los angeles | The large advertisement in five California weekly newspapers has a photo of Jerusalem’s Old City, showing a cross in the foreground with a mosque behind it.
Its headline is “More In Common Than You Think,” and the text proclaims Islam’s reverence of Jesus, ending in the paragraph: “Like Christians, every day, over 1.3 billion Muslims strive to live by his [Jesus’] teachings of love, peace, and forgiveness. Those teachings, which have become universal values, remind us that all of us, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and all others have more in common than we think.”
The ad is part of a long-term campaign, launched after 9/11 by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to correct “misconceptions” about Islam and present a kinder, gentler image of American Muslims.
Future ads may cite the Koran’s respect and reverence for Abraham and Moses, to show Islam’s kinship to Jews, said Sabiha Khan, communications director for CAIR’s Southern California chapter, which initiated the current Jesus ad.
CAIR, which describes itself as “America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group,” is headquartered in Washington and has 25 chapters in the United States and Canada.
Its national spokeswoman, Rabiah Ahmed, speaks of CAIR as a “Muslim NAACP.”
Founded in 1994, CAIR’s declared purpose is “to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America and to empower the Muslim community through political and social activism.”
Critics have charged that this benign mission statement hides more militant attitudes and policies and that the organization has consistently defended Islamic terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, for example.
CAIR’s ad campaign, which up to now has appeared mainly in The New York Times, runs under the overall motto: “We are Americans and we are Muslims.” Its skillfully produced ads generally feature attractive young Muslims of different ethnic backgrounds contributing to American society as Girl Scouts, nurses, teachers and parents.
“We have received very positive feedback, but we still have much work ahead of us,” said Ahmed. The current ad, appealing directly to Christians, owes some of its inspiration to the popularity of Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ,” but it has been limited so far to five small California weeklies.
Amanda Susskind, the Southern California director of the Anti-Defamation League, said she has not received any comments about the ad so far.
CAIR enjoys a generally respectable reputation and its leaders have been invited to the White House and have testified before Congress. Its particular bête noire is Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, author of four books on Islam, and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.
In numerous articles and lectures, Pipes has charged that CAIR has regularly promoted anti-Semitism, intimidated moderate Muslims and served as apologist for extremists.
In return, CAIR bitterly fought Pipes’ appointment by President Bush to the federally funded U.S. Institute of Peace, but the organization lost its battle.