There has been quite a bit of outrage generated by the racist ad activist Pamela Geller and group succeeded in placing on public transit in San Francisco and New York. The ad reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, defeat Jihad."
The slogan derives from a statement made by Geller's icon Ayn Rand during a 1974 lecture. In reference to the Arabs Rand said: "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."
The original Rand quotation associates the word "savages" explicitly with Arabs and by extension Muslims, it is not a reference to jihadists. It is a degrading colonial term that was reserved for indigenous peoples considered low on the ladder of civilization. The racist connotations are inescapable. In the eyes of Geller Muslims are savages du jour.
Many of the ads have been targeted by activists. Stickers and spray cans have been used to state objections. The Egyptian-American activist/journalist, Mona Eltahawy, was arrested for adding some color to one of the New York subway ads with a spray can. When she was challenged by an ad supporter and accused of denying free speech, Eltaway responded calmly "this is free speech."
Geller runs an Ayn Rand inspired website "Atlas Shrugs" that is in large part a vehicle for activism that has been characterized as anti-Muslim. Her extremist right-wing views are underwritten with a particularly crude strain of Islamophobia that the transit ad typifies. For more background info check out the Southern Poverty Law Center's file on Geller - here.
The transportation authorities whose property the ad disfigures had little choice in the matter since Geller went to court to claim First Amendment protection. San Francisco MTA complied even though the ad went against their stance on defamatory language. They have stated that proceeds from the ad will go 'to further the educational activities of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.' SF transport also put up a strongly worded disclaimer that lays out their position.
You can read the press release from the SFMTA leadership on the matter - here.
A judge in Manhattan similarly ruled in Geller's favor stating that the Metropolitan Transport Authority had violated the rights of Geller and her group by refusing to run the ad.
This isn't Geller's first attempt to grab attention with ads targeting Muslims. An earlier ad that appeared on MTA buses read: “Fatwa on your head? Is Your Family Threatening You? Leaving Islam?” She denies engaging in hate mongering and claims her beef is with 'political Islam' - a fine and not very believable distinction for anyone familiar with her blog.
A round up of some of her opinions makes the racist allusions of the transit ad seem like more-of-the-same. Following reports that Guantanamo Bay detainees may be housed at the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, Geller accused Obama of bringing jihad to America. She has made false claims about visits to the White House by Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan. On her blog she has posted many times in support of discredited "birtherism" - the belief that Obama isn't a natural-born US citizen and that his birth certificate is a forgery. More in the Media Matters article - Attention TV networks: Pam Geller is lying to your viewers.
Her intolerance extends to those fellow Jews who she deems insufficiently pro-Israel. She has characterized them as "lost souls" and "self-hating wretches." In a 2008 editorial for Arutz Sheva she lamented: "... over 80% of American Jews are Democrats. I don't get it. The conventional wisdom on the Left is that Israel is an oppressor and her actions are worse than the world's most depraved and dangerous regimes. Chomsky, Finkelstein, Soros – these men are the killers."
She called on Israel to "Give up nothing. Turn over not a pebble. For every rocket fired, drop a MOAB. Take back Gaza. Secure Judea and Samaria. Stop buying Haaretz. Throw leftists bums out."
So really the transit ad is vintage Geller. The same primitive sentiments... the same crude Islamophobia and pro-Israel flag waving.
No doubt Geller would point to the recent Muslim protests over the Innocence of Muslims film as evidence of uncivilized behavior. So what does she call a throng of protesting Israeli nationalists who chant "we have come to expel the darkness" in reference to African asylum seekers? What does she call mob attacks on refugees and the firebombing of refugee residences in Tel Aviv? Do yeshiva students in Jerusalem who express contempt for Christianity by spitting on Christians represent her idea of civilized behavior? How about Haredim who order women to the back of buses and assault schoolgirls for wearing insufficiently modest dresses - is that civilized? Eight year-old Naama Margolese was spat upon and called "a whore" by men who assailed her on her way to school. There's plenty about Israeli society and its ultra-nationalist and Orthodox elements that isn't exactly in sync with values most of us have come to recognize as "civilized."
Geller and her supporters seem to believe it is perfectly fine to smear Muslims as 'savages' on transit ads. But you have to wonder if a similar type-ad smearing Israel and the Jews could even appear on a T'shirt or lapel pin without ending up on Twitter as an egregious example of anti-Semitism. To call it a double standard is an understatement. Muslims it seems are expected to suck it up in the name of "free speech" even when it is blasted in their face from a billboard.
Anti-hate activists have targeted the Geller ad, in one case altering the wording and meaning entirely:
This reworking of the ad is instructive, because Geller's ad has had an unintended effect. It reminds those who look at it of the militaristic aggression and racism of a country that holds one and a half million Gazans under occupation like inmates of a penal colony. It is a reminder of a society in which inequality is part of the fabric of life - a society that seeks to justify illegal settlements and that turns a deaf ear to international law. That's what many are reminded of when they look at Geller's ad.
The thought also occurs to them that there is little about any of it that is civilized.