CAIRO - Trying to counter growing hostile sentiments in the Republican presidential campaigns, a leading Islamic American group has launched a public ad and television campaign to battle back long-held misconceptions about their faith.
This is an election year and in the Republican primaries and elsewhere, generally we have seen more discrimination, hate and misunderstanding about Muslims, Sabeel Ahmed, director of Gain Peace, an Islamic outreach organization based in Chicago, told The New York Times on Friday, February 24.
We wanted to take it up a notch.
Launching their work last December, Gain Peace spent $40,000 to counter negative portrayals and produce two television ads intended to promote Islam as a just faith.
Running through March, the ad campaign, depicting friendly Muslim students and professionals, would be aired in the Chicago area on Fox, CNN and TNT.
The campaign would also display a phone number and a Web site for more information about Islam.
Sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America, an Islamic education organization based in Queens, New York, the campaign was urged in the past few months to counter a growing Islamophobia in the American society.
According to an FBI report last November, hate crimes against Muslims increased nearly 50 percent in the United States in 2010.
Some analysts refer those attacks to a growing sense of discomfort with Muslims that was basically triggered by Republican presidential campaigns over the past months.
Last November, Pat Brady, the Illinois Republican Party chairman, urged the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the state's leading immigrant support group, to expel CAIR-Chicago from its list of affiliated organizations.
He cited CAIR's reported ties to Hamas terrorist supporters, its anti-Israel organizing and its tolerance for anti-Semitic discourse.
The coalition declined and called Mr. Brady's request a descent into anti-Muslim hysteria.
In the presidential race, both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have depicted Islamic Shari`ah law as a potential threat to United States sovereignty
The same rhetoric was repeated by Walid Phares, one of Mitt Romney's foreign policy advisers, who regularly warns that Muslims aim to take over American institutions and impose Sharia`h.
Undoing Bad Effect
Seeing the growing bad effect of the Republican campaigns, Muslims were urged to counter attacks on Islam with accurate information about the Muslim faith.
What's worse than ignorance is misinformation, and that's what I find Islamophobia normally falls under: It's a process of miseducation, said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But what can be done, can be undone.
Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, confirmed the bad effect of the anti-Muslim rhetoric.
He added that he expects more heated debates during the coming primary battles in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and Wisconsin.
In reaching out to your base, there's a tendency to throw red meat out there, he said.
Redfield praised the Muslim ad campaign as a smart way to combat anti-Muslim rhetoric.
In politics, if you don't define yourself someone else will, he said.
They have to be proactive in terms of trying to neutralize ignorance and willful manipulation of negative opinion.
Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated at between six to eight million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
Anti-Muslim frenzy has grown sharply in the US in recent months over plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, resulting in attacks on Muslims and their property.
Moreover, US Muslims have been sensing a growing hostility since Republican Representative Peter King held a hearing on what he described as radicalization of US Muslims.
Republican-sponsored bills in at least 20 states have introduced proposals forbidding local judges from considering Shari`ah when rendering verdicts on issues of divorces and marital disputes.
In Islam, Shari`ah governs all issues in Muslims' lives from daily prayers to fasting and from, marriage and inheritance to financial disputes.
The Islamic rulings, however, do not apply on non-Muslims, even if in a dispute with non-Muslims.