muni_generic.jpgSome of San Francisco’s top elected officials spoke out today against a series of ads on Municipal Railway buses that they say are Islamophobic and racist.

The ads, which began running on 10 Muni buses today and are paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, feature quotes from Osama bin Laden and others and associates the word jihad with violent Muslim extremism.

District Attorney George Gascon, who joined several members of the city’s Board of Supervisors and dozens of community members outside City Hall to denounce the ads, said they are meant to “denigrate, marginalize and dehumanize our city’s Arab and Muslim communities.”

Gascon said the city officials were coming together to say, “When any part of our community is attacked, we are all attacked.”

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said the American Freedom Defense Initiative is made of “well-known hate extremists” and said he is introducing a resolution at Tuesday’s board meeting to denounce the ads.

Pamela Geller, executive director of the AFDI, said the ads were a response to another bus ad campaign earlier this year by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

That campaign sought to disassociate the word “jihad” with violence and reclaim its meaning as “the struggle,” which is a central tenant of Islam.

Geller, whose group also ran an ad campaign last year on Muni buses that referred to Muslims as “savages,” criticized the San Francisco city officials for holding today’s event against her campaign.

“They’re holding a press conference to denounce … my pointing out the truth,” she said. “The purpose of our ads is to show the purpose of jihad.”

The $5,000 given by the group to the city to pay for the ads for four weeks will be spent on a citywide study on the impact of discrimination on San Francisco’s Arab and Muslim communities, according to Theresa Sparks, executive director of the city’s Human Rights Commission.

“We’re going to take her money of hate and use it to do good,” Sparks said.

Nasrina Bargzie, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus and an immigrant from Afghanistan, said today’s event and the other actions being taken by the city officials are “exactly what we needed.”

Bargzie said, “We hear from people all the time, they’re really upset.”

She said, “We’ve had kids talking about how they’re already bullied in school, and now they have to get on these buses with these messages … it’s really hurtful and harmful.”

In response to the ads, Muni is also launching its own ad campaign this week that will promote peace and acceptance of all people, Chiu said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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