American Atheists president David Silverman, left, wanted to erect billboards in a predominantly Muslim worshipping neighborhood and a Jewish neighborhood proclaiming his belief that there is no God and challenging the faiths of those two religions. The response of the two faiths was dramatically different and the story is really in how they reacted.
Silverman wanted to put up a billboard written in Hebrew and English questioning Judaism in Williamsburg’s Hasidic community, a community in New York City that read, “You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice,” but liberal New York and it’s traditionally liberal Jewish community would have none of it. Attempts by the people who put up billboards were blocked by the owner of the building upon which the offending billboard would have been placed and that was just fine with some of the residents of the predominantly Jewish community. Silverman a “former” Jew himself said he was surprised and shocked at the reception his plans received in the neighborhood…..but it was feigned indignation at best. He knew, as a Jew what others in that community already know, ‘The name of god is very holy (to us and) to the whole world’ as it is with any religion. Yet Silverman’s in your face approach to freedom of speech was denied among the residents of the area and even among some politicians.
‘(t)he content of the message is conveyed in a disrespectful manner…This does not appear to be a genuine attempt to engage in a dialogue, but is here merely to insult the beliefs of this community,
‘ said one NYC councilman, and he’s right, but freedom of expression is something we’ve been led to believe exists even if that speech is offensive to some. Not so, say the residents of Williamsburg and members of the Hasidic community who’ve let others talk for them. Ok, fine.
Silverman did put up a billboard in Paterson, NJ, a block away from the Islamic Center of Passaic County the largest place of worship for Muslims in that area. The sign written in Arabic and English says:
but it seems to have angered more Christians than Muslims. Even the writer of the article calls the billboard a “provocation” which is how the Christians in the community perceived it. The fact that Silverman waited across the street from the mosque, not the nearest church, to gauge Muslim reaction to his billboard further underscores that perception. However, there was no noticeable outrage on the part of those who prayed at the mosque and saw the billboard; rather their response seemed to emphasize that time honored right of freedom of expression.
“It’s a knock on the door,” Abdul Hamid, 40, said as he crouched to get his shoes after noon-time prayer at the Islamic Center of Passaic County. “If they want to come and have an open dialogue with us that’s great.”
Anes Labsiri, a 39-year-old plumber, said he was happy people can question religion in public.
“Some people might see it as a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. I love that you have this freedom in this country,” said Labsiri…….
After prayer, the imam, Mohammad Qatanani, came outside to talk with Silverman, who was hanging around the neighborhood to watch for reactions to the sign.
The two discussed religion and tolerance; humanity and God.
“We have to accept everyone — we are all from dust and become dust,” Qatanani said. “Right?”
Silverman nodded his head, but added, “Well, yes, we’re all from raw matter.”
Silverman wants to be contrary and incendiary, no doubt, but he was not able to get the kind of reaction from Muslims that everyone has come to expect. Perhaps maybe the reason is because it is a manufactured reaction that has no basis in reality, at least as far as the Muslim community in America is concerned. In fact, Silverman’s billboards got the kind of reaction we’ve come to expect from Muslims from Jews and Christians whose outrage at his disrespect for their religious beliefs bordered on censorship and fury. There has been no call yet, on the part of Muslim leaders, to stop Silverman from putting up his billboard, even in his in-your-face confrontational manner in Muslim communities unlike other religious groups who have actively opposed Silverman’s billboards. Is this an example of Muslims practicing good citizenship? No doubt. Is it an example of Christians and Jews practicing good citizenship? No doubt. Two different responses to the same provocation. Which one do you find admirable?
- Atheist group’s Hebrew billboard temporarily thwarted (jta.org)
- THIS IS A DISGRACE TO GOD – Billboards saying God is “a myth” to go up in Jewish and Muslim communities (blogginghounds.wordpress.com)