Not so funny.
Keith Dennis came to that reckoning after a radio ad planned by his Ohio car dealership was criticized as anti-Muslim and refused by several radio stations.
The commercial called for a “jihad on the automotive market.” It said salespeople would be wearing burqas, a traditional garment in some Muslim nations, and kids would get rubber swords on “fatwa Friday.”
“Our prices are lower than the evildoers’ every day,” the script said. “Just ask the pope!”
“Jihad,” an Islamic term for an utmost struggle, is sometimes used to mean a religious war. A “fatwa,” a legal pronouncement in Islam, can be a declaration of war. “This was simply an attempt at humor that fell flat,” Dennis, owner of Dennis Mitsubishi in Columbus, said in a statement apologizing “to anyone who was offended.”
The canceled ad, which was to start airing Friday, was the latest in a string of ads withdrawn after criticism that they were anti-Arab or anti-Muslim.
“It’s definitely something that’s become more prevalent in the last two to three years,” says Tony Kutayli of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Such ads “spread hatred and fear,” he says.
Objections in May from the Arab American Institute and other groups stopped billboards planned by the Missouri Corn Growers Association to promote ethanol, a corn-based product used in a blend with gasoline. The billboard showed a farmer standing in a cornfield and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. Between them was the question: “Who would you rather buy your gas from?”
The institute and other Arab-American groups helped kill billboards in December slated for North Carolina and New Mexico. The ads, designed by the New York-based Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, showed a man in a traditional Arab head scarf clutching a grenade and a driver’s license. The caption read, “Don’t License Terrorists, North Carolina.” Lamar Advertising, a national firm, refused to handle the ads.
In the past year, other ads have been pulled:
Boeing and Bell Helicopter apologized in October for a magazine ad that showed their product, the CV-22 Osprey, and members of the U.S. armed forces descending by rope from a plane onto a mosque surrounded by smoke and fire.
The Nutritional Health Alliance stopped including flyers in mail orders for vitamins and supplements early this year that said, “Get a Turban for Durbin!” It pictured Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who has sought regulation requiring the industry to report serious side effects of their products, in a turban and said, “Keep Congressional Terrorists At Bay!”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations protested the latest jihad-themed car ad. “We appreciate the dealership’s constructive reaction,” said Adnan Mirza, director of CAIR-Ohio’s Columbus office. “We accept the apology from Mr. Dennis.”
“It is hard to draw the line sometimes,” says Floyd Abrams, a lawyer specializing in freedom of speech. “There’s no First Amendment obligation to publish things or advertise in bad taste.” However, he adds, “I find it disturbing people are quite so willing so quickly to cease saying what they want to say. Everyone has to be careful here not to surrender free speech.”