Artists Respond to Anti-Muslim Ads on Public Buses

By Sean Mullin

Pamela Geller, co-founder of Stop Islamization of America, recently won a lawsuit against the New York City MTA which had refused to run a series of advertisements produced by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). AFDI is the parent organization of Geller’s anti-Muslim program.

The MTA concluded that the ads, which read “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, defeat jihad,” contained ‘demeaning language’ and were rejected from being displayed on the side of buses in the city. A district court judge found the AFDI message was protected speech, ruling with Geller that the ads should run. Subsequently, her anti-Muslim propaganda proliferated to San Francisco, where the ads are now adorning MUNI buses in the Bay Area.

The transit authority indicated that it is powerless to challenge the inflammatory campaign in the wake of the New York court’s decision. The ads have been met with condemnation and disapproval from large segments of the general public and from the transit authorities themselves in both cities, yet the ads will continue to run due to fear of further legal actions and potential financial complications.

In opposition to Geller and the AFDI, petitions have begun to circulate for their removal, in addition to a chorus of repudiation from various civil liberty organizations and community groups.

MUNI has placed its own counter-ad to express its repulsion, placing a statement adjacent to Geller’s advertisement that reads, “SFMTA policy proibits discrimination based on national origin, religion, and other characteristics and condemns statements that describe any group as ‘savages

Other methods  have also been adopted by anonymous artist-activists in the Bay Area who have circumvented traditional channels for combating the ads’ message of bigotry. Multiple instances of wheat paste graffiti have been employed to modify Geller’s bus-side advertisements to explicitly express disgust with the hateful message.

One alteration depicts a hand stamping the words “Hate Speech” across the original, where another keeps the style and structure of the ad intact, substituting in epithets to become “In any way between the colonizer and the colonized, support the oppressed. Support the Palestinian right of return, defeat racism.”

It’s tempting to view Geller’s ads as the work of a fringe Islamophobe, but it is important to understand how this rhetoric is directly connected to mainstream conservative politics. Between Michele Bachmann’s bogus witch hunt for a Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the federal government to Illinois Representative Joe Walsh’s comments that “Muslims are trying to kill Americans every day,” this level of toxic racism and xenophobia is far from isolated. It has been increasingly integrated into a broader nativist movement.

It is also important to remember the wider context which this is occurring within, particularly with the trial of Anders Breivik approaching. It is important to remember that Geller and the AFDI were cited by Anders Breivik, the confessed perpetrator of the Oslo, Norway attacks, in his manifesto. Last month, the Worldwide Counter-Jihad rally in Stockholm forged a cross-Atlantic union of European and North American hate groups, which will continue with the World Freedom Conference in New York City on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

With the alarming increase of violent hate-crimes, arsons, and shootings targeting the Muslim community domestically and abroad, ad campaigns such as Ms. Geller’s do nothing but fan the flames of fear, bigotry, and violence.