An American Muslim group galvanized international attention when they waged their ferocious campaign against ISIS after plastering the message “HEY ISIS, YOU SUCK!!!” on one billboard on US interstate highway.
The non-profit organization Sound Vision’s success also culminated in a viral hashtag #actualmuslims following their campaign, reasserting the Muslim majority stance of what some critics label as silence over ISIS crimes despite the militant group’s crimes against followers of Islam.
But the Chicago-based Sound Vision says there is more to follow.
“We have received requests from about 10 different communities after this billboard,” Mohammad Siddiqi, Sound Vision’s executive director, told Al Arabiya English. “Muslim communities now want to have similar billboards in their areas.”
The non-profit organization is currently “contacting billboard companies” in Connecticut, Florida and Texas and other states to fulfill these requests.
It is not easy to erect another billboard in terms of legality and money for any Muslim individual in America.
“In order to go for a billboard, you need to be a legal entity,” he said, explaining why these Muslims are contacting Sound Vision to get their billboards.
Each billboard costs between $3,000 to $6,000 for four weeks, he said, requiring fundraising efforts.
Founded in 1988, Sound Vision calls itself the “first” Islamic multimedia company in North America. It has produced and distributed educational material on Islam, reaching what its website says is more than “100,000 children, women and men.” It also formed Radio Islam, an online station for those interested in the religion.
Combating ISIS propaganda, stereotypes
Sound Vision adopted the billboard to educate Muslims and non-Muslims on ISIS, which Siddiqi described as “far removed from Islam,” as well as to combat negative Muslim stereotypes in the United States, particularly amid anti-Muslim rhetoric touted by the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Siddiqi especially warned against ISIS social media campaigns to lure vulnerable Muslim youth to be their potential recruits.
“[ISIS has] a strong presence on social media,” Siddiqi said. “And the youth are the ones who are online.”
The director warned that ISIS “takes Quranic courses and statements of [Islam’s] Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, and put it, out of context, on social media, presenting a totally false narrative is Islam.”
ISIS’s attempt to bring new members to its group continues to be robust to this day.
In one of the latest ISIS bids to recruit new members, a North Carolina man was arrested last week and charged in Ohio for trying to recruit people to join the militant group, with the FBI warning that he was connected to a 2015 terrorism-related shooting in Texas.
Siddiqi also said the challenges faced by American Muslims is made worse by relentless media coverage of the war in Syria and spreading Islamophobia.
In addition to media coverage, Siddiqi also explained a myriad of complexities.
“On one hand, we have to deal with radical or extremist view of Islam. On the other hand, we want to also fight against Islamophobia and the multimillion dollar Islamophobia network. On the third front, we think that there is a connection between what’s going on here and the ongoing war going on the Middle East,” he said.
All of this “gives some strength to the [extremist] groups who want to recruit young people.”
Muslims will get manuals
Facing this “triangle” which includes “war, Islamophobia and radicalism,” Sound Vision has created its own strategy beyond its billboard bid for its fellow Muslims.
“We have developed some manuals that we will soon be launched,” he said.
Siddiqi said these programs will target Muslims, especially the youth, to further incorporate them into “mainstream” Muslim activities; and they will prep up Muslims to further their media relations.
“We are especially targeting the young generation so they may not be under any illusion that what ISIS is doing is in any way near Islam,” he said despite that “the majority of young Muslims don’t think positively of ISIS.”
But “only a very, very small percentage do, particularly young girls,” he said.
“The [girls] have less opportunity to interact with other people in [conservative] households and environments. So they turn to the internet,” he lamented.
Asked how many of the ISIS-sympathizers Siddiqi has encountered throughout his interaction with the Muslim community, he said “less than one percent.”
To further spur its drive against extremism, the organization has also developed “thinking and talking points for Muslim imams” for them to use during their Friday sermons.
“So far we have conducted workshops and PowerPoint presentations in about 20 major US cities and in Canada,” he added.
Besides Muslims, Sound Vision has also “partnered with churches, synagogues and temples,” and occasionally law enforcement.
It gave the FBI 500 copies from its anti-ISIS pamphlets for the US domestic intelligence and security service to distribute to other Muslims in remote areas.SHOW MORE