SHAFAQNA – A major Australian outdoor advertising agency has been applauded by the Muslim community after refusing to post ads ridiculing aspects of Islam and Christianity, saying they contradict with its code of ethics.
“The one about Muslims is really offensive and that is the intention of it. And the one about Jesus, 90 per cent for the church would be offended, it is belittling, cheapening and shallow,” Rev Ian Smith, Faith Communities council secretary, told Herald Sun on Wednesday, October 28.
“I am all for freedom of speech, but not when it is designed to have a violent or negative reactions.
“I don’t think these are to generate a dialogue of understanding. I think that it’s inappropriate when advertising is purely to provoke a response for the promoter and where the statement is intended to be negative.”
Rev. Smith was talking about the offensive billboards created to promote atheist and American author Sam Harris’s tour next January in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.
“We are now in the 21st century. All books, including the Qur’an, should be fair game for flushing down the toilet without fear of violent reprisal,” one of the billboards read.
The other read: “Jesus Christ — who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death, and rose bodily into the heavens — can now be eaten in the form of a cracker.”
Defending the ads that were rejected by APN advertising agency, organizers of Harris’s tour dismissed claims that the $20,000 ad campaign aimed at vilifying religion.
“We were quite surprised,” said Desh Amila, the founder of Thick Inc, which organized the tour.
“One can be offended by them but it is a personal opinion. We want to involve people in intellectual dialogue, not vilify,” he said.
“When it first came back we thought it was someone managing our account not understanding the context. Other similar outdoor campaigns have run without any issues. The whole idea of opening up religion into a conversation is quite important.”
Blocking the advertising campaign has been welcomed by the leaders of the Muslim community in Victoria.
“Adverts such as this have no place in our society as they are designed to insult and undermine the harmony we have built in Australia,” Islamic Council of Victoria secretary Kuranda Seyit.
On the other hand, the rejection was decried by Rationalist Society of Australia president Meredith Doig.
“They do not vilify and they certainly do not discriminate,” Doig said.
“I know there will be people who are offended, just the same as free thinkers are offended by faith. We (Australia) cannot ban our way out of dealing with controversial issues.”
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
In post 9/11-era, Australian Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.
A recent national survey has found that a quarter of Australian population has a negative attitude towards Muslims, amid increasing racial attacks against the religious minority.
The survey found that people over 65 and educated to year 11 are the most likely to be highly intolerant towards Muslims, unlike young people, between 18 and 44, who have the least negative opinion.