Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Subway Project and 'Why Islam?' - Terrorists in the Subways! Or, Not

I ran into a cryptic CNN headline today, part of Monday's news: "NY paper blasts Muslim ad project because of supporter." No clue what paper it was: and several newspapers operate in the Big Apple.

Smoke, Fire, and a Few Facts

I'm pretty sure that CNN was talking about the earlier one of these gems, from the New York Post: The New York Post was careful about sticking to facts, and just as careful about which facts it published. (I've put short excerpts at the end of this post.)

Blog posts about the pro-Islam ads are popping up: There's a lively discussion going on in an online community: I've even heard that New York State Congressman Peter King had had a few words to say about the ads. He's in the House of Representatives for New York state's 3rd Congressional District. He's also ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee.

With Friends Like This - - -

Another personality involved with The Subway Project is Siraj Wahhaj, an imam who's promoting the project. The Subway Project's backers have asked him not to, but what can you do? It's a free country.

Here's what Congressman Peter King said about The Subway Project: "I have no problem with the ad itself, but I have a very, very real problem with those behind it," and he's asked the MTA to ban the ads. talking about Siraj Wahhaj, Representative King said: "He is a known Islamic extremist, and you would be giving him credibility and stature through a known government facility," a remark which may or may not be accurate. (Quotes from "Islam subway ads cause stir in New York" CNN (July 22, 2008).)

CNN described Siraj Wahaj as "the first Muslim to lead a prayer before the House of Representatives..." and "...a character witness for convicted 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman." That's 'the blind sheik"' who masterminded the 1993 NYC World Trade Center bombing. Representative King, perhaps understandably, doesn't approve of imam Wahhaj's views.

People, Please! Check Your Facts!

What gets lost in the fuss is that imam Wahhaj is connected with The Subway Project only because imam Wahhaj decided to promote The Subway Project.

Against the wishes of the people who actually have an interest in it.

I'll grant that Saraj Wahhaj has a video with cool music. The embedded version that I put in an earlier post seems to have been blocked, but you may still be able to view it on the YouTube site: "The Subway Project - Coming To The NYC Subway This Ramadhan!." (YouTube video (July 20, 2008)). Still, I think he's showing dubious good sense, promoting The Subway Project with his background. Particularly since he's been asked not to.

In the world where I live, The Subway Project shows every indication of being a well-intentioned effort by American Muslims to educate their non-Muslim neighbors about what Islam is. I think it sounds like a good idea. The Subway Project is closely associated with the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) - an organization I added to the blogroll earlier this week.

What Are They Thinking?!

One thing stands out in online discussions of The Subway Project. Very few people seem to have collected facts about it, before forming an opinion. I don't think that's a good idea: The technique of forming an opinion first and thinking later is easy, but not well-known for producing accurate results.

Why Defend an Islamic Group That's Promoting an Islamic Site?

I'm a devout Catholic. A Christian. And, an American. So, why am I defending 'those people?' Because I'm one of 'those people,' in some circles.

A personal digression: It ties in with what I'm writing about, but feel free to skip this paragraph. The regional culture where I grew up had a strong anti-Catholic sentiment as part of its core values. Being the sort of person I am, I wanted to know exactly why Catholics were as bad as some people said they were. I discovered that part of what I thought I knew about Catholicism was about four centuries out of date, and much of the rest was simply wrong. Some time after that, I became a Catholic.

Although there are more Catholics than Muslims in America, we're still a minority in America. That's kept me rather aware of what happens when "vox populi, vox dei" is taken too seriously, or out of context.

Various Versions of Niemöller's 'They Came for the Jews'

A German pastor, Martin Niemöller, is credited with writing a poem:
"When Hitler attacked the Jews
I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the Catholics,
I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists,
I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned.
Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church --
and there was nobody left to be concerned."
Or maybe it was
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me."
"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me."
You probably heard another version. There are quite a few out there, some rather politically correct, some edited with a more conservative slant. The first one I quoted is presumably from the Congressional record (I couldn't verify that). The third what a professor at UC Santa Barbara researched. (I recommend reading "Martin Niemöller's famous quotation: 'First they came for the Communists'," by Harold Marcuse, UC Santa Barbara (2000, updated 2007).)

The point is, when 'those people' are attacked with the sort of strong emotions and weak evidence we're seeing directed against Muslims, it's time to stop, take a deep breath and think.

Even hysterical ignoramuses can be right. It doesn't hurt to do a little research and see if there's something to the wild claims.

But, if it appears that there is little or no fact behind the claims, it's time to speak out. I'm not a Muslim, but if 'those people' are being attacked today, it could be my turn next. Or yours, for that matter.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.
In the News:
Excerpts from those New York Post articles:
    New York Post (July 22, 2008)
    • " Elected officials and straphangers called on the MTA yesterday to pull the Islamic subway-ad campaign being promoted by a controversial Brooklyn imam whom federal officials have linked to acts of terrorism.
    • "The push to promote Islam on the rails this September, in a $48,000 ad campaign sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America, was reported in The Post yesterday.
    • " 'I strongly believe the MTA should pull the ads,' said Rep. Peter King (R-LI), a ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee. 'They are especially shameful because the ads will be running during the seventh anniversary of September 11, and because the subways are considered a primary target of terrorists.'...
    New York Post (July 21, 2008)
    • "Allah board!
    • "An Islamic group plans to blitz 1,000 subway cars with advertisements this September in a campaign being promoted by a Brooklyn imam whom federal officials have linked to a plot to blow up city landmarks.
    • "The group says its mission is to explain the true nature of Islam to non-Muslims who believe the religion is bent on acts of violence - but Siraj Wahhaj, the inflammatory imam who appears in a promotional YouTube video for the project, has defended convicted bomb-plotters and called the FBI and CIA the 'real terrorists.'
    • "US Attorney Mary Jo White even named Wahhaj one of 170 unindicted co-conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the thwarted plan to blow up a slew of buildings....


Anonymous said...

For those that want to know the truth about Islam. Especially those who believe it is a peaceful religion, download and watch the following documentary, it will open your eyes.....

Islam: What the west needs to know

Brian H. Gill said...


I must say that you're thorough. That URL you provide is registered through Domains by Proxy, Inc., so there's no way of knowing who has an interest in it.

The file that's accessed is a Torrent file, so not everyone will be able to view it.

It's possible that you were referring to "Islam: What the West Needs to Know" (Quixotic Media, LLC). I have not reviewed that film. However, I would like to know what visitors to this post think of it.

And, as a courtesy, if possible, leave your name: or at least a recognized nickname.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.