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:
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.