As a branding campaign it seems rather hopeless. But at the same time, it really has nowhere to go but up.
At least that's what the Islamic Circle of North America must be thinking with its latest "education campaign to promote religious freedom and combat Islamophobia." Called "Understanding Shariah," it has its work cut out for it.
The mission statement of the effort: "To seek the pleasure of God Almighty through striving for the betterment of society, disseminating the universal message of Islam and offering programs for education, self-development, social services and social justice."
The US-wide campaign, already underway, will host its next event in Miami, followed by Washington, D.C. on March 27 and Los Angeles on April 17. And it's planning more than just seminars in the 25 cities on its schedule. The campaign's marketing efforts also include:
- Billboards in 15-20 cities nationwide including Kansas City, New Jersey, New York (near the Lincoln Tunnel, seen by 120,000 people each day), Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Miami
- 40 national ICNA chapters mobilized, including thousands of volunteers
- National hotline dedicated to answering questions about Shariah and the Islamic faith. The toll-free number is: 1-855-SHARIAH
- A public service announcement campaign distributed and aired in 20 cities nationally
- Seminars on 20 college campuses including George Washington University, Bradley University, George Mason, and University of Delaware in March and April
- Radio ads aired in approximately 20 cities nationally
- Local media outreach by trained spokespeople and leaders from 30-35 ICNA chapters across the country
The campaign is timely, leveraging the hot-button "religious freedom" debate sparked after the presidential birth control mandate. The full name of the campaign is "Defending Religious Freedom, Understanding Shariah." The effort is of course noble, but is it all a bridge too far?
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Shariah, and Islam in general, have taken some lumps. Some deserved, some probably not. There was the "Ground Zero Mosque" brouhaha. Last year Oklahoma passed an anti-Sharia Law law (that was later overturned in federal court).
To frame just how disheartening the situation is, consider that getting a Florida pastor's 2011 9/11-commemorative "Burn a Koran Day" cancelled was considered a victory for religious tolerance.
Today, the web is home to numerous anti-Sharia websites such as Sharia Watch USA, Jihad Watch, and Creeping Sharia are just a few of the organizations There is even a Shariah Finance Watch which is "exposing the risks of Shariah finance."
It does not bode well that the two sides can agree on how to spell Shaira(h). While most of the "watchdog" publications and activists prefer "Sharia," the Islamic Circle of North America is promoting a new understanding of "Shariah."
Pam Geller, blogger at AtlasShrugs.com, author of Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance and executive director of Stop Islamization of America, is a popular Tea Party event speaker. Reached for comment about the campaign, Geller told us:
"The ICNA campaign is not a 'rebrand,' it is a deception. ICNA is a Muslim Brotherhood-linked group that is trying to fool Americans into thinking that the forms of Shariah that we see in the world today in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan are not the true Shariah. But every form of Shariah ever known since the beginning of Islam features stonings, amputations, clitorectomies, honor killings, death for apostates, the denial of free speech, and the treatment of women like slaves. No amount of publicity from the media, which pays such incessant attention to the advancement of Islamic supremacists, will change that. That same media has ignored our campaign countering ICNA's with the truth about Shariah, featuring billboards and a helpline where people can learn how truly oppressive and contrary to Constitutional freedoms Shariah really is."
It seems the Circle's campaign will have to accept that at least one mind is not going to be changed.