Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Opinion

Winner in battling bus advertisements is clear

We can all probably agree that the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus system will never be confused with the Castle Church of Wittenberg, where Martin Luther famously nailed his "Ninety-Five Theses."

But that still hasn't prevented the HART buses from being used as the focal point in a liturgical hissy fit over Islam. I don't know about you, but the last place I would turn to for spiritual enlightenment would be the Waters Avenue Route 16 line.

The great Muslim brouhaha began when the local Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) used local buses in an advertising campaign to promote religious and cultural tolerance. Oh, the jihad of it all! Imagine, just imagine, a bunch of Muslims advocating peace and understanding.

That prompted the American Freedom Defense Initiative to launch a counter campaign, decrying the practice of "honor" killings and warnings of those who might be of the Islamic faith not to tell their families if they are thinking of leaving the mosque.

The anti-Islam AFDI is the handiwork of Pamela Geller, whose organization is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Or consider the county bus company has just sold advertising space to a woman who has claimed Barack Obama is the "love child" of Malcolm X, accused U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan, who is Jewish, of having Nazi sympathies and has supported the late genocidal war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. Obviously, we're dealing with someone here with all the intellectual firepower of a test pattern.

This probably qualifies Pamela Geller, the Fatal Attraction's Alex Forrest of theology, as the last person in the world you would want to get stuck in an elevator with.

And keep in mind that AFDI submitted eight advertising proposals to the bus company, which found seven of them to be extreme, radical and hateful. And the one that did manage to pass muster was the billboard warning of "honor" killings and how to escape from Islam.

While "honor" killings are indeed deplorable, Geller's AFDI ad fails to mention they are far more common elsewhere around the world and that the practice is followed by many other faiths and societies.

Still, that's not to suggest Geller and AFDI haven't performed a valuable public service to the citizenry and the bus company.

One of the many charms of the First Amendment protections of free speech is the right of anyone to demonstrate for all the public to see what complete and utter imbeciles they are. And yes I'll save you the trouble, that includes myself.

I may be going out on a limb here, but it's rather doubtful the dueling bus billboards will lead to either hordes of people suddenly flocking to CAIR to convert to Islam and/or equal numbers of Muslims will turn in their prayer rugs after being exposed to the AFDI advertising campaign.

In the end, as is the case of any form of advertising, which approach is more effective — a message of tolerance and acceptance offered by the local chapter of a national organization, or a ranting, anti-Islamic screed using misinformation and xenophobic scare tactics underwritten by a silly woman from New York who also happens to make the Southern Poverty Law Center's hit parade of crazies?

Ultimately it is the bus company that comes out the winner here.

HART just made some money off a feud, plastering its buses with advertising nobody ever pays any attention to. What's next?

A "Got Satan?" campaign?

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