New ads scheduled to appear in the New York City subway system call for support of Israel in its war against "the savage," a reference to militant Muslims.
The ads, put out by a group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative, are aimed at criticizing violent attacks perpetrated by radical Islamists, according to Pamela Gellar, the founder and director of the group.
The ads read: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."
"The point is any war on civilians is savagery. The rockets going into Israel by Gaza is savagery, blowing up buses is savagery, targeting a bus of Jewish mothers and children, savagery, Daniel Pearl, 9/11, 7/7, 3/11, are all savagery," she said referring to terror attacks in the U.S., Britain and Spain. "I'm just restating the obvious."
The ad comes after a series of riots in the Mideast and Africa over a movie mocking the Prophet Mohammed and as France braces for unrest after a magazine printed cartoons lampooning the prophet. Depictions of the prophet are considered blasphemy by Muslims.
Gellar said she is concerned that the violent blowback to the movie and the cartoons is squelching free speech around the world. She said that she is not worried about her ads provoking violence, and that only those who commit violent acts are responsible.
"What we're witnessing here not just locally or nationally but internationally is the enforcement of the restriction of free speech under Sharia law. Under Sharia law you cannot criticize the prophet," she said. "In my opinion any time is a good time to blaspheme because I am living in America and freedom of speech is not the eighth or tenth or fifteenth amendment, but the first."
The ads were initially rejected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York's subway and train systems. MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said that the ad failed to meet its standards, which prohibit demeaning language of any group. But those standards were ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge this summer, he said.
"Our hands are tied. The court found the MTA's regulations on non-commercial ads violated the First Amendment," Donovan said.
"The judge recognized our intention, but found our attempt to be constitutionally deficient," he added.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York said today that the ads are insulting and ignorant.
"She's someone who's made quite a career out of stoking ignorance and fear and hatred," said Cyrus McGoldrick, advocacy director of the New York chapter of CAIR. "What's been rewarding about this experience is seeing our interfaith partners and New Yorkers of all stripes rejecting these ads."
McGoldrick said that he supported Gellar's rights to free speech, but called her posters a "shame." He said he did not expect American Muslims to react violently toward the posters.
While the ad will start its run across the city subway system on Monday, the MTA is expected to discuss changing its standards at a board meeting later this month. The MTA could ban all non-commercial ads from the subway system so as to avoid having to run controversial issue-based ads in the future, he said.
"The MTA board may consider revising those regulations at its meeting next week in executive session," Donovan said.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative is principally a venture made up of Gellar and author Robert Spencer, who runs the website Jihad Watch. The organization is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Gellar noted they have more than 30,000 Facebook followers, donors, and participants in their events.
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