Don’t deface the anti-Muslim Metro ads

REUTERS Cyrus McGoldrick, a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, talks to commuters as they walk by an advertisement … Continued


Cyrus McGoldrick, a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, talks to commuters as they walk by an advertisement that reads “Support Israel/Defeat Jihad” in the Times Square subway station in New York on Sept. 24, 2012.

When vitriolic advertisements that equated Muslims with “savages” recently appeared in 10 New York City subway stations, some who were irked by the incendiary message took matters into their own hands.

The posters, which read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Defeat Jihad. Support Israel,” became targets for vandals who plastered them with stickers, sprayed them with spray paint, and in some cases, ripped them into pieces.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an anti-Muslim organization founded by bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, paid for the ad campaign — the latest in a long line of Muslim-bashing campaigns led by the duo. After several weeks of dispute over the legality of the ads’ placement, AFDI won an injunction to have them displayed. The hateful words, a federal district court in Manhattan ruled, are protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

Now, the provocative placards are set to appear in four Metro stations throughout the nation’s capital. On Friday, District Judge Rosemary Collyer issued a one-page ruling ordering that the Washington Metro Transit Authority install the posters immediately.

The aim of these advertisements is to provoke — to elicit an emotional outburst that their proponents then use as evidence of the very culture war they seek to advance. They begin with the presupposition that Muslims are violent, they mercilessly antagonize and taunt them, and then, when a fringe few react poorly, they complete the self-fulfilling prophecy by patting themselves on the back and saying “we told you so.”

D.C. passersby aggravated by the inflammatory language of these advertisements — which distorts the way most Muslims understand “jihad” by conflating a fraction of violent extremists with the entire faith group — must respond. But not with canisters of spray paint or magic markers or stickers. Those reactions only feed the attention-seeking provocateurs. Instead, this hate speech must be countered with an overwhelming societal refrain that emphasizes peace and pluralism, and condemns the divisive rhetoric of these bullies with alternative public messages that are forceful and clear.

Striking back at this latest provocation, three religious groups have offered useful examples of how best to combat intolerant hate speech. In Manhattan stops, they launched a counter-campaign for tolerance.

Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization of Jewish rabbis that promote interfaith cooperation, unveiled a poster campaign in the same Manhattan metro stations as the anti-Muslim ads. They read: “In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.” The Christian group Sojourners also ran a counter-ad, which read: “Love your Muslim neighbors.” And another Christian group, United Methodist Women, an affiliate of the United Methodist Church, struck back by purchasing poster space in the same metro stations, offering this message: “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.”

These are effective replies that underscore the ways in which our freedoms of religion and speech should be understood. Rather than entrenching themselves on each side of a perceived faith divide and using their Constitutional rights and religious narratives as weapons against believers of other faith traditions, these organizations synchronized the values of their faith and nationality in a powerful way. For them, hate speech is not only antithetical to their religious beliefs. It is also anti-American.

It is incumbent that those who value a more equitable and just world join this chorus and express their disapproval of the denigration of Muslims in our society. Speaking out publicly against this racism du jour — to family, friends, neighbors, faith groups, educational communities and co-workers — is a necessary and meaningful first step.

Volunteering with interfaith groups that work to promote pluralistic values, befriending Muslim acquaintances and learning about each other’s beliefs, and tuning out the voices that sow discord and division are also positive remedies.

Subway ads, anti-Muslim films, crude caricatures of sacred religious figures, and other prejudicial paroxysms of this generation of bigots will come and go. Responding with actions that foster lasting relationships and a sense of peace and goodwill are far more effective than temporary defacements that will only last as long as these anti-Muslim ads are on display.

Nathan Lean is the editor-in-chief of and author of the new book, “The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims

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  • BethesdaDog

    There is absolutely nothing in these ads which equates Muslims with savages. It only mentions jihad, and that is particularly apt, given the extreme violence perpretrated on Israeli children (the Fogel family) whose throats have been slashed by jihadi terrorists, on innocent Jews (Chabad killings in Mumbai), and other horrifying acts. Nothing in the ads blames all Muslims for these acts.

    Mr. Lean, please stop lying. You are the one who is painting with a broad brush, claiming the ads are anti-Muslim. Please stop lying, and please stop whitewashing the extremists in this religion who are the proper targets of these ads.

  • ThishowIseeit

    Tolerance should be a two way street: to say that there is only on god – yours- is very offensive and very intolerante to other minor religions. So first give a good example to expect a good example. There are hundreds gods and just as divine as yours. Or mabe there is none.

  • Kingofkings1

    Hurting people with bombs or hateful words should not be a civilized person’s way to deal with divergent views. In many instances, bombs do less damage than hateful words.

  • Kingofkings1

    I would like to offer $35 million to whoever marries pam Geleer and is able to stay with her 48 hrs

  • stellablue74

    Although i respect the sentiments in this article, i completely disagree. i love that people have clearly marked these as what they are, racist and hateful. By showing that this sort of hate-speech is not tolerated, it sends a strong message that not everyone is ok with this. Likewise, by letting it stay up un-defaced, feels like condoning the message. That just feels wrong to me.


    Graffiti is free speech, too. The marketplace of ideas is not limited to paid advertising.

    Besides, a good, clever, funny defacement is worth 100+ agitprop points. But can muslims be funny?

  • XVIIHailSkins

    The mindless Zionist fanatics who made these ads have nothing in mind other than the incitement of further violence. This is not an exercise in free speech, it’s a ploy by war mongers to stir up further resentment of Muslims among our imbecilic, eminently gullible population of American Christians. All in all, proponents of the three Abrahamic faiths want to see the conflict in Israel escalate into an apocalyptic nightmare so that their various saviors can come down to earth and humanity can be extinguished properly. Geller and Spencer figure that if they can import some of the physical violence to the U.S. they will bring even more Christian fanatics to the party. This is the world that we live in. Quiet, thoughtful individuals are held hostage by three archaic groups of people who are ready and willing to end the world over discrepancies in their delusions.

  • Flatlands

    Literally, the ads are anti-jihadi, not anti-Muslim. Mr. Lean has drawn inferences from them, however, which allow him to cloak himself in sanctimony. The question is not whether Muslims are savages, but whether jihadis are.

  • dcrswm

    Jihad simply means struggle, so why is that the only word which is translated away from English? Is the jewish struggle to take back their “homeland” not just a jihad in a different language?


    So, strictly speaking, in the photo above Mr. McGoldrick is handing out leaflets in SUPPORT of jihad? The word “islam” is not on the poster.

  • crazy_kafir

    Why isn’t there Hinduphobia, Jehovha WIttnessphobia, Seventh Day Adventistphobia, Rastafarianaphobia, etc.? Maybe, just maybe its becasue these religions don’t have a established doctrine of warfare against unbelievers… ?? Could it be??

    Honestly I fell that many devout Muslims are guilty of Infidelophobia.

  • Kingofkings1

    Jihad literally means “struggle”. Sometimes I find the 2 hr commute through our metropolis downtown in rush hour to be quite a jihad

  • Horloge

    Here’s a lovely little ditty that jihadists in Tunisia are having young boys sing:

    Announcer: In the name of Allah. Allah’s prayers upon His Messenger. The following song will be recited by the children of tawheed in Tunis. What will you sing us, brother Abu Hafs?

    Abu Hafs: “Were Have Our Days Gone?”

    Announcer: To whom do you dedicate this song, brother Abu Hafs?

    Abu Hafs: To the mujahid Mullah Mohammed Omar and to our sheik Ayman Al-Zawahiri….

    Allah is our goal. We strive to reach Him,…

    Our Emir, the Mullah [Omar], did not renounce his religion,

    and all the soldiers sold their souls to Allah.

    All the soldiers sold their souls to Allah.

    Our leader Bin Laden is America’s worst nightmare,

    with the power of faith and our weapon, the PK machine-gun.

    With the power of faith and our weapon, the PK machine-gun.

    If they call me a terrorist, I will consider it an honor.

    Our terror is blessed, a divine call.

    Our terror is blessed, a divine call.

    We destroyed America with a civilian airplane –

    the World Trade Center was turned into rubble.

    The World Trade Center was turned into rubble….

    Announcer: Say: “Allah Akbar.”

    Boys: Allah Akbar.

  • sctgrheem

    This add isn’t really anti-muslum though is it? It is being assumed that jihad in this case is only peaceful and tolerant and while I’m happy to acknowledge and welcome this kind of sharing of beliefs their can be other more violent meanings of jihad, can their not? Jihad after all means a war against unbelievers. We wouldn’t need to defeat Jihad and support Isreal if the jihad were the peaceful one. Their are many peaceful muslums within Isreal after all. So the add implies a sort of militant jihad. Why not support Isreal is the question here?

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Because the founding of Israel was the worst mistake in the history of modern international relations. Today it is little more than an offshore US military base, financed entirely by American taxpayers. The people who support Israel are smart enough to know that American Christians are one of the most gullible, excitable, paranoid, and abjectly idiotic voting blocs in world history. The Jews and Christians need eachother so that Israel can one day become the epicenter for an apocalyptic war and they can fulfill their end-times prophecies. Hence these ads.

  • Horloge

    Yes, my dear, go ahead and insult the Jews and Christians. As a matter of fact, insult their God. You sit secure in the knowledge that those faiths don’t instruct their adherents to kill you!

    Christians and Jews have been insulted and jailed down thru the centuries, and still they follow their God’s commandment: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. No such “Golden Rule” in islam. And that situation is mighty apparent in our world. More than 19,000 terrorist acts commited by mohammedans since 9/11. By their fruits ye shall know them.

  • dcrswm

    Halozcel, why am I not surprised that someone with such a weak command of English would also have problems with other languages?

  • jones8

    This ads offend me because they try to equate civility with Israel. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    It is not civil to steal land and resources of the Palestinians.
    It is not civil to murder the indigenous population.
    It is not civil to jail thousands of people without trial.
    It is not civil to murder thousands of children, etc, etc.

    This is a campaign war for sure. The zionists are trying to instigate fear of the Arab population so that they can continue their war crimes while ignorant Americans turn their backs. The Nazi’s handed out pamphlets to their civilians about the dangers of Jews as well. This is the same thing. Why is this being aloud? When did free speech include hate speech? If I put a poster that said stop feminism, stand with civility, it would not be aloud. This is outrageous and I applaud the peaceful religious groups who counter ad as well as Mona E. spray painting of the poster in New York. These things should be destroyed by any means.

  • ratzo

    Though defacing the ads does not change policy, it is an understandable reaction and frankly I enjoy seeing people speak up.

    I also think that the arguments from the Court that Metros must include any speech is a bogus arguement since they all already have rules against partisan speeech and profanity. Certainly we should ban some levels of sterotyping and demeaning speech as well. The messaging of these particular ads is misleading and is based on a concerted campaign to mislead and demean as can easily be demonstrated. The Metros did not do a credible job in pushing back.

    Faced with lies, an honest person should not just shrug it off. Indeed, why have ads in the metro at all? I never voted to have them insult my intelligence that’s for sure.

  • ratzo

    You dont really understand Jihad or understand why equating it with savegery is so repellent. It is all to possible to misuse any religious precept or languaging. Therefore if one wanted to condemn violence it would be better to be specific and not blame religion in general but particular groups for particular actions.

    For years the far right wing Pam Geller et al have made it their method to mix up mainstream Muslims with extremists– totally counterproductive.