A controversial advertisement which some feel is offensive toward Islam will appear on SEPTA buses.
The ad, funded by the American Freedom Law Center, incorporates a black-and-white photo showing Adolf Hitler seated with Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist who supported the Axis powers in World War II. Next to the image is the text: “Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran.”
The ads will run on 84 SEPTA buses for an entire month, which will cost $30,000. At a university with a sizable population of both Muslim and commuter students, it’s likely that many will see the advertisements. Temple’s Muslim Students Association said in a statement that they hope the ads spark discussions among those unfamiliar with the religion, and discouraged students from vandalizing the ads.
“We must work together with the leaders of the communities involved in order to create an environment of understanding,” the statement read. “We would urge people not to [vandalize] because it is important to be respectful of other people’s opinions and that is what our religion teaches.”
Khalid Blankinship, chair of the department of religion, said the ads posed a greater question to the limitations of speech. He believes the ads, by stating what the backing organization believes to be in the Quran, seek to harm Muslims’ “ability to interpret their own scripture in their own way.”
Blankinship added that it could be difficult to work through the differences in opinions about religion, because each side might comprehend religion differently.
“One person’s hate group is another person’s freedom fighter … something where there is no objective designation,” he said.
SEPTA suggested that the ads were insinuating demoralizing rhetoric towards a person or population of individuals based on race, sex, religion, ancestry, national origin or special needs.
Members of the Islamic community in Philadelphia as well as other religious organizations in the city, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, had protested the ads.
In a news conference held last week in LOVE Park, Mayor Michael Nutter said residents should not let the ads affect relations in the city.
“We will not allow any misguided and opportunistic political tactics to undermine or obscure the shared respect among communities of faith,” Nutter said.
Multiple courts have ruled that the ad must run in order to not deny the group its First-Amendment right to free speech. To not run, SEPTA would have to cease running all religious advertisements.
Allen Habtamu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.