Dominion of New York

The 411

September 19, 2012

Anti-Muslim Subway & Bus Ads Coming to NYC

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Written by: Kelly Virella


ou know what the world needs in the aftermath of the Innocence of Muslims, the anti-Islamic film that allegedly spawned a deadly attack against the US Embassy in Libya and sparked angry protests around the Muslim world? If you’re thinking the answer is “love, sweet, love,” an anti-Islamic group disagrees. According to American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), what we need is someone to pour salt on those wounds by reinvigorating a campaign to put anti-Muslim advertisements in buses and trains in New York City and San Francisco. Specifically, AFDI says what we need is THIS advertisement, promoting 1960s xenophobia in 2012:

There’s never really a good time to call someone a savage, which is probably why the sponsors of the ad contend they don’t mean Muslims are savages. The attorney of blogger Pamela Geller, who is the executive director of AFDI, wrote a letter to New York’s MTA “in which he argued that the ad referred to behavior rather than a group of people.  “[The ad] mentions neither individual nor group and it intends none,” the letter says, according to Mother Jones.

The problem with that logic — which Mother Jones points out — is that the opening statement of the ad: “In a war between the civilized man and the savage, choose the savage” is paraphrased from an Ayn Rand interview in which she calls Palestinians savages. Rand says:

Further, why are the Arabs against Israel? (This is the main reason I support Israel.) The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures. They are typically nomads. Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it’s the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent. When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are. Israel is a mixed economy inclined toward socialism. But when it comes to the power of the mind—the development of industry in that wasted desert continent—versus savages who don’t want to use their minds, then if one cares about the future of civilization, don’t wait for the government to do something. Give whatever you can. This is the first time I’ve contributed to a public cause: helping Israel in an emergency.

Doesn’t that make you feel all warm inside? Even if we pretend that the ads are not about Muslims, or Palestinians, but about Islamic terrorists, why does the ad call them “savages?” I get that the adjective “savage” means “fierce, violent, uncontrolled.” But I also get the double-entendre implied by the noun “savages,” which means “people who are primitive.” Osama Bin Laden was certainly a violent psychopath, but I doubt his empire was technologically inept. His net worth at the time of the 9/11 attacks was $300 million. His advisors and retinue held degrees in engineering. The 9/11 attackers were pilots. I’m sure that according to Rand’s logic I’m a savage too (because I’m black), but I know very few “civilized” white people who can fly an airplane.

My beef with Al-Qaeda stems not from their Arab heritage, nor from their devotion to Islam, but simply from their mass murder of thousands of people, including some of their fellow Muslims.

AFDI’s use of the word savages in this ad is a dog whistle intended to incite racial and religious animosity against against Arabs and Muslims, based on traditional notions of white supremacy and solidarity espoused by Ayn Rand in the interview excerpt above. And white supremacy is something that I simply cannot suffer in silence. An attack against Arabs and Muslims is an attack on me and considering how difficult it can be to distinguish African-Americans from Americans of East Indian, Palestinian, or Arab ancestry, that attack might literally one day fall on the shoulders of my husband or cousin.

The MTA lost the first round of its legal battle to censor these ads — a district court ruled  that the agency had violated AFDI’s first amendment rights by refusing to run their ad. The MTA maintains its opposition and is considering its options.

Meanwhile, the fate of some the anti-Islamic advertising that AFDI placed in San Francisco suggests that government censorship isn’t the only answer. Creative artists there solved the problem themselves.

Vandals changed the anti-Islamic ad in a bus on San Francisco to this.



About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, left to right. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Azipaybarah