Muslim groups are denouncing the anti-Islamic advertisements slated to run on New York City buses next week, calling them hateful and vitriolic.
A set of six advertisements with anti-Muslim messaging will begin appearing on Sept. 29, plastered on 100 New York City buses and in two subway entrances. The ads will run for a total of four weeks, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
The ads, which reportedly cost $100,000, are sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Led by blogger Pamela Geller, the far-right group supports what it calls “counter jihad measures.” The group publicized the coming ads on their website, describing the campaign as telling "truths about Islam and jihad that the government and media ignore.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States, characterizes the AFDI as an “active anti-Muslim group.”
One of the ads features an image of the American journalist James Foley just before he was beheaded last month by a member of the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who spoke in what sounded like British-accented English. Next to the images is another photo, purportedly of the same ISIL member, who has yet to be publicly identified by the British government, supposedly before he joined the group. Above the images is the slogan, “Yesterday’s moderate is today’s headline.”
Another ad equates the Washington-based advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) with the Palestinian-Islamist organization Hamas, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization.
Each of the ads will feature a disclaimer from the MTA that it does not endorse the views expressed in the campaign.
The MTA rejected one of AFDI’s ads that included a phrase about killing Jews, saying "it was reasonably foreseeable" that displaying the ads would "incite or provoke violence" and interfere with "safe, efficient, and orderly transportation operations."
“We review every viewpoint ad under the standards, but a series of court rulings have made clear that our hands are largely tied,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz told Al Jazeera in an email.
The MTA tried to reject past AFDI ads that referred to enemies of Israel as “savages,” but Geller won a lawsuit against the agency when the judge ruled in favor of her First Amendment right to free speech.
“What we’re seeing is more of the same,” said Hoda Elshishtawy, a national policy analyst at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, citing AFDI’s past ad campaigns in other U.S. cities.
“They absolutely have the right to put up this hateful message because of the First Amendment,” she said. “It’s disgusting the way they choose to wrongfully represent a religion. Obviously the group is just out there to promote their own hate and their own twisted view of how they view Islam and Muslims.”
She said the group is playing into the hands of ISIS by equating all Muslims with extremism. “Not only is it untrue, but they’re breaking up the fabric of American plurality,” she said.
“Our perspective is that she’s crackpot, and she leads a hate group and a hate organization," said Zead Ramadan, a CAIR board member.
“She’s really trying to capitalize on the Islamophobia surrounding [ISIL], which has absolutely no connection to Muslims in America,” he said referring to Geller. “They do not represent Islam, and most Muslims in the world will strongly, strongly, vehemently tell you that these guys do not represent us. Their actions are not Islamic. It certainly doesn’t represent American and New York Muslims.”
As for AFDI’s ad conflating CAIR with Hamas, Ramadan says, “There is no relationship between us. This is just more vicious propaganda.”
He added, “It’s sad. It’s not what America stands for. We stand for e pluribus unum.”