The organization known as the American Freedom Defense Initiative, led by Pamela Geller, is further pressing the bounds of free speech by buying ad space on public transit for posters that set up "Israel" and "jihad" as opposing concepts.
But both words translate as striving, struggling, or wrestling and represent the dynamic traditions of two of the world's great faiths. They don't need to wrestle with each other — but to wrestle with their own sureties and assumptions, especially about each other.
The ads, which also speak of "the civilized man" and "the savage," have already appeared on public buses in San Francisco. Geller is pursuing a lawsuit to force the Washington, D.C. Metro system to accept the ads.
Over the summer, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer of the Federal District Court in Manhattan denied a claim by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that the word "savage" violated its policy against use of demeaning language in advertising.
The name Israel is given to the third-generation patriarch of Judaism in Genesis 32:28, when a mysterious "man" ends a night-long wrestling match by affirming, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed” (NRSV). Israel goes on to father 12 sons, who become the founders and namesakes of the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel.
Jihad is a tradition fundamental to Islam, which takes a number of forms. It has certainly been used to refer to war-making by Islamic groups. To most Muslims, however, the word represents the personal struggles of morality, to understand the Koran and tradition, and to make life decisions. A Palestinian Muslim identified as Mohammed Samra told National Public Radio, on viewing one of the ads Monday, "[What] jihad means is to sacrifice for your children."
Ignorance breeds contempt and deepens misunderstandings. Geller's ads enjoin me to "support Israel." I will do that by supporting the struggle for peace and mutuality. That will not be a defeat for jihad, but a victory for humanity.