Mona Eltahawy, the prominent Egyptian-American writer and activist, has been arrested in New York after spraying paint over a controversial poster on the subway that has been condemned for equating Muslims with “savages”.The posters were put up in the city by the anti-Muslim American Freedom defence Initiative, led by Pam Geller. They were approved by a US court, which ruled that they were “political” statements and protected by the first amendment, which guarantees free speech.
The poster states: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” Between two Stars of David, it adds: “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
Eltahawy was arrested after a supporter of Geller’s initiative attempted to prevent her defacing the sign with a purple aerosol.
The posters are now displayed in 10 New York stations – including Grand Central and Times Square – after a court ruled that the local transport authority could not refuse the ads.
In a video posted online of the incident by the New York Post, Mona Eltahawy can be seen attempting to paint over the poster before she is tackled by a woman with a camera, who is identified as Pamela Hall.
“Mona, do you think you have the right to do this?” Eltahawy is asked. “I do actually,” Eltahawy replies, adding: “I think this is freedom of expression, just as [the ad] is freedom of expression.”
As the scuffle continues two police officers appear to then arrest Eltahawy, who says: “This is what happens in America when you non-violently protest.”
Eltahawy, who has written for this paper, was later charged with “criminal mischief” and “graffiti”.
During the Arab spring, Eltahawy was arrested in Cairo and suffered an assault by riot police which left her with two broken arms.
The Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) had originally ruled it would not permit the posters because they were demeaning, but was compelled to take the $6,000 (£3,700) ad after Geller’s group went to court.
Last month US district court judge Paul Engelmayer ruled that it is protected speech under the first amendment.
“Our hands are tied,” New York subway spokesman Aaron Donovan said. “Under our existing ad standards as modified by the injunction, the MTA is required to run the ad.”
The posters have attracted widespread condemnation including from Jewish figures. Among those who have spoken out against them is Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, of Rabbis for Human Rights — North America, who wrote for CNN online: “As a rabbi, I find the ads deeply misguided and disturbing … The coded message makes clear who the savages are: those who support jihad, which in Geller’s mind includes all Muslims. She has called Islam ‘an extreme ideology, the most radical and extreme ideology on the face of the Earth’.
“As a Jew, I know the extreme to which baseless hatred can lead. And the Jewish community has been in the past a target of hatred in the United States. Geller’s message ignores the positive contributions that our Muslim friends, neighbours and colleagues make to our country every single day.
“It is also unfortunate that Geller chooses to frame her message of hatred as one of support for Israel.”
As head of a group called Stop Islamization of America, Geller, a rightwing blogger, helped spur a long campaign two years ago to remove a planned Islamic community centre near the World Trade Centre site, which she called the “Ground Zero Mosque”.
Geller’s group has also placed posters in other stations north of New York City that read: “It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”
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