By Richard Bernstein, for the New York Times:

NEW YORK — They are not exactly ubiquitous, but according to The Daily News, 40 New York City buses are rolling these days with an unusual and, to be frank, dubious advertisement emblazoned on their sides.

“Fatwa on your head?” the ad reads, in a message apparently aimed at Muslims who want to convert to another religion or simply not to be Muslims anymore. “Is your family or community threatening you?”

The ad is promoting a Web site,, where, presumably, New York Muslims whose lives have been threatened because they want to convert can turn for help, and the site contains links to other sites with various anti-Islamic purposes. “Muslims Against Sharia,” for example, aims “to educate Muslims about dangers presented by Islamic religious texts and why Islam must be reformed.”

It has often been noted that the genius of American life is a certain willed forgetfulness, a willingness by the various groups that make up our population to impose an amnesty on the ethnic and religious feuds of elsewhere. Or as the French immigrant Jean de Crèvecoeur put it in 1782, the “ancient prejudices and manners” have been left behind by the new American man, who has received “new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced.”

And it is largely true that the ethnic, tribal and religious conflicts that have raged elsewhere in the world have not been recapitulated in this country, where Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants may not adore one another but do live in peace, as do Greeks and Turks, Arabs and Jews, and just about everybody else.

Probably that is not about to change drastically; and yet, those bus ads are a small sign that Islamic extremism and the often intemperate and panicky reaction to it are creating a kind of vicious cycle in which the traditional interethnic truce and live-and-let-live civility of American life could be casualties.

The ads, which, according to The Daily News, will run for a month, were created by a 51-year-old conservative blogger named Pamela Geller, who heads a group called Stop the Islamization of America and sees as its task to expose the supposedly retrograde and repressive nature of Islam itself.

“There ought to be ads also for people who want to leave Islam,” she told The Daily News. “Their lives are threatened.”

Are they? There is no doubt that in any number of Muslim countries, apostasy is indeed a crime punishable by death.

Maybe, in the privacy of Islamic American society, there are similar threats. But certainly Ms. Geller’s various Web sites offer no evidence of them, despite a strenuous effort to do so. The site listed on that bus ad refers vaguely to an “honor killing” that took place 20 years ago in Arizona. It also reprints a news account from 2007 about a Muslim man living in Queens who stabbed his wife to death, a terrible crime, but there is no indication that this particular killing was perpetrated because the wife no longer wanted to be Muslim.

This is not to say that worries about Muslim culture are based on nothing. No doubt Ms. Geller’s ad campaign gains credibility via that substantial portion of the Muslim world that condones or encourages things like honor killings, suicide bombings, the cult of death and martyrdom, and the savagely discriminatory treatment of women and girls.

It would be pointless in this sense to deny that jihadist radicals around the world, yearning to turn the clock back to the supposedly pure Islam of the seventh century, have succeeded in defining Islam for many non-Muslims, including, it would seem, Ms. Geller. Moreover, the response of Islamic moderates to the death-loving stain of Islamic jihadism has tended to be meek and anemic.

Still, even those of us mystified and disturbed by the sway of radical jihadist Islam ought to recognize that, with an infinitesimal number of exceptions, the five million to seven million Muslims estimated to live in the United States have behaved like others of Crèvecoeur’s new American men, more interested in getting ahead in their new country than in nurturing ancient conflicts and prejudices.

This is what those bus ads and the mentality behind them threaten to subvert. Here in New York, there has been vociferous opposition to plans by a local Muslim group known as Cordoba House to build a 13-story community center in an old coat factory two blocks from the former World Trade Center site. The Muslim center would include a mosque and a memorial to the victims of Sept. 11, 2001.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Geller is among the organizers of a demonstration called for June 6, D-Day, against what they call “the mega-mosque at Ground Zero.” Appearing on the Fox News program “Huckabee” a couple of weeks ago, Ms. Geller said that “a mosque embodies the very ideology that inspired those attacks on 9/11.” That is why Cordoba House is “an outrage, an insult, and humiliating to all Americans.”

The host, Mike Huckabee, had received a statement from the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which argued that the Cordoba Center was precisely a way to remedy the perceived failure of moderate Muslims to speak out against extremism. It would be a place, the statement said, not only where freedom of religion could be practiced but where American Muslims could “stand together with our fellow citizens to condemn extremism and violence.”

Ms. Geller’s reply was to remind Fox News’s viewers that the Sept. 11 attacks were aimed at two of the most important symbols of America, and the recent attempt by a Pakistani-American terrorist to set off a bomb in Times Square was aimed at another.

This is true, which is why we are speaking here of a vicious cycle. If there are more terrorist attempts by Muslims on American soil, there will more Americans paying for bus ads and other things to express their rage at Islam itself as well as at Muslims in America, and to encourage the idea that America is, or ought to be, its and their enemy.

This of course is exactly what the jihadists want them to do. The more we make all Muslims our enemies, the more enemy Muslims we are going to have.