Mark Twain once said that "the difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." Indeed. One word inserted or, for that matter, left out, can make all the difference in the world.
I couldn’t help but think how Mark Twain would have responded with a rather quirky smile to a recent advertising campaign that took place in south Florida. It was on billboards every few miles along the busy, crowded super highway of 95. It’s the free road that runs clear up the eastern coast of the United States. It was splattered across the long sides of public busses. And it was even on private citizen’s individual cars in bumper sticker format.
I must admit, my eyebrows turned up every time I saw these ads.
They stated in bold letters: “Islam – The True religion of peace.” The ads also made some references linking together the likes of Abraham, Moses, & Jesus to Islam.
Along with my surprise came the realization that advertising isn’t usually overly concerned with this silly notion called truth. Rather, it simply wishes to sell something.
Take cigarette ads for example. Let’s play the game where I say a word and you say the first thing that comes to mind. Okay, ready? Marlboro. If you’re like most of the general population, we’ve been bombarded with all sorts of slick ads for this classic smoke. And most of us will respond with something like “cowboy” or “horseback riding” or “macho guy with rope out on the range.”
Thus, despite the overwhelming scientific proof that smoking produces the exact opposite of a robust, healthy bucking bronco, nonetheless, the advertising campaign has worked wonders for Marlboro. It’s the preferred cig of many of my teenage students, making them feel like they too are ready for a two-week cattle drive far from civilization. Well, not too far, mind you. They’d go as long as there’s some corner stores on the journey where they can continue to support their nicotine Marlboro habit.
Those ads touting the virtues of Islam felt like one of those off-based tobacco ads. I pictured myself calling the number listed on the ads in case I yearned for “further information” to save my soul. The following scenario played out in my head.
“Hello & thanks for calling the information line on Islam. Press 1 if you’re a Sunni who wants to get rid of the Shiites.”
“Press 2 if you’re a Shiite who wants to off the Sunnis.”
“Press 3 if you’re a Wahhabi who wants to get rid of Shiites and Sunnis.”
“Hey, can I speak to…”
“Press 4 if you’re a member of Al Qaeda and don’t care who you get rid of.”
“Whoa, slow down.”
“Press 5 if you’re generic Islamic and simply want to behead infidels.”
At this point I hang up. The memories of the sickening murder of British soldier Lee Rigby too fresh to even ponder. Here it was two Islamic “extremists” who beheaded Lee, a drummer in the English army. This terrorist act was done in broad daylight on a busy London street, to the shock of those civilians on their way to or from work or their local English pub.
Not every Muslim is a terrorist. Far from it. But it sure seems today that nearly every terrorist is a Muslim.
One of the terrorists was quoted as saying he was avenging the blood of Muslims & Arabs spilled by England. I guess he wasn’t too up to date on current events. For if he knew about the 100,000 estimated deaths in the civil war in Syria, he probably should have started there.
Although he may have simply not been sure who’s side to fight on and which enemy Arabs to behead. In London it was a much easier choice.
There probably weren’t too many buyers from this recent Islam peace ad campaign. The unrest in the Arab world, where it’s usually Muslim against Muslim, hasn’t done much to help the promotion.
The vast majority of Muslims are good, decent people. They don’t promote violence or this notion of killing off the infidels. They believe in living together in a peaceful society. But unfortunately, their voices have for the most part, been silenced by this ever more vocal tiny minority of Islamic extremists.
Journalists in the Arabic countries who portray the truth and practice free speech are often arrested – many never to heard from again.
To be sure, not every Muslim is a terrorist. Far from it. But it sure seems today that nearly every terrorist is a Muslim. And this certainly hasn’t helped the Islamic religion or cause. It hasn’t brought in thousands of people calling the hotline number on those ads for further information about the true religion of peace. It may have had the opposite effect. People waiting on the roadsides with their spray paint cans ready to add their own choice words to the billboards.
But I wouldn’t waste too much paint. It’s very easy to change an exclamation mark into a question mark. And thus the ad would more accurately read: “Islam – The true religion of peace?”
The proof is not on the non-Islamic world whether to accept or reject their beliefs. It’s not on our shoulders. It’s up to the moderate Muslim world to truly espouse and create this atmosphere of peace and put their best foot forward. Their so-called religious leaders who urge for killing, warfare, and terror need to be silenced. They, perhaps more than anything else, have led to Islam being associated with the opposite of peace.
The voices and more importantly the actions within moderate Islam need to be heard and demonstrated in very clear terms. Until then, the world of reality and advertising is like the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.