Are The Pro Israel, Anti Jihad Subway Ads Offensive?


Yesterday I see a news story about a woman being arrested for spray painting over a pro Israel, anti Jihad subway ad in New York City. Imagine my surprise when I realize it was someone I follow on twitter to get a Middle East perspective. Mona Eltahawy is An Egyptian-born U.S. columnist who speaks out against radical Islam. She writes about the oppression of women in the Muslim world.

But let’s back up. The ads, put up in 10 stations, read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” So, I was wondering why Eltahawy would be upset with that. If the ad didn’t have the word “Jihad,” then I could understand, but it does. Doesn’t Eltahawy write against radical Islam? Isn’t that what “Jihad” is? Pam Geller, the activist responsible for the ads, says that it’s clear that she is referring to terrorists, not all Muslims.

Here is audio of Geller defending her ads on Geraldo Rivera’s radio show. He isn’t buying what she is saying. That link also takes you to Geller’s blog. She is Jewish, and a very outspoken pro Israel activist. Geller, by the way, had to go to court to have the ads put up. The MTA had refused to put them up, but a court ruled that the ads are protected speech under the First Amendment.

I asked my fellow Muslim twitterers what was so offensive by the ad, because I didn’t see calling Jihadists “savages” as a bad thing. They clearly are. The answers I got back basically came down to this. They say the ad implies that anyone who doesn’t stand with Israel is a savage. They say that the ad may refer to “Jihad,” but it leaves the impression that it is about all Muslims. One Muslim man also said that “Jihad” has a different meaning to them. To us, we see Jihad as a call to kill those that differ from them, but he told me that Muslims use the word to mean strife, which is the things they go though to be better in life. He said it permeates everything they do in life. So, basically he was saying “Jihad” doesn’t mean to them what it means to us.

So, listen to the audio of Pamela Geller defending her ad, and Geraldo disagreeing, and tell me what you think. Are the ads about hate? Or are they about defending Israel?

The bottom line to me is that it doesn’t really matter whether one is offended by the ads or not. Trust me, I would love to spray paint over Planned Parenthood ads. But I believe in free speech. Even speech I disagree with. Eltahawy chose to break the law by spray painting over the ad. That’s fine too, as long as she is willing to accept the consequences of those actions, which is arrest.

I am all for a more civil society. I am all for us agreeing to be respectful of each other’s beliefs. But we can’t say that just one religion or one belief gets deference over another. We can’t say it’s ok to offend a Christian, but not ok to offend a Muslim. We just can’t. If there is an ad, art, or movie that offends me as a Christian, then I can write letters, start a protest, or ignore it, but we live in a country where free speech is protected. We can’t make exceptions here. I would love for us to agree to not offend any religion or belief. But that has to be our choice, it must never be forced upon us. Freedom requires putting up with so many things we don’t like.

I understand that there is a growing anti Muslim sentiment in this country because of events in the Middle East. I also understand there is growing anti American and Jewish sentiment in the Middle East. But our leaders only seem to be wanting to soothe those who hate us. We need to be soothing both sides. I think Geller feels that Jews are not being defended. When there is a segment of society who feels they are being attacked, and then ignored, these kinds of things, and these kinds of ads happen. Geller feels that America is not taking seriously enough the threat and violence on Jews across the world. She has a right to feel that way, and a right to these ads. Muslims feel the ads target them as much as the terrorists. They have a right to feel that way too. In this country, both have a right to express that peacefully.

On culture, religion, belief, and values, Muslims and Christians will never agree. But that’s ok. Because in America we don’t have to. We can easily live in peace with each other, because America was built on values that allow that.

I think Christians are so used to be offended in this country by Hollywood, that we have learned to shrug it off. I’m not sure Muslims in this country have learned the same. It’s a bigger deal to them because they have been taught to not put up with it. Christians are taught to turn the other cheek.

I truly do hate anything that hurts others. But do you know what I hate even more? The notion that we aren’t free to say what we wish in this country. It is in the freedom of speech we find the greatness of our country. We cannot let offense, protest, or religion ever let us forget that. Ever.

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