ADS DISPEL FEARS OF MUSLIMS
- ADS HOPE TO DISPEL FEARS OF MUSLIMS
RICHMOND, Va. - The small beige signs bearing swirling, black Arabic
script appear all over town on buses and at colleges.
One panicked bus rider wondered if they were secret messages from
terrorists. Should the FBI be contacted? What do they mean?
Actual translation: "Paper or plastic?"
The signs are part of a campaign by the Virginia Interfaith Center,
aimed at dispelling some of the public's fears about the Muslim
community. Organizers hope to eventually expand the program statewide.
"As soon as people see Arabic, they immediately make an association
with terrorism," said the Rev. C. Douglas Smith, executive director of
the interfaith center. "That's probably because since 9/11, not only
is fear overwhelming us, but that's how we're being trained to think."
The signs were placed in all 170 Greater Richmond Transit Company
buses on Nov. 27 and many buses will continue to display them at least
through the end of January. The signs, designed by The Martin Agency,
have also been posted at the University of Richmond and Virginia
Besides the "paper or plastic" sign, there are two others - one which
is the Arabic version of the "I'm a little tea pot" rhyme and the
other roughly translating to the English equivalent of "rock, paper,
scissors." Accompanying the translations at the bottom of the posters
are comments such as, "Misunderstanding can make anything scary," and
"What did you think it said?"
The transit company has already fielded several calls from concerned
riders, said Gretchen Schoel, executive director of A More Perfect
Union, a project of the Virginia Interfaith Center that is
spearheading the ads.
One woman Schoel described as a well-educated university employee
placed a frantic call to the bus company's manager, suggesting the FBI
be called in to investigate. Even after the signs' English
translations were explained to her, she remained concerned that they
might contain secret messages, Schoel said.
"It's so great that we're getting feedback, even if it is negative,
because it shows that people are looking, they're thinking," Schoel
said. "And it really proves the point that this script right here
conjures up certain ideas in our heads that we have to work with."
Bias against the Muslim community is a continuing problem across the
country, said Imad Damaj, president of the Virginia Muslim Coalition
for Public Affairs.
"There's so many lazy, unexamined assumptions about all of us and how
we react to people," Damaj said. "We need to challenge ourselves."
The ad push is one of the latest efforts to dispel stereotypes of
Muslims and Arabic speakers. In 2004, the Council on American-Islamic
Relations launched a nationwide TV and radio campaign, featuring
Muslims from different backgrounds, each ending with the slogan, "I am
an American Muslim."
Yet high-profile misunderstandings continue. In late November, six
Muslim imams were removed from a flight to Phoenix after some airline
passengers grew concerned. It was just the latest incident in which
passengers who were Muslim or, in some cases, simply not Caucasian,
were questioned before boarding flights.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it processed more
civil-rights and workplace discrimination complaints in 2005 than ever
before. The total jumped to 1,972 in 2005 from 1,522 in 2004.
Schoel said history has proven that Americans can learn to let go of
irrational fears toward other cultures.
"After World War II, when people saw Japanese script it was scary,"
she said. "But now we see it and it's fun, it's hip, it signifies a
"That's a huge turnaround."
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