There is a website called, ‘Inspired by Mohamed’ which is an attempt to sell Islam to British people as if it was some wayward form of Tibetan Buddhism.
This has annoyed the hell out of a lot of people not the least of whom is one of Vlad’s readers, ‘Proud Kaffir’ whos lucid and cutting comments you will find on many of our posts as well as his most excellent drawing of Mohamed he contributed to Vlad’s ‘Everybody Draw Mohamed day’ video.
PK makes his point as well. I bet a lot of you can come up with some more ideas for this series. I say we keep it going. Post your suggestions for Proud Kaffir in the comments. I have a few of my own such as, ‘Murder the husband and son of a family right in front of the wife and mother of them, then rape the surviving woman and tell everyone its OK, you “married” her. Then use the fact that you slaughtered all these people cause they where Jews who wouldnt follow you as messiah and raped and enslaved the good looking women as proof that “Islam doesn’t hate the Jews. Mohamed had a Jewish wife!”
Simon Houpt Marketing Reporter
Globe and Mail Update
Which multinational brand has the biggest image problem these days? BP? Toyota? Goldman Sachs?
How about Islam? Say what you will about those other entities: They don’t have to deal with the public’s fear of terrorism.
Last month, an opinion poll conducted by the online research firm YouGuv found 50 per cent of Britons associate Islam with terrorism, 69 per cent believe the religion encourages the repression of women and 41 per cent don’t feel Muslims have a positive impact on British society.
While the specific numbers might vary from one country to another, the impressions are similar across the West. Last Sunday, during a rally in lower Manhattan opposing a mosque planned for the former World Trade site, protesters held up signs that read, “All I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11.” Sure, that’s like saying, “All I need to know about Christianity, I learned during the Crusades.” But it points to a bald fact: Islam has some work to do.
Which is why this week large posters began appearing on the London Underground and at city bus stops featuring three Britons who are seeking to put a different face on the religion. In the most genre-busting ad, a blonde woman without a head covering smiles prettily from the shores of a lake, accompanied by text which reads: “I believe in protecting the environment. So did Muhammad.” The woman is Kristiane Backer, a former MTV Europe host and convert to Islam who is identified as an “eco-Muslim.”
Another ad features a female barrister in a veil with the text, “I believe in women’s rights. So did Muhammad.” A third has a man who is identified as a worker with a homeless charity, stating, “I believe in social justice. So did Muhammad.” The campaign extends to a handful of taxis painted colourfully with quotes from the prophet. The ads point to a Website, InspiredByMuhammad.com, where a dozen short videos offer a progressive Islamic take on subjects such as animal welfare, charity, education, health, and coexistence.
“We wanted to highlight areas that are buzz terms at the moment,” explained Remona Aly, a spokesperson for the Exploring Islam Foundation, the small group of young Muslim professionals which created and is sponsoring the campaign. “The environment is a really hot topic at the moment, and people are not aware Muslims are encouraged to care for the environment by the prophetic teachings and also the Koranic teachings.”
Noting the Foundation’s motto is “mainstreaming Islam,” she added that the campaign uses bright colours – hot pink, orange, pastel blue – to counter the religion’s usual image. “We wanted it to be attractive and accessible. Often people associate negativity – gloom, gloomy colours, black – with Islam, so we purposefully made it colourful so it would be more attractive.”
If the campaign’s goal – rehabilitating the battered reputation of an ancient religion – is unusual, its tactics are torn from the pages of contemporary marketing textbooks. Most marketers these days try to appeal to consumers by leveraging shared values: In recent months, Coca-Cola has heavily promoted its environmental bona fides while Pepsi is sponsoring community improvement projects around North America.
“You can’t throw a brick without hitting a cause-marketing campaign,” noted Mara Einstein, an associate professor of media studies at Queens College in New York, and the author of Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age. “At this point, it’s the price of admission.”
The approach of InspiredByMuhammad fits in that mould. “You could have been selling Dawn dishwashing liquid or you could have been selling Islam, it’s all the same thing,” she said.
“You’re using the same emotional needs of people wanting to do good, but you’re using that to sell almost any product, and I consider religion to be a product.”
This is not the first time a mainstream ad campaign has tried to persuade Britons that Islam isn’t dominated by terrorists. After the July, 2005, London bombings, an ad-hoc organization quickly responded with a campaign known as “Islam is Peace.” A video in that effort inter-cut the smiling faces of children with text stating: “Islam is not about hostility … Islam is not violence.”
Mentions of hostility and violence are absent from the new campaign, which is designed to be upbeat, confident and optimistic. Asked to name the root causes of the misconceptions about Islam, Ms. Aly replied: “We’re not really into the blame game. Obviously, the nature of media is that it talks about crises or bad news, so because of that, unfortunately some tiny extremist elements have been highlighted in the press.”
While some believe the best way to repair Islam’s image is to reform the religion itself, Ms. Aly said the foundation is not interested in debating hardliners. “We haven’t entered into any dialogue with extremists, because we reject any extremism and we reject violence along with our fellow Britons, because they’re against the values of Islam or against the prophetic values.”
But if the campaign’s aim is to educate people about Islam’s progressive values, Ms. Einstein believes it’s missing the mark. “I never would have read those ads that way. I read those ads as proselytizing, as evangelism,” she said.
“By putting a person on it, saying ‘I believe in social justice and so did Muhammad,’ you’re giving the viewer of that advertising someone to connect to, and that’s how you sell a faith,” she explained. “If you wanted to change the impression of Islam, I’d think you’d actually show the good work, and not the person who believes in it.”
Ms. Einstein cited a campaign by the United Methodist Church in the United States that shows members working in underdeveloped countries. “If you actually showed Muslims going to Haiti, and helping with the earthquake, that would say to me you’re trying to change the image of the faith.”
Ms. Aly replied: “We do not seek to preach or proselytize. We simply wish to provide accurate and accessible information about Islam for a mainstream audience in order to foster better understanding between the diverse communities in Britain.”
But as it seeks to clean itself up, Islam may face the same sort of problem as BP: that advertising alone can’t fix an image until the core reason for that bad impression – be it an oil spill or terrorism – is solved.
In an e-mail discussion, Islamic critic Irshad Manji scoffed at the British campaign. “Mainstream Muslim behaviour is the reason so many Brits have a negative view of Islam,” she wrote. “They have not adequately challenged their spokespeople – the Muslim Council of Britain, for example – to become inclusive and pluralistic [or less insular and dogmatic]. Posters and videos don’t change that situation; they only seek to spin a happy image of a corrupt reality. I say it of British Muslims no less than of BP: don’t tell me what you believe. Show me what you do, and that tells me what you believe.”