj is really a stand-up guy, but again, every religion or group has its own “true-believer” ultra-fanatics. How is this any different from a Christian group trying to recruit members through advertising, or those Latter Day Saints commercials on daytime TV? If it really were a JIHAD TRAIN issue, wouldn’t the MTA have declined the campaign? Yes, there is the argument that the MTA is so strapped for cash they’d accept just about anything, but I would doubt that something this heated wouldn’t have gotten the OK without much careful deliberation.
This probably won’t be the last we hear about this campaign before (or should that be “if”) it appears in September. Expect outrage from both sides–those who think that this is another way the terrorists have “won” and those who will fervently advocate for the campaign under the guise that more information can only help people understand Islamic culture.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 21, 2008