Robert Spencer and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

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Robert Spencer and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

by Richard Bartholomew (barthsnotes.com)

News that Robert Spencer has been dis-invited from speaking at a Roman Catholic Men’s Conference in the US Diocese of Worcester has prompted renewed interest in Spencer’s own Catholicism; a comment posted to a short account of the cancellation derived from a Boston Globe article includes the following:

Posted by: Archpriest – Jan. 31, 2013 10:36 PM ET USA
Appalling! Robert Spencer is a Catholic deacon in good standing with [a] Melkite Diocese… To call Father Deacon Robert a “hate-monger” is unjust and adds further injury to the situation of Eastern Catholics – daily persecuted and even martyred in the Middle East. I am a retired military chaplain. Deacon Robert has addressed military staff symposia. Is the Diocese of Worcester so politically-correct that it would ignore the suffering of fellow Christians in the lands of Christ’s birth?

Spencer’s identification as a Melkite Greek Catholic is well-known, but the detail that he is a deacon is new, and can be confirmed via reference to other sites noted by Loonwatch. Spencer here follows the example of the late Paul Weyrich, whom he regarded as a mentor-figure, although Spencer’s Melkite affiliation also reflects his personal circumstances: he is of Greek Orthodox heritage (family displaced from Turkey) and married to a Catholic, and so a form of Catholicism that follows an Orthodox style has obvious attractions.

Some of Spencer’s books include the name of the priest of his church among the acknowledgements, although the church itself does not appear to promote the kind of anti-Islam polemicising for which Spencer is notorious. In 2006 Spencer promoted a report about a speech given by then-US Melkite leader Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, in which Bustros made criticisms of Islam; however, Bustros did not resort to the kind of rabble-rousing rhetoric and sloppiness that are Spencer’s hallmarks.

Spencer was less pleased with Bustros in 2010, when it was reported that Bustros had opined at a Vatican Synod that

We want to say that the promise of God in the Old Testament, relating to the ‘promised land’ … as Christians, we’re saying that this promise was essentially nullified [in French, “abolished”] by the presence of Jesus Christ, who then brought about the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we cannot talk about a ‘promised land’ for the Jews. We talk about a ‘promised land’ which is the Kingdom of God… Sacred scripture should not be used to justify the occupation of Palestinian land on the part of the Israelis.

The ADL described this as “the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism”, and argued that ”Archbishop Bustros contradicts decades of official Vatican and papal teachings which affirm God’s ongoing Covenant with the Jewish people at Sinai, and calls on Christians to appreciate the Jewish people’s religious self-understanding, including its spiritual attachment to the land of Israel.”

Spencer, while declining to disclose that Bustros was his clerical superior, explained that 

…he is strongly in the running to become the next Archbishop of Beirut, and could be trying to reassure Muslim leaders in Lebanon that his stint in the United States has not tainted him with Zionism, and he is still as anti-Israel as he was as Archbishop of Baalbek, before he came to America. It is a pity that a Christian leader would have to behave this way, and I am not saying he is not doing it out of conviction also, but in any case it is a reflection of the situation on the ground in Islamic countries: Christians who don’t echo the Islamic political line face hard going…

Accordingly, we cannot judge… Archbishop Cyril harshly.

Those anti-Israel comments formed the basis of a follow-up guest post by David Littman; Bustros had spoken to the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Rabat in 2002, and his words had been ugly and crude:

…Today, the Jews allege that Al-Quds belongs to them only. They have made it the capital of their Zionist state, arguing that it is the land of their ancestors since Ibrahim. If only they followed the example of this ancestor, who accepted to sacrifice his own son for the love of God. Instead, they have no qualms about killing the children of the others for the sake of their racist ambitions. John the Baptist, the great prophet who prepared for the advent of Jesus and called people to repent their sins to God, told the Jews: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance, and think not to say within yourselves. We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham”[Matthew 3: 7-8]…

Littman, like Spencer, puts this down to the “dhimmitude mindset”, but the reference to “Al-Quds” for Jerusalem notwithstanding, in both 2002 and 2010 the Bustros appears to be drawing on long-standing independent Christian traditions of anti-Judaism.

However, Spencer then posted the following:

I owe the Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros an apology: when I wrote about his remarks at the recent Vatican Synod, I was relying on incomplete and inaccurate press reports, and did not fully understand his position. Now, in a Jihad Watch exclusive, Archbishop Cyril clarifies his remarks and explains his position.

Spencer does not explain how the press reports were “inaccurate”, although the statement that follows his introduction takes a more moderate line and calls for a two-state solution (this is also – surprisingly – Spencer’s own position). One wonders why the Archbishop thought it would be sensible to put things right through a exclusive statement to an opportunistic anti-Islam blog, rather than to issue a statement through more reputable channels; perhaps Spencer’s position as a “deacon in good standing” is the reason.

According to the Boston Globe, Spencer had been due to speak at the Men’s Conference in Worcester on the subject of Islam, and the paper quotes the Diocese on why the invitation was recinded:

…”Although the intention of the conference organizers was to have a presenter on Islam from a Catholic’s perspective, we are asking Robert Spencer to not come to the Worcester Catholic Men’s Conference, given that his presence is being seen as harmful to Catholic–Islamic relations both locally and nationally,” Raymond ­Delisle, a spokesman for the ­diocese, said in a statement ­issued to the Globe.

The report adds that the Islamic Council of New England had urged the Diocese to cancel “after the Globe sought comment on his scheduled appearance from the diocese and from Muslim organizations”; Spencer now alleges, citing “sources”, that the article’s author, Lisa Wangsness, had asked Islamic groups to contact the Diocese (she denies it).

Of course, the problem with Spencer goes beyond “Catholic–Islamic relations”; the man is not a sensible speaker for any organisation that wants to be taken seriously. His blog frequently carries inaccurate and inflammatory items; sometimes, he quietly deletes material without making corrections if he knows that he can’t defend a claim (see here and here), but he also sometimes lashes out, accusing those who challenge an inaccuracy of supporting Islamic extremism. Spencer also identifies completely with the lurid claims and activism of the birther Pamela Geller. In 2009, Spencer cried “libel” when it was suggested he may have met leaders of the English Defence League; yet now, following Geller, he is an enthusiast for the organisation, appearing alongside Stephen Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”) and Kevin Carroll and opining that Lennon’s current imprisonment for passport fraud means that he is a “political prisoner”.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester cancels speech by anti-Muslim Bigot

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An invitation for Robert Spencer, a leader in the Islamophobia Movement to speak at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester has been rescinded according to the Boston Globe. It is a good sign that many are realizing that his hate has no place at a respectable institution.

The Boston Globe report has a couple of issues, first the title, describing Spencer as a mere “critic of Islam” is misleading, he is not a “critic,” he is a bigot who delves into and spreads deeply paranoid falsities/smears about Islam and Muslims daily. The article also unfortunately alludes to Jihad being defined as “holy war.” I’m also curious why the ADL is solicited for expertise on the subject when their record has been rather mixed in the fight against Islamophobia.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester cancels speech by critic of Islam

by Lisa Wangsness (Boston Globe)

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester rescinded an invitation Wednesday to Robert Spencer, a Catholic whose work depicts Islam as an inherently violent religion, to speak at its annual Catholic Men’s Conference in March.

The invitation was withdrawn after Muslims in Massachusetts expressed concerns to the diocese about the appearance of Spencer, scheduled to be a featured speaker at the DCU Center on March 16.

Spencer is director of the blog Jihad Watch and a leader of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, both of which are seen as anti-Muslim groups by some organizations that monitor extremism.

His books include “Stealth Jihad: How ­Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs,” “The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant ­Religion,” and “Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics.” On his blog, he has argued that jihad is a central tenet of the faith.

After the Globe sought comment on his scheduled appearance from the diocese and from Muslim organizations Wednesday, the Islamic Council of New England sent an e-mail urging Catholic leaders to cancel ­Spencer’s appearance. The diocese agreed to do so shortly ­after receiving the e-mail.

“Although the intention of the conference organizers was to have a presenter on Islam from a Catholic’s perspective, we are asking Robert Spencer to not come to the Worcester Catholic Men’s Conference, given that his presence is being seen as harmful to Catholic–Islamic relations both locally and nationally,” Raymond ­Delisle, a spokesman for the ­diocese, said in a statement ­issued to the Globe.

The conference is a religious and social gathering for Catholic men, as well as their male friends and relatives, that typically includes talks from prominent Catholic men, a Mass said by the bishop, and the opportunity to attend confession.

Dr. Abdul Cader Asmal, cochairman of communications for the Islamic Council of New England, called the cancellation of Spencer’s speech “very reassuring” and said it was consistent with longstanding good relations between the Muslim and Catholic communities in Massachusetts.

“Somebody may have been blindsided by Robert Spencer, not knowing exactly what kind of hatemonger he was,” he said.

Spencer, in an e-mail late Wednesday afternoon, said the diocese had not notified him of the cancellation.

“If it does turn out to be true,” he said in another e-mail, “it is new evidence of the cowardice of Roman Catholic officials in confronting the reality of Muslim persecution of Christians and their inability to grasp the importance [of] basing genuine dialogue between religions on truth, however ­unpleasant, rather than on wishful thinking and comforting fictions.”

In an earlier e-mail, he ­defended his work.

“There is nothing hateful or bigoted about what I say,” he said. “My work is in defense of the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and the equality of rights of all people before the law.”

In September, the American Freedom Defense Initiative posted ads in the New York subway system that referred to ­Islamists who opposed the state of Israel as “savages.” The group is now running a second series of ads featuring photographs of the burning World Trade Center alongside a quotation attributed to the Koran: “Soon we shall cast terror into the hearts of unbelievers.”

Spencer was a leading opponent of the Park51 project to build a mosque and Islamic ­cultural center in lower ­Manhattan, which he has referred to on his blog as the ­“Islamist supremacist mega-mosque at Ground Zero.”

He has also raised alarms about multiculturalism and what he believes to be the threat of Sharia, Islamic religious law, undermining American courts and civil rights across the world.

Oren Segal, codirector of the Anti-Defamation League’s ­Center on Extremism, called Spencer “the godfather of the anti-Muslim movement in this country.”

Segal said there are legitimate concerns about people motivated by radical interpretations of Islam, which he said his organization has spoken out about forcefully. But Spencer, he said, is part of “a cottage ­industry . . . that under the guise of fighting radical Islam is actually demonizing an entire religion.”

Spencer, in another e-mail, said that the Anti-Defamation League “has unwisely ventured into leftist advocacy politics, spending more time combating friends of Israel on the right rather than enemies of Israel on the left. Its record in this is nothing short of shameful.”

Spencer says on his blog, ­Jihad Watch, where he posts many times a day, that he does not believe all Muslims espouse violence or that Islam is a monolithic faith.

But he calls ­violent jihad a “central element of Islamic theology,” citing a Koranic verse that says, in part, “Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them [captive] and ­besiege them and prepare for them each ambush.”

Omid Safi, an Islamic studies scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that there are indeed references like that to holy war in the ­Koran and that some ­Muslims in different periods of history have used them to justify their actions.

That does not mean, he said, that most modern ­Muslims accept them literally.

“If we go flipping through each other’s scriptures to persuade ourselves that other people’s scriptures contain violent elements, then that’s a losing game for all of us,” Safi said. “The question is: How do we make sense of them, and which ones do we call upon to live our lives today?”

In the Gospel of Matthew, he notes, Jesus says, “I come not to bring peace, but the sword.”

Safi also said that Spencer has no formal training in Islamic studies or Arabic.

Asked about his credentials, Spencer replied that his critics’ real problem is not his training.

“What I say about Islam is not unusual or eccentric,” he said. “Numerous scholars who have the credentials that those you have spoken with require, and many ex-Muslims, have made the same observations about Islamic doctrine that I have.”

Amjad Bahnassi, a member and occasional spokesman for the Worcester Islamic Center, said the Muslim community in the city generally has an excellent relationship with the ­Catholic Church.

Bahnassi said he counts a number of priests as friends and regularly speaks at ­Catholic churches about Islam. Next month he is scheduled to speak at Anna Maria College and Assumption College.

“I would have liked for them if they wanted to know about Islam’s view of Christianity to ask a Muslim,” he said of the ­organizers of the Catholic Men’s Conference.

Robert Spencer needs to learn to do a fact check

Spencer is working hard to disassociate himself from one of his fans

Robert Spencer needs to learn to do a fact check

by Sheila Musaji

An individual using the twitter name @LearningKoran posted two hateful and unacceptable tweet on the #MyJihad hashtag.  Here are those tweets:

 

Many Muslims involved with the #MyJihad campaign responded to him as soon as we saw the tweets.

The MyJihadOrg account administrator tweeted him and told him they don’t condone such talk and consider himself blocked.

I posted a reminder that Sheikh Ali Gomaa said Violence is never an acceptable answer to provocation.  I told him that such a statement was totally outside the bounds of Islam, and that I found it fascinating that the #MyJihad campaign angers Musim extremists & Islamophobes.

Angie Emara posted a series of reminders:  calling him a hypocrite and an extremist and someone trying to sabotage the campaign.  She told him that it’s funny how you & Islamophobes share the EXACT sentiment towards majority Muslims!  She asked him “what’s wrong w u? Islam was never ever by force. U ruin the beauty of Islam picking ayat out of context 4 ur benefit”.  She asked him to “change the condition of your heart” and told him “you have major issues.seek therapy. That’s not Islam.”

Within hours he stopped posting, and when his twitter name was clicked on it said he was suspended.

No one involved with #MyJihad knows who this person was, whether he/she is a Muslim, or why he would make such a hateful post. Sad little incident, but handled as well as anyone connected with #MyJihad could handle unsolicited tweets.

However, that was not the end of the saga.  Robert Spencer posted an article with a screenshot of the tweet and Spencer’s own comments.  Spencer said “The deceptive and misleading #MyJihad campaign has apparently attracted at least one persistent Misunderstander of Islam. No doubt Hamas-linked CAIR’s Ahmed Rehab is in deep talks with this fellow already, explaining to him that jihad doesn’t really involve killing anyone, but is really just romping through the daisies.”

He is correct that the individual misunderstands Islam.  The rest is simply an attempt to cast aspersions on the #MyJihad campaign as if they can control individuals tweeting using that hashtag.  Spencer also does not mention any of the responses to this individual.  Not only do Islamophobes not know how to do a “search”, they also don’t know how to follow a conversation on twitter.

All Spencer would have had to was to follow the conversation, and he would have seen that the individual was immediately called to task and condemned for what he had said, asked to stop, and ultimately suspended.

But, Spencer is too busy demonizing Islam and Muslims to be concerned about facts.  He used this non-incident to stir up a frenzy among his readers.  The comments under Spencer’s article show how easily they are influenced.  Here are a few:

— John Spielman “These pagan muslim’s blind devotion to their demon god Allah’s cult of death is getting tiresome.” — Meryl Petkoff “The psychological projection of pedohammedans is f’ing SURREAL!. Poe’s Law is all that comes into mind when i read verbiage like that.”— Iloveport “I say, bring it on!!! You camel urine drinking numbnut maniacs.  I’m ready and able. You’re not kidding when you say this is getting tiresome. I’m so tired of the major a**kissing going on to appease these bozo’s.  Let’s dance….

And since he began the title of his article with the #MyJihad hashtag, many of these folks are tweeting this, again overwhelming the hashtag with hate.

Anyone who visits the hashtag can see over the course of any day how many Islamophobes come there and post hateful messages.  Some individuals post scores of messages each day, many of them repeat whatever is the current meme in an article on Pamela Geller or Robert Spencer’s sites that begins with the #MyJihad hashtag.  Some post the exact same comment over and over.  See the article Anti-Muslim Propaganda Against #MyJIhad Campaign for many of the claims made and responses to them.  Sometimes 20 or 30 of them will retweet or repeat the same comment over the course of a few minutes.  It is amazing that there are human beings who can find so much time to do nothing except spread hatred.

Some are more hateful than others one calling himself @pissedizard calls Muslims “vermin”, “demons” and “disgusting”, says “all Muslims smell like ass. Dead,rotting ass”, and has made a number of tweets suggesting directly that Muslims should be killed.  One of his tweets appears at the top of this article.

Robert Spencer would never notice such hatred directed at Muslims.  And, that is not surprising, since there has been plenty of it from his own AFDI/SION board and he has made no condemnations.  He also does not remove hateful comments from his site.

I wish we knew how the solitary nut job @LearningKoran was suspended by twitter, as the gang of about 30 Islamophobic nut jobs who are serial spammers of the hashtag should also be suspended, but continue with no problems.

All of this is very frustrating, but the Muslims involved with the #MyJihad campaign are resolute and committed to taking back Islam and the term jihad from both the Muslim extremists and Islamophobes.

It would be wonderful if not only more Muslims, but also any non-Muslims who believe in mutual respect, bridge building, and understanding would visit the hashtag and help to keep it from being overrun by haters.

It is amazing that projects such as #MyJihad through which American Muslims are attempting to counter extremist interpretations are seen as so threatening to those who say they wish Muslims would speak up.  Whatever claim or catch-phrase is put out by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer becomes the meme of the day, endlessly repeated by their followers on the #MyJihad hashtag and drowning it in hate.  All they are doing is making it more difficult for American Muslims to counter actual extremism.  They are a painful distraction.
UPDATE 1/28/2013

David Wood on a site called Answering Muslims posted an article about these tweets from @LearningKoran.  He titles his article “Muslim Tries to Educate Me about Peaceful Islam, Then Calls for the Execution of Critics!”.

Even David Wood notes that @LearningKoran became angry when he was condemned by individuals involved in the #MyJihad campaign, and before he was suspended by twitter posted this tweet:

 

Wood is one of the individuals who has been a serial tweeter of anti-Muslim messages, so not surprisingly his view of this exchange casts blame on Muslims and Islam.

The reality is that no one knows who this person @LearningKoran is, or whether or not he is a Muslim.  He could be anybody.  One of the difficulties with social media like twitter is that individuals can set up an account and a screen persona using any name they wish and post anonymously.

Whoever @LearningKoran is, he deserves condemnation as does @pissedlizard and others who have posted such messages threatening Muslims.  You can see screen shots of a few of these hateful anti-Muslim posts at the bottom of the page.

Creative Zionist Coalition: Jessica Felber and Orit Arfa to Award Racist Pamela Geller

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The founders of the Creative Zionist Coalition, Jessica Felber and Orit Arfa are going to award Pamela Geller, the looniest blogger ever with what they are terming the “Queen Esther Award for Jewish Heroism” and Robert Spencer with the “Shushan Award for Righteous Gentile.” Apparently if you pay $180 for a ticket to the event you can be a “Royal Courtier” and $306 makes you a “Royal Adviser.”

I nominate all four of these loons get the “Gimpel Award” for their contribution to hate, racism, Islamophobia and general buffoonery in making up awards in obscene displays of self-congratulatory egotism.

Who is Jessica Felber:

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Felber works as the West Coast Director of JerusalemOnlineU.com and holds the volunteer position of YP Chair with the Zionist Organization of America. She was involved in a lawsuit in which she claimed that she was assaulted by Pro-Palestine protesters at Berkeley, her lawsuit was thrown out.

Who is Orit Arfa:

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Orit Arfa lived in Israel from 1999-2008, where she worked in both non-profit PR and journalism. Orit returned to Los Angeles in 2008 and served as Executive Director of the Zionist Organization of America, Western Region. Her main tasks were to whitewash Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, policies of Occupation and apartheid. She describes herself as an “advocate on behalf of victims of Arab terror.” She is also the author of a novel that romanticizes land theft titled “The Settler,” which bemoans Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

It seems as though the Creative Zionist Coalition is related to the Zionist Organization of America.

Robert Spencer discovers a Salafi that doesn’t like democracy

Robert Spencer discovers a Salafi that doesn’t like democracy

by Sheila Musaji
Robert Spencer is incensed about another “evil Muslim.  He found an article about some Salafist in Jordan who doesn’t believe in democracy.  The article from which he got this earth shattering revelation said that the man was the leader of a “hardliner Salafi” group, so that is about what anyone would expect from such an individual. Not much of a revelation.  Spencer titles his article “Jordan: Muslim leader says democracy is forbidden in Islam”.  This gives the impression that this is an important person in Jordan.  He is only a leader of a small extremist group, much as Spencer is a leader of the small extremist group AFDI.

Spencer says in his usual sarcastic way: “He must have been reading Islamophobic literature—after all, Muslim spokesmen in the West constantly tell us that only greasy Islamophobes believe such things. They never explain, however, how so many Muslim clerics misunderstand Islam in the same ways.”

Actually some, “greasy Islamophobes” do believe the same thing as this Salafist.  It is amazing how many things Muslim extremists and Islamophobes are in agreement about.

According to The Jewish Week Spencer’s colleague and attorney, David Yerushalmi has condemned “democracy in the United States and, in comments that evoke classical anti-Semitic stereotypes, says he finds truth in the view that Jews “destroy their host nations like a fatal parasite.” … In a message to a pro-Israel rally last June he asked: “What interest does America have in a strong Israel? If your answer is democracy in a liberal or western sense, know you have sided with the Palestinians of Hamas.”

Yerushalmi’s hate group SANE has declared itself “dedicated to the rejection of democracy and party rule”.

Yerushalmi also said “While our constitutional republic was specifically designed to insulate our national leaders from the masses, democracy has seeped up through the cracks and corroded everything we once deemed sacred about our political order. Prior to the Civil War, the electorate, essentially white Christian men, had access to local government. It was here, where men shared an intimacy born of family ties, shared religious beliefs, and common cultural signposts, that representative government was meant to touch our daily lives. With the social and cultural revolution which followed the emancipation, man’s relationship to political order was radically nationalized and democratized. Today, there is simply no basis to resist “democracy” and the “open society”.

There really is no puzzle here at all, extremists of all stripes really don’t have a lot of respect for their fellow citizens.  Yet another, so what article that only a “scholar” of Spencer’s caliber could come up with.

About that “wear a veil or be raped story”

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About that “wear a veil or be raped story”

by Sheila Musaji
Pamela Geller posted another of her articles distorting reality beyond reason.  In the article #MyJihad: Egyptian Cleric Warns Christian Women: If You Don’t Wear a Veil You’ll Be Raped she links to an article titled Egyptian Cleric Warns Christian Women: If You Don’t Wear a Veil You’ll Be Raped by Sharona Schwartz on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze.  Geller also tweeted a link to her article using the hashtag #MyJihad in her ongoing effort to undermine that campaign by Muslims to take back the term jihad from both Muslim extremists and Islamophobes.

Both Schwartz and Geller come up with their alarmist titles and conclusions from their misreading of a Reuter’s article which is compounded by their hatred of Muslims.  They both link to this article, but obviously didn’t understand it.

What is the actual story?

The Reuters article says that Hisham el-Ashry, that they describe as an “obscure preacher”, and a very unsavory character, said in a television interview that “I was once asked: If I came to power, would I let Christian women remain unveiled? And I said: If they want to get raped on the streets, then they can.”

The Reuters article goes on to note the negative response to this man’s statements from ordinary Egyptians, and then says:

…  Egypt’s top Islamic institutions, such as al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, and Dar al Ifta, the central authority for issuing religious rulings, have long said religious practices should not be imposed on people.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti, the country’s most senior Islamic legal official, has dismissed the self-styled preacher’s views.  “This sort of idiotic thinking is one that seeks to further destabilise what is already a tense situation,” Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said in a statement to Reuters.  “Egypt’s religious scholars have long guided the people to act in ways that conform to their religious commitments, but have never thought this required any type of invasive policing.”

So an obscure member of the Muslim lunatic fringe made a misogynistic statement and was immediately condemned by Egypt’s Grand Mufti and other mainstream Islamic scholars.  He is obviously an extremist, and deserves to be condemned.  However, he didn’t threaten anyone with rape.  He expressed his stupid opinion that somehow “inappropriately dressed” women are responsible for men’s criminal actions towards them.  A despicable opinion, but not a threat or “warning”.

Before either Geller or Schwartz get so self-righteous about focusing attention on such a marginal figure spouting hateful, misogynistic nonsense, I would remind them that they are certainly aware that he is not alone in holding such hateful views.  You can find such lunatic fringe figures in any community.  Here are just a few examples found in a very short search:

In the Satmar Orthodox Jewish village in Williamsburg, NY there is a group called the Va’ad Hatznius (modesty patrol).  According to the Jewish Forward: “…  most of their energies are directed towards ensuring that women and girls dress and behave modestly.  Their reasoning is clear: When a female wears revealing clothing or chats with the opposite sex, it could entice the men, and lead to dire consequences. In other words, the goal of their injunctions is to inhibit the sexual impulses of the male population.”

A Catholic priest in Italy said that women were partly to blame for encouraging domestic violence by failing to clean their houses and cook properly and for wearing tight and provocative clothing.

An immodestly dressed woman was stoned by Haredi Jews in Beit Shemash, Israel.

An 8-year-old girl was called a ‘whore’ and spat on as she walked to school through an ultra-orthodox settlement in Israel because she was “improperly dressed”.

A modesty patrol in Jerusalem was indicted for cruelly beating and threatening a woman with death after taking it upon themselves to interrogate her about her relationships with men.

A 14-year-old girl was hospitalized in Jerusalem after a “modesty guard” spilled acid on her for wearing pants. The attack occurred in Beitar Illit, a Jerusalem suburb where tensions between religious and secular residents are on the rise. Paramedic Dror Eini said the girl told them that “the modesty guards have been threatening her for quite some time.”

Unless they are going to become just as incensed over all such displays of misogyny the they are only proving once again that their motivation is not concern for protecting women, but only a pathological need to denigrate Muslims and Islam.

#MyJihad: Can “jihad” survive Pam Geller?

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An excellent article by Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon.com on the background, import and history of the #MyJihad campaign and the “counterjihad” effort to derail it.:

Can “jihad” survive Pam Geller?

by Alex Seitz-Wald (Salon.com) 

MyJihad.org bus ad featuring two volunteers, an American-Muslim and an Israeli-Jew. (Credit: MyJihad.org)

So you want to rebrand a word. It’s hard to think of a more difficult rebranding project than “jihad.”

Since Sept. 11, the term has become synonymous with terrorism and villainy — but now a group of Muslims is trying to reclaim the word from the extremists, and redefine “jihad” to mean something normal and peaceful and good. They realize this won’t be easy.

The campaign hinges on the idea that “jihad” has two commonly accepted usages. One is the violent, physical struggle most of us are familiar with. The other, which many Muslims and Islamic scholars consider the more correct definition, refers to the inner struggle to do good and follow God’s teaching; Muslims strive to attain this every day. This is the “proper meaning” being promoted by My Jihad, a public education campaign recently launched on billboards and on buses in Chicago.

“The campaign is about reclaiming Islam, and not just ‘jihad,’ from both Muslim and non-Muslim extremists,” said Ahmed Rehab, the leader of the effort, in an interview. “Whether it’s the bin Ladens and the al-Qaidas of the Muslim world, or the Pam Gellers and Frank Gaffneys of the non-Muslim world, ironically — even though they come from the two opposite ends of the spectrum — they agree exactly on the same definition of ‘jihad’ and on the same worldview of Islam versus the rest of the world.”

In fact, the ads were directly inspired by Geller, the anti-Muslim blogger and activist, who has plastered her own billboards on subways and buses in New York. They label Muslims as “savages” and incite viewers to “defeat Jihad.”

“Everybody was talking about the ‘savage’ part, but to me, that’s just sort of an insult — she thinks I’m a savage, I think she’s an idiot, we’re even,” he said. “But the problem for me was the use of the word ‘jihad.’ When no one seemed to care about that, I realized that we have a problem.”

In billboards on buses and subways, smiling Muslims and non-Muslims share universal human aspirations, personalized by the individual “jihads” of the non-actor volunteers who share their struggles. In this context, a jihad is no more threatening than a New Year’s resolution. “My jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule,” one woman with a headscarf and a barbell says. Others deal with raising children, doing well at work, and making friendships with different kinds of people. To Rehab, jihad means that when you are “confronted with two choices, you make the right choice and not the easy one.”

Ads have already gone up on buses in Chicago and San Francisco, and will soon go up in 10 other major American cities and a handful of international ones, including London, Sydney and Melbourne. There’s a website, Facebook page and Twitter hashtag where people can share their own personal jihads.

On Monday, Egyptian activists working with the group even unfurled a giant banner in front of the main church in Cairo wishing a Merry Christmas (Coptic Christians celebrate the holiday on Jan. 7) in contravention of hard-line Islamic proclamations that Christmas should not be recognized.

That may not sound so scary, but the opposition has been predictably vitriolic. The group’s Twitter and Facebook pages have received hateful messages from hard-line Islamists. Geller, predictably, is exercised.

She has written at least a dozen posts using the campaign’s #myjihad hashtag, which currently represent about two out of every three posts on the front page of her influential anti-Muslim blog. Geller also seems determined to play a game of bait and switch to sabatoge the rival campaign. She registered the domain name MyJihad.us (the real URL ends in .org) and is even trying to run copycat ads that are clearly designed to be confused with Rehab’s. In her ads, the peaceful Muslim is replaced with pictures of Osama bin Laden and the burning twin towers. She trying to get approval from the Chicago Transit Authority for the ads to appear on city buses, but they may be rejected for infringing on My Jihad’s copyright to the template.

One would think that My Jihad is exactly the kind of moderate Muslim voice that Geller — who claims to be so threatened by Muslim “extremists” — would want to promote. But in reality, “the extremists on both sides need each other for validation. And we’re a threat to both,” Rehab said.

Rehab is the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), but he’s doing this on his own time and with separate funds to keep it a grass-roots effort. What started as a Facebook group less than a month ago has grown into a sophisticated public relations campaign that has already raised $20,000 and recruited dozens of volunteers, most of whom are “soccer moms” who don’t want their kids to feel intimidated at school because of their religion, Rehab said. “These are the army of My Jihad,” he quipped.

But can the popular conception of “jihad” really be changed with some ads and a hashtag?

“I would look at this conflict as I would any other product: We have an image problem,” said Arash Afshar, an Iranian-American marketing consultant who is not involved with the campaign. “This is exactly what Muslims should be doing … The way to combat an image problem is not to simply sit back and hope it goes away. You develop a branding strategy and motivate your already existing fan-base.”

The challenge will be to sustain the campaign, he said, pointing to the similarly buzzy and controversial Israel Loves Iran campaign.

The challenge is no doubt immense, however, explained Jean-Pierre Dubé, a professor of marketing at Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. “The problem we have here is that this is a case where we literally want to do an about-face on the interpretation of the word. And there’s so much passion behind how people have used this term that it’s hard to imagine this is something you can change overnight.”

Still, there are plenty of examples of brands dramatically turning their image around, Dubé said. Marlboro, contrary to its contemporary image of masculine ruggedness personified by the Marlboro Man, was initially marketed as a cigarette for women. Its signature red color comes from a red band on the tip designed to hide lipstick stains — “A cherry tip for your ruby lips,” as the slogan went. Likewise, Mountain Dew successfully remade itself as a drink for the X-Games in the 1990s. There’s even some precedent, of sorts, in the religious world. Catholicism essentially tried to rebrand itself in the 1960s with Vatican II, though the success is more dubious.

But those turnarounds took a lot of time and “tons and tons of money,” Dubé noted, and there was hardly the passion around the gender connotation of Marlboro as there is around the concept of jihad. What jihad needs is a “brand hijacking,” Dubé said, like what happened to Doc Martens in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when teenage grunge rockers took over what had been a gardening boot. When Doc Martens executives realized the potential, they immediately changed gears to capitalize on the trend.

The problem here for My Jihad, however, is that there is no central authority in Islam, unlike in Catholicism or with Doc Martens, and thus no “owner” of the brand associated with jihad. So you have Rehab and his cohort trying to execute a “hijacking of a hijacking,” as Dubé put it, to take back the word from the extremists who initially commandeered it. But in the end, no one can rightfully claim to be the final arbiter of the word “jihad.”

If you talk to other Muslim activists, they’ll probably agree that the general usage of “jihad” is an unfortunate perversion, but they are wary to engage in what seems like a losing battle over semantics, especially when there are so many other pressing problems with Islamophobia. Rehab said he’s sympathetic to this argument, but that semantics are important and that his community is starting to realize it. “That was my message to the community. Not only is it so misidentified, but we as Muslims — a lot of us — have resigned ourselves to that and moved on or even stopped trying to change it.”

This isn’t the first effort to change the popular usage of “jihad.” In 2005, Islamic historian Douglas Streusand submitted a paper to the Pentagon arguing that the military should stop using the word to refer to Islamist militants. “If we are calling them ‘people who strive in the path of God,’ in other words — if we are calling them meritorious Muslims — then we are implying that we are fighting Islam, even if we’re not,” he wrote. To make a comparison more Americans would understand, Streusand said calling militants “jihadis” is “like calling Germans during the Second World War ‘National Socialist Aryan Heroes.’”

UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, a prominent critic of puritanical interpretations of Islam, has long campaigned against the modern usage of the word. “When I write an article speaking to extremists and convincing them that they are wrong theologically and morally and legally, I consider myself in a state of jihad. I expect to be rewarded by God,” he told NPR in 2006.

Rehab and his compatriots realize it will be difficult to change the meaning of “jihad,” but he’s hoping the campaign will at least “start a conversation” about a concept that is critical to the practice of Islam, yet completely misunderstood. The same could be said about Islam more generally in the West. The religion, omnipresent in pop culture and foreign policy debates, is still mysterious to so many Americans and its popular image too often dictated by the extremists, and not its everyday adherents. If nothing else, the fact that Geller feels threatened shows they’re doing something right.

Hopefully, this campaign can start to demystify Islam by taking the edge out of the scariest word in the religion and making jihad as quotidian as going to the gym. That’s Rehab’s jihad, what’s yours?

Close

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon’s political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

Did AFDI’s “Savage/Jihad” hate ads inspire bus threats?

Did AFDI’s “Savage/Jihad” hate ads inspire bus threats?

by Sheila Musaji
Pamela Geller posted an article with the hysterical title CAIR’s #myjihad Chicago campaign inspires …. bus jihad – Wannabe Jihadist threatens ‘jihad’ bombing on Chicago bus.  Robert Spencer posted his own misleading article.  She includes a link to a Chicago Tribune article.  She and her partner in hate, Robert Spencer also tweeted a link to their articles using the #MyJihad hashtag, and their minions followed suit.

What is the story

The Chicago Tribune reported that a man named Caleb Russell threatened to blow up a CTA bus in Chicago and told police he was “jihad against the white devil”.  Several passengers told police that Russell made derogatory and racial remarks and threatened to “blow this (expletive) up.”

His booking photo included is quite alarming, and may speak to his mental state.  A few other news sources have posted on this, but none have any additional information.  That’s all that is known so far.

No idea if the man is a Muslim or not, no idea about his mental state, no idea about anything at all except that this incident happened.

How would Geller know his motivation or what inspired him.  Her “defeat jihad” ads have also run in Chicago.  Whether this man was influenced in any way by either of these ads is impossible to say.  However, it certainly is possible to make an educated guess.

The implication of the AFDI ads is that jihad and terrorism are synonymous which could give an ignorant person the idea that such an act was covered by the word “jihad”.

The #MyJihad campaign ads (whose motto is ““Taking back Jihad one hashtag at a time from anti-Muslim and Muslim extremists.  Taking back Islam.”)  are giving a very opposite message to both Muslim and non-Muslim extremists. See “My Jihad” #MyJihad Campaign Angers Hizb-ut Tahrir and AFDI Extremists.  Which includes the statement:

“There are only two groups who equate jihad and terrorism – the terrorists and the Islamophobes.  Neither terrorists or Islamophobes have the right to co-opt or hijack or defame the term jihad by their criminal interpretations. We reject the terrorist definition and we reject the Islamophobes definition of Jihad in favor of the traditional, legitimate, respectable, spiritual concept. JIHAD is not a dirty word.”

Which ad and which worldview is more likely to have given anyone the impression that terrorism against civilians is the meaning of jihad?

"My Jihad" campaign was sparked by AFDI/SIOA's series of hateful ads against Muslims(MyJihad.org).

Pamela Geller to Release New Anti Jihad Bus Ads in NYC | Blaze Exclusive

The original subway ad (Photo Credit: American Freedom Defense Initiative/ABC News)
Using nothing except common sense, and a heart not filled with hate, any rational person can see which ad is likely to stir such base passions.

This is a case of simply making something up without any facts at all.
**********************

See the full article Resources for dealing with Islamophobes for much more information about and links to responses to many claims, including critical reports on the Islamophobia Industry.  Here is a summary:

The Islamophobia Industry exists and is engaged in an anti-Muslim Crusade.  They have a manifesto for spreading their propaganda, and which states their goal of “destroying Islam — as a culture, a political ideology, and a religion.” They produce anti-Muslim films.  They are forming new organizations and coalitions of organizations at a dizzying speed, not only nationally, but also internationally.   They have formed an International Leadership Team “which will function as a mobile, proactive, reactive on-the-ground team developing and executing confidential action plans that strike at the heart of the global anti-freedom agenda.”

Sadly, the Islamophobic echo chamber has been aided by some in the Jewish and Christian clergy, and even by some of our elected representatives, particularly in the GOP.

These individuals and organizations consistently promote the false what everyone “knows” lies about Islam and Muslims (including distorting the meaning of Qur’anic verses, and distorting the meaning of Islamic terms such as taqiyya, jihad, sharia, Abrogation (Naskh) in the Qur’an, etc.

Islamophobes falsely claim to see “JIHAD” PLOTS everywhere, particularly where they don’t exist.   They, like Muslim extremists, don’t understand the true meaning of the term jihad.  The Islamophobes have uncovered countless examples of “shocking”, non-existent Muslim jihad plots.

Islamophobes generalize specific incidents to reflect on all Muslims or all of Islam.    Islamophobes consistently push demonstrably false memes such as:  – we are in danger from creeping Sharia, – the Muslim population is increasing at an alarming rate, – 80% of American Mosques are radicalized,  –  There have been 270 million victims of “jihad”  –  There have been 17,000+ “Islamic terrorist” attacks since 9/11    – Muslims in government are accused of being Muslim Brotherhood plants, stealth jihadists, and creeping Sharia proponents and should be MARGINALIZED or excluded.  Muslim and Arab organizations and individuals are connected to the infamous Muslim Brotherhood document or the unindicted co-conspirator label, or accused of not condemning Hamas.  When Islamophobes are caught in the act of making up or distorting claims they engage in devious methods to attempt to conceal the evidence.

The Islamophobia of these folks is very real, it is also strikingly similar to a previous generations’ anti-Semitism, and it has predictable consequences.

You would never know from listening to any of the members of the Islamophobia Industry that Muslims have defended  freedom of speech, participated in interfaith dialogue, defended freedom of faith against apostasy laws,  condemned blasphemy laws, condemned holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, promoted non-violent solutions to the many problems we face, called for protecting all houses of worship and condemned any attacks on churches or synagogues anywhere, condemned violent responses to numerous incidents including the response to the Innocence of Muslims film, spoken out against child marriage, are working to stop domestic violence in our community, etc.  Type condemn into the TAM search engine and 145 statements of condemnation come up in addition to the collections in our lengthy section Muslim voices against extremism terrorism and violence  Muslims speak out loudly and clearly condemning our own extremists, and their extremist statements and actions.  Type “lunatic fringe” into the TAM search engine for many such articles condemning particular extremists and extremist groups and activities.
You would never know that Muslims are decent, hardworking, productive citizens, making a positive contribution to this society.  Muslims haven’t just spoken out against abuses carried out anywhere in the world that dishonor Islam, but also worked doing positive things.

The claim that the Islamophobes are “truth-tellers” and “defenders of freedom” who actually “love Muslims” and have never engaged in “broadbrush demonization” or “advocated violence”, or that nothing that they say could have had anything to do with any act of violence are nonsense.  The claim that they are falsely being accused of Islamophobia for no reason other than their legitimate concerns about real issues and that in fact there is not even such a thing as Islamophobia, or their claim that the fact that there are fewer hate crimes against Muslims than against Jews or that some Muslims have fabricated such crimes “proves” that Islamophobia doesn’t exist,  or that the term Islamophobia was made up by Muslims in order to stifle their freedom of speech, or that anti-Muslim bigotry is “not Islamophobia but Islamorealism” are all nonsense.

The reason that this is so obvious to so many is that rational people can tell the difference between legitimate concerns and bigoted stereotypes.   There is a reason that many, even outside of the Muslim community see such demonization of Muslims as Islamophobic.  There is a reason that the ADL has stated that Brigitte Gabriel’s Act for America, Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer’s Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)  are “groups that promote an extreme anti-Muslim agenda”.  There is a reason that The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated SIOA as a hate group, and that these individuals are featured in the SPLC reports Jihad Against Islam and The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle. , and that the SPLC calls Pamela Geller “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead. She’s relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam. There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured prominently in: — the Center for American Progress reports “Fear Inc.” on the Islamophobia network in America and Understanding Sharia Law: Conservatives skewed interpretation needs debunking. — the People for the American Way Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism.  — the NYCLU report Religious Freedom Under Attack:  The Rise of Anti-Mosque Activities in New York State.  — the Political Research Associates report Manufacturing the Muslim menace: Private firms, public servants, and the threat to rights and security.  — The ACLU report Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System — in The American Muslim TAM Who’s Who of the Anti-Muslim/Anti-Arab/Islamophobia Industry.   There is a reason that the SIOA’s trademark patent was denied by the U.S. government due to its anti-Muslim nature.   There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured in just about every legitimate report on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.

Click on the logo “Muslims denounce extremism and terrorism” on the front page of TAM for an extensive resource listing not only Muslim responses to extremism, but also resources for countering Islamophobia.

 

Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim (TAM).  Sheila received the Council on American-Islamic Relations 2007 Islamic Community Service Award for Journalism,  and the Loonwatch Anti-Loons of 2011: Profiles in Courage Award for her work in fighting Islamophobia.  Sheila was selected for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.    Biography  You can follow her on twitter @sheilamusaji ( https://twitter.com/SheilaMusaji )

Islamophobes Spencer and Greenfield Push Fabricated Mohammad Al-Arifi Fatwa Story

Mohammad Al-Arifi

Mohammad Al-Arifi

I want to hat tip Rookie who first alerted us to the story about a fabricated fatwa that allegedly gave Syrian rebels permission to engage in “intercourse marriage/gang rape,” the fabricated fatwa was attributed to a Saudi preacher by the name of Mohammad Al-Arifi.

Robert Spencer was pushing the false story on his JihadWatch and made a grudging update to the story quite some time after it was revealed to be fabricated in which he couldn’t help but take a dig at Shi’a Muslims.

Daniel Greenfield, premiere Genocide-inciter at David Horowitz’s FrontPageRag also published an article on the fabricated fatwa that attempts to paint it as real. Greenfield’s article has no update and in fact was headed with an incendiary picture from an older hoax being pushed by Islamophobes regarding a supposed “mass pedophilia wedding” in Gaza in 2009.

Greenfield titled this picture: “Hamas Muslim Child Brides“:

Hamas-Muslim-Child-Brides

I debunked this absurd hoax back in August of 2009 in the article, Anti-Muslim Blogosphere Runs Amuck: Forced to Eat Crow. Clearly, Greenfield wasn’t phased and continues to push this lie despite it being debunked  over three years ago.

AlterNet, which it self was fooled but had the decency to apologize for its mistake has the full story on the fabricated fatwa:

Exhibit A in How an Islamophobic Meme Can Spread Like Wildfire Across the Internet

January 2, 2013  |  Editor’s note: On January 2, AlterNet was one of several outlets that published what turned out to be an article based on a false report. We would like to apologize to our readers for the error.

On January 2nd, the story of a Saudi Sheikh issuing a fatwa that condoned ‘intercourse marriage’ or gang rape in Syria exploded over the internet.

According to various sources, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Arifi had stated that foreign fighters in Syria had the right to engage in short term marriages to satisfy their sexual desires and boost their determination to fight against the Assad regime. Syrian girls and women from age 14 upwards were considered fair game and apparently secured their own place in heaven if they participated in these ‘intercourse marriages’.

By the evening a simple Google search of the words, ‘Saudi Sheikh’ , Syrian, and ‘women’ brought up some 5 million references and at least 3 pages of links to articles spreading the news. Not surprisingly there was immediate online uproar too, though as one commentator put it, much of the discussion was about whether these arranged temporary marriages technically constituted ‘rape’. This in itself is worrying.

There was also skepticism from many quarters about the veracity of the report, particularly among savvy Mideast experts.  Rightly so. The story, much like the one a few months ago about Egyptian Islamist MPs proposing laws that permitted sex with a deceased spouse up to 6 hours after his/her death, turned out to be a gross lie.  Sheikh Al-Arifi has issued a denial via his Facebook page. Over the next few days, the various websites and media outlets that spread the story will no doubt issue their retractions. But the story also raises many questions.  For starters, where did it come from? AlterNet inadvertently picked it up from the overtly anti-Islamic Clarion Fund site. Others pointed to the Iranian regime backed Press TV as the primary source on December 31 2012.  But the earliest English language reporting comes on December 29 from an obscure YouTube news site called Eretz Zen, tagged as a YouTube channel by a “secular Syrian opposed to having [his] country turned into a Taliban-like state.”

What’s extraordinary and depressing is that a slew of websites picked up the story and ran with it, some claiming legitimacy because the other had posted it and clearly no one bothered to do some basic fact checking. Arguably this is just the nature of the net and minute by minute news updates. The story was too sensational to give up. But one would imagine that if a similar story emerged about a Christian cleric or a Rabbi, someone, somewhere would have paused before posting it. Sadly, in the case of stories about Muslim clerics or Islamists the same red flags don’t seem to apply.

Perhaps western journalists are so ignorant of Islam and the cultures in the Middle East that they are willing to believe anything. It’s nothing new — after all Western notions of the East were always immured in sexual decadence and the allure of harems. That was a trademark of the patronizing Orientalism of the past. Today we have a phobic version of Orientalism — expecting and only seeing and reporting the bad and the ugly.

Read the rest…

Sumbul Ali-Karamali: Who Are You Calling a Jihadist?

sumbul_ali_karamali

Sumbul Ali-Karamali shares her views and understanding of Jihad. (h/t:Fred A.)

Who Are You Calling a Jihadist?

Jihad, Jihadi, jihadist, even — most ridiculous of all — counter-jihadist. These labels are used by laypeople and journalists alike, often using jihad as a synonym for “any violence undertaken by Muslims.” An extreme example is the ad campaign posted a few months ago on New York City buses, equating Muslims to savages and any opinion not supportive of Israel as “jihad.” In fact, the ads — the creation of Pamela Geller, who is the head of what has been deemed a hate group — equate savagery with jihad, as well.

More recently, another set of bus ads have hit Chicago — this time, trying to counter some of the hate. The first features a young family with the caption, “My jihad is to march on, despite losing my son. What’s Yours?” On Twitter, too, check out the #MyJihad hashtag, where statements vary from the inspirational (“My jihad is to build friendships across the aisle”) to the humorous (“My jihad is not to eat the whole box”).

So what does jihad really mean, then? The media and anti-Islam manipulation of the word has so obscured the actual meaning that confusion is inevitable. I even encounter, alarmingly, a reluctance on the part of journalists and lay people to believe Muslims who try to explain their own religion and what jihad actually means.

Well, I’m a Muslim woman, an American, and a former corporate lawyer, and I know my religion pretty well, as I’ve not only been a practicing Muslim all my life, I have an additional degree in Islamic law. So let me explain what jihad, a specifically defined term of art, means in Islam.

The word itself means “effort” or “struggle.” Generally speaking, jihad can be divided into two broad categories: the internal jihad and the external jihad. The internal jihad is the struggle to make oneself  better — more just, more fair, more compassionate. The external jihad is the struggle to make society better — more just, more fair, more compassionate. Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, who died in 632, once famously described the internal jihad as the “Greater Jihad” and the external jihad as the “Lesser Jihad.” The most difficult struggle and the greatest, in other words, is the struggle to improve our own selves.

The external jihad can again be divided into further categories. How can we improve society? First, by “jihad by the word” which is using verbal persuasion to try to correct an injustice in society, such as letters to the editor or petitions. If that doesn’t work, then Muslims may use “jihad by the hand,” which is doing good works to correct an injustice in society, such as volunteering in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. And the last resort is “jihad by the sword,” which is taking up arms to correct an injustice in society.

But here’s what vast majority of Islamic scholars, for centuries, have decreed when it comes to jihad by the sword: it can be exercised only to overthrow an oppressor or in self-defense. That’s right: only in self-defense or to overthrow an oppressor.

Some scholars over the centuries have even contended that the jihad doctrine does not allow the overthrow of a mere run-of-the-mill oppressor, but only one who is actively preventing people from practicing their religion.

Other Islamic scholars, however, disagreed with this opinion; they said that invading a country and oppressing its people was sufficient reason to fight back (I suspect that’s what Americans would do if we were invaded), and that no suppression of religious practice was necessary. But, even so, they confirmed, jihad must be exercised only in self-defense or to overthrow an oppressor.

What about al Qaeda’s version of jihad? It’s not jihad. Terrorism has never been allowed in Islam, not in 1,400 years of history, and in early Islam it was severely punished.

Using religion as justification for violence is not unique to any one religion. Religion was used to justify the Crusades, as well as the Spanish Inquisition, and the attendant killing of tens of thousands of Muslims and Jews. In modern times, the Serbs’ genocide of Bosnian Muslims and themassacre of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat by Hindus also were at least partly, by some, justified by religion. But no religion condones murder or genocide.

To the Pamela Gellers of the world, a Muslim living in the U.S., going about his or her business and living everyday life as an American, is practicing jihad. But if that means that Muslims are trying to make themselves better people, then that’s a good thing. If that means that Muslims are trying to make their societies better by working within the law to correct injustices, then that’s a good thing. And it’s no different from what most of us are trying to do, regardless of our religions.