New York • As violent and sometimes deadly protests consume much of the Muslim world in response to a U.S.-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, New Yorkers will soon encounter another potentially inflammatory rendering of Islam: an advertisement in the transit system that reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”
It concludes with the words, “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” wedged between two Stars of David.
After rejecting the ads initially, then losing a federal court ruling on First Amendment grounds, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Tuesday that the ads were expected to appear next week at 10 subway stations.
“Our hands are tied,” Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority, said when asked about the timing of the ad.
In July, Judge Paul Engelmayer of U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled that the authority had violated the First Amendment rights of the group that sought to place the ad, the American Freedom Defense Initiative. The authority had cited the ad’s “demeaning” language in barring its placement.
The authority, which appealed the July ruling, also asked the judge to postpone implementing his decision until after its next board meeting on Sept. 27.
But in an order late last month, Engelmayer granted the agency just two more weeks to revise its ad policy or to seek a further stay from an appellate court. It has done neither.
Now, the authority finds itself in a precarious position. The American Freedom Defense Initiative has also purchased ad space in Washington, but the transit authority there said Tuesday that it had “deferred” the ad’s placement “out of a concern for public safety, given current world events.”
A similar option is not available to New York’s transportation authority because of the court order, according to the agency. Donovan said the authority might consider revising its ad policy at its board meeting next week.
Pamela Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, said in an email Tuesday that transit officials in Washington were “kowtowing to the threat of jihad terrorism.” She added that recent events in the Middle East had not given her pause “for a second” about posting the ads in New York.
“I will never cower before violent intimidation, and stop telling the truth because doing so is dangerous,” she said. “Freedom must be vigorously defended.”
She added, “If someone commits violence, it is his responsibility and no one else’s.”
The group has also advertised at Metro-North Railroad stations, with posters that cite “deadly Islamic attacks” since Sept. 11 and read, “It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”
The transportation authority has said it did not try to block these ads because they did not meet the agency’s threshold for “demeaning” language, as the ad referring to a “savage” had.
Muneer Awad, the executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the ads were an attempt to “define Muslims” through hate speech.
“We’re encouraging American Muslims to go out there and define themselves,” he said.
Awad added that the group had not called for the ads’ removal, though it has asked the transportation authority to redirect funds it receives for the ads to the city’s Human Rights Commission.
“It’s perfectly legal to be a bigot and to be a racist,” he said. “We want to make sure there’s a countervoice.”