Mona Eltahawy, a prominent Egyptian-American activist and writer whose arms were broken in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring, was arrested at a Times Square subway station after spraying paint over a controversial poster that has drawn broad condemnation for equating Muslims with “savages.”
The posters, which read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” are the work of Pamela Geller, leader of the anti-Muslim American Freedom Defense Initiative. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority initially rejected the ads, saying they passed the agency’s threshold for “demeaning” language. But a New York judge ruled that the advertisements were protected as free speech under the First Amendment. Transit officials in Washington, D.C., have so far refused to run the ads “out of a concern for public safety, given current world events,” acknowledging that the bills might incite more of the violence seen in attacks on U.S. embassies throughout the Arab world in recent weeks.
Eltahawy defended her attack on the ad with purple aerosol as “expressing myself freely against hate and racism.” A video of the incident shows a woman identified as Pamela Hall placing herself between Eltahawy and the poster as Eltahawy sprayed the image with paint, through which the message remained visible.
“You have a lotta nerve, Mona,” Hall said.
“No I don’t have nerve,” Eltahawy replied. “You know what I have? I have an understanding of racism.”
Minutes into the confrontation, two police officers arrived and arrested Eltahawy. Both officers refused to tell her why she was being arrested. One insisted she had endangered Hall by continuing to paint the poster after Hall stood in her way.
“I’m Egyptian-American and I refuse hate,” Eltahawy shouted to a crowd of bystanders as she was led away in handcuffs. “I will continue to nonviolently protest hate, and that is hate and racism. This is what happens in America when you nonviolently protest.”
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.”