The Great Subway Stunt Of 2012

The Con

Atlas Shrugs blogger Pam Geller, an expert at agitation as well as self-promotion, bought $6,000 worth of ad space on the New York City subway system to promote her view on the current War on Terror and clash of civilizations.  These ads, provocative to be sure, were initially rejected (wrongly) by the MTA as hate speech.  After a court battle, a judge (correctly) deemed the ad campaign well within the bounds of the First Amendment and the ads are currently up on the IRT and other lines.

Of course, the inevitable backlash from the other side occurred.

(From the New York Times)

 An Egyptian-American columnist, who rose to prominence on social media last year for her commentary during the revolution in Egypt, was arrested in the Times Square subway station on Tuesday for spraying pink paint on a pro-Israel poster that calls Islamist opponents of the Jewish state “savage.”

The poster was one of 10 placed in subway stations across the transit system this week, on the heels of violent and sometimes deadly protests across the Muslim world in response to an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority had initially rejected the ads,citing their “demeaning” language. The group behind the ads, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, sued, and in July won a federal court ruling on First Amendment grounds. The group’s executive director, Pamela Geller, also led the effort in 2010 to block construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of the World Trade Center attack in Lower Manhattan.

The columnist, Mona Eltahawy, is a former Reuters correspondent now based in New York who became a dual citizen of Egypt and the United States last year. Her Twitter feed, which has more than 160,000 followers, became popular last year as a source of information on the Egyptian revolution.

The full text of the ad, which refers to a statement by Ms. Geller’s intellectual hero Ayn Rand, reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” Then, between two Stars of David, the tag line appears: “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

Ms. Eltahawy’s arrest was recorded on video by an activist who supports the ad campaign, Pamela Hall, who placed herself in front of the poster. Ms. Hall’s video and photographs of the arrest were later published on Ms. Geller’s blog under the headline: “Mona Eltahawy Arrested for Assaulting Pro-Freedom Blogger While Defacing AFDI Pro-Freedom Ad.”

The standoff between the two women was also captured on video by The New York Post.

Ms. Eltahawy was charged with criminal mischief, making graffiti and possessing a graffiti instrument, the police said on Wednesday, adding that no additional security measures had been put in place at any of the ads’ locations across the subway system. A spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said on Wednesday morning that Ms. Eltahawy had not yet been arraigned.

Ms. Geller said in an e-mail on Wednesday that at least five of the ads had been defaced. Philip Weiss, a New Yorker whose blog Mondoweiss aims to cover the Middle East “from a progressive Jewish perspective,” posted photographs Tuesday depicting some of the defaced ads.

Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the transportation authority, said that staff members for the agency’s advertising partner, CBS Outdoor, inspect all ads each day and replace those that have been vandalized or defaced, drawing from a pool of “overage copies” provided by the advertiser.

Ms. Geller’s group provided 20 copies, Mr. Donovan said, but could send in more at its own cost if it chose to.

“I had more printed,” Ms. Geller said on Wednesday, “as I expected this.”

She called the defaced ads “a physical manifestation of the way the entire conversation, or lack thereof, always goes.”

“Anyone who speaks about jihad and Shariah is attacked, defamed, destroyed,” she said, “just like these ads.”

As The Lede blog reported last month, activists who see the posters as insulting to Muslims reworked or destroyed similar posters placed in the transit systems in San Francisco and the New York suburbs.

Ms. Eltahawy, initially known for her commentary on the Egyptian revolution from afar, became personally involved in the protest movement last November, when she used her Twitter feed to document her physical and sexual abuse by Egyptian police officers following a crackdown on a demonstration near Tahrir Square in Cairo.

In May, she earned the enmity of many Egyptians for writing a Foreign Policy cover story on women’s rights in the Middle East published with the headline “Why Do They Hate Us?

News of Ms. Eltahawy’s arrest made headlines in Egypt and earned her praise from like-minded Internet activists. A Lebanese blogger, who was less impressed with the stunt, wrote a satirical blog post accusing Ms. Eltahawy of attention-seeking.

Ms. Eltahawy also has a history with Ms. Geller. When Ms. Geller rallied opponents of the mosque near ground zero in 2010, Ms. Eltahawy attended a counter-demonstration.

When I first heard about all this mishugas, I shook my head.  The First Amendment protects these ads – whether you like the message or not. The copy is, however, factually incorrect.  Jihadists are many things but they aren’t savages and Geller can say it all she wants, anywhere she wants.  If Eltahawy doesn’t like the message she can crowdfund the $6,000 it will take to get her ad campaign on the subway.  Spray-painting the ads was a crime – Criminal Mischief – not freedom of speech.  She should pay her fine and thank the Great Magnet Bugsy Segal is dead.

But at second glance, I understand what’s going on here: a little known blogger and a columnist on the outside of the media frenzy partner to jump start their sagging careers – all under the guise of Constitutional protections.

Well-played ladies.  Well played.



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