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Seven Essential Points about the racist Anti-Muslim New York Metro Advertisement


Starting on Monday, September 24th, visitors to New York’s metro will be greeted with a strange advertisement

The ad reads:
"In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." 

The deliberately provocative advertisement had previously appeared in California, and had been ignored by most passengers there.      
The New York posting of the advertisement has been planned to coincide with the large annual meeting of the United Nations general assembly gathering there.

The advertisement is sponsored by a shadowy organization that calls itself “American Freedom Defense Initiative.”  
What is readily apparent is that the advertisement makes an association between “civilized man” and support for Israel on one hand, and “the savage” and “Jihad” on the other.  

It seems good to make seven short observations about this provocative advertisement.

1)  The language of “savages”, and the bifurcation of humanity into “savages” and “civilized man” is old—as old as European colonialism.
A key component of European colonialism was to posit Europeans as the bearers of “civilizations” in contrast to alleged “savages” in the lands being colonized.   Today we are likely to speak of Indian Civilization, Chinese Civilization, Japanese Civilization, Egyptian Civilization, American Civilization, etc. [Some of us would also wish to pluralize each of those, so to speak of multiple and fluid American civilizations, Chinese civilizations, etc.]   However, in the 19th century the European and American nations that colonized Asia, Africa, Native Americans, and Latin America spoke in the language of “civilization,” and its corresponding adjective “civilized”, in the singular:  Some people (allegedly the Euro-American civilization) were said to be “civilized”, the rest of humanity were “savages” or in decline.  It was this assertion of “savagery” (and its twin, “decline”) that made them—from the perspective of the supporters of Empire—to be in need of Colonial “intervention” to redeem them and bring them into civilization.

The pro-Israel ad in the New York Metro is tapping into this colonial legacy by dividing the world into the camp of alleged “civilized” pro-Israel people and “savage” peoples (supposedly Muslims).

2)   Bearing “civilization” was part of a racist colonial message.

In the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the bearing of civilization was a racially charged and indeed racist colonial message.   It was intertwined with the language of “White Man’s Burden”, carrying dark-skinned “savages” to the promised land of civilization. 

The racist cartoon to the right is a reminder of this racist legacy of the language of “civilized” and “civilization.”   This racist cartoon depicts a White man carrying the caricature of a dark-skinned African to the Promised Land of civilization and “progress”, in order to be “schooled.”  [Thus the imagery of a “school” on the top of the shiny hill on the racist cartoon to the right.]

3)  The advertisement perpetuates the racist language of early Zionism, while eroding support for a just and peaceful solution to the Palestinian/Israeli situation today.

The advertisement positions itself as being ardently “pro-Israel.”  The person behind the NY Metro ad, Pamela Geller, herself admits that her agenda is indeed about Israel in a New York Times interview:

PAMELA GELLER ... “Now do I see everything through the prism of Israel? No, I don’t, but I do think it’s a very good guide. It’s a very good guide because, like I said, in the war between the civilized man and the savage, you side with the civilized man.”

It is this quote that shows up in a modified version on the New York Metro advertisement. What has been covered up in the advertisement is seeing things through the prism of Israel.

The early European Zionists who in the early 20th century imagined colonizing Palestine indeed spoke of being the bearers of “civilization” against the indigenous Palestinians, charged with being “barbaric savages.” 

The founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, displays this attitude in his own writing, which is filled with the arrogant colonial boast on behalf of European Jews:

“We should there form a portion of rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”   [Emphasis added]  

Of course one can be committed to Israel, and for that matter committed to Palestine, and more importantly the co-existence of Palestinians and Israelis, without spewing the kind of hatred that Geller is espousing.   What is needed today, and urgently so, is a just and peaceful solution to Palestine/Israel that guarantees for all the citizens there, regardless of ethnicity and religion, the exact same level of rights and privileges, while assuring the safety and security that all citizens there are entitled to as human beings.

The pro-Israel ad in the New York Metro is tapping into and perpetuating a racist aspect of Zionism in the colonial era, instead of moving towards that just and peaceful solution.

4)  The advertisement fundamentally and deliberately distorts the meaning of “jihad.”
The term Jihad is open to the same nuances as the term Crusade.    One may speak of a crusade against drugs, or the Crusades of Billy Graham, or the medieval Crusades.    In the context of the Qur’an, the term Jihad means a struggle that the faithful are told to undertake with their souls and beings.    Jihad can be an internal struggle of purification against one’s own inner demons; it may be a social justice struggle against tyranny and oppression; and at times it may be a justified military struggle against aggressive invaders.    The range of meanings there almost exactly recapitulates the various meanings of the term crusade.  

Scholars of Christianity and Islam have pointed out the ways in which the range of meaning of Jihad can be favorably compared with the range of “just war” in the Christian tradition.    

5)  The advertisement does more than violate the loftiest American ideals of pluralism.   It also violates the reality of New York City as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

NYC is the most ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse city in the United States.  As an American, as a Muslim, as someone whose wife was born in New York, as someone who has had two children born in the state of New York, I say that this hateful advertising campaign is unbecoming of our diversity.    This point was best made by the New York activist Linda Sarsour, whose Twitter feed reads: 

In NYC We Speak 140 Languages and Hate Isn't One Of Them. #MySubwayAd #antihate

6) The Muslim community’s response in NYC has been exemplary as both Muslims and New Yorkers. 

New York Muslim community has responded in their twin capacities as both Muslims and New Yorkers.  
The responses have been now spiritually edifying, now sarcastic, now inspiring.   
A small sample of them reads:

Hatred won't ever work as a solution, but it will always be a part of the problem. Don't fight hate with hate #MySubwayAd #AntiHate

I wanted to be treated like a human being - Rosa Parks #mysubwayad @MTAinsider

We all are the same. Keep love going. Sofia, age 4. #mysubwayad #antihate @mtainsider

The New York community’s response to the hateful ad is reminiscent of the equally clever response of Muslims to the absurdly hysterical Newsweek magazine cover “Muslim Rage”, where thousands of Muslims took to social media with amusing pictures of Muslims in humorous situations with the #Muslimrage tag.

In a real sense, the Muslim community seems to be embodying the lofty Qur’anic teaching about how to response to hateful nonsense:

The servants of the All-merciful God are those who walk in the earth modestly
and who, when the ignorant address them, only say, “Peace.”
[Qur’an 25:63]

7)   The people behind this advertisement are a certified hate organization.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, the most credible organization that tracks hate groups across the country, has already identified Pamella Geller’s organizations as a hate organization.

The SPLC has compiled some of Geller’s more laughably insane comments.   Examining them is perhaps the best way of getting a sense of the paranoid, hateful and bizarre ideology of the people behind the advertisement in the New York Metro.  Here are quotes by Pamela Geller on topics ranging from Islam to President Obama.

"Islam is not a race. This is an ideology. This is an extreme ideology, the most radical and extreme ideology on the face of the earth."
— Pam Geller On Fox Business' "Follow the Money," March 10, 2011

"Obama is a third worlder and a coward. He will do nothing but beat up on our friends to appease his Islamic overlords." 
— Pam Geller,, April 13, 2010

"Hussein [meaning President Obama] is a muhammadan. He's not insane … he wants jihad to win." 
— Pam Geller,, April 11, 2010

The other advertisements that Pam Geller’s organization had purchased make it clear that she is opposed not to some “Islamic extremism”, but to Islam itself.   She has made this point amply clear:  Her previous slogan was: “It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”   She is also on record stating that while she thinks there may be “moderate Muslims”, there is no “moderate Islam” per se.   In other words, she asserts that Islam in and by itself is a violent ideology.     

There is not much need to elaborate further on this.   One should simply be consistent in asking what our response should be to a person, any person, who declared the faith that illuminates the lives of hundreds of millions of human beings around the planet an inherently violent ideology, regardless of whether they are talking about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other faith.

In conclusion, let us put aside for a minute the conversation about Jihad, social media, Israel, colonialism, and “civilization.”   What would we say to advertisement from the KKK on in our public spaces?  What would we say to advertisements on public transportation from groups that openly espouse anti-Semitism, or messages targeting African-American, Gay and Lesbians, or Hispanics?   Whatever our response to those hypothetical advertisements would be, why would our response to advertisement against Muslims be any different?

Putting aside questions about Islam and Muslims, it is perhaps worth asking what this says about as Americans.   What does the singling out of Muslims say about us, about our civic commitment to forming “a more perfect union”?   The preamble to the United States Constitution begins with:  “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice….”  A campaign of hate that targets a beleaguered minority community takes us away from this lofty American ideal, and violates our reality as human beings who are bound up together in what Dr. King taught us was an inescapable network of mutuality.    

Now is the time to remember that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.   It is about all of us, Muslim and Jew and Christian and Hindu and Buddhist and agnostic and atheist, about all of us who call this beautiful and messed up country home.  It is about all of us, and up to all of us, to figure out what type of a society we wish to have, and how we want to deal with voices that direct such hate against one or more of us.    

The Qur’an instructs us to say:  Peace.   And then leave the ignorant hateful people to their own folly.
As a New Yorker might say, you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.


The racist cartoon of “White Man’s Burden” is taken from Wikipedia.
The Preamble to the United States Constitution image is from here.

Tags: advertisement, anti-muslim, barbarian, colonial, israel, jihad, new york metro, pamela geller, racist, savage, soia


  1. Great piece, Omid. I appreciate that you’ve included both substantive contextual information as well as links to the Twitter #MySubwayAd and other responses. It is important that people learn to recognize Geller’s organization as the hate group that it is.

  2. New York and the Statue of Liberty used to represent freedom to people all over the world, a home where the “wretched refuse and teeming masses” could find freedom.  So now it is hate.  Now it is stop-and-frisk.  When New York lets hate win, the true believers in freedom have lost. Free speech, no matter how hateful or misguided, is one of our most sacred rights. So spew your racist sewage, it only stains those who believe it. God Bless America!

  3. My late husband, a Neopagan Druid, made a tee shirt graphic that said “First they came for the Muslims… and I said Stop! Right! There!”

    We’re all in this together.


    here is a nice make-over someone did on an ad in the subway. way to go!!

  5. This is the best essay by far I’ve read on the whole topic. Thank you! And re the ad “makeovers”—power to the guerrilla people. Still free speech, and it costs the American Freedom Defense Initiative more $ than they thought to “replace” the ads. Pretty good, NYC!

  6. I agree with the majority of this piece and believe that these ads are truly disgusting. They do absolutely nothing for society and I am sick and tired of Geller’s hate-mongering.

    However, I think it’s a shame that you try to equate with what Herzl’s use of the word barbarism to Geller’s use of the word. Herzl envisioned a state without preference for any group, and promoted freedom and equality to all within it, especially with regard to religious freedom and tolerance. As an academic, you should know better than to throw quotes around without the correct contextualization.

  7. dear Goodpost. Thank you for your kind words.  I am delighted that you and I share a hope for the best wishes for this society, as well as Israelis and Palestinians.

    However, I do believe that you are too optimistic about Herzl’s view of Israel.  You and I might hope for an Israel without a preference for any group, and ultimately I believe that such a state is the only peaceful and just state for both Palestinians and Israelis.  However, that was not the state that Herzl had in mine.  You have to read his diary for that.  Here are two long quotes.  I believe if you read it, you’ll see his plan/hope/dream of exiling the indigenous Palestinian population and denying them employment.  That is by no means the vision of someone committed to an equal and just future for both Palestinians and Israelis.  Here is the long quote from Herzl’s diary:

    “The mass of poor natives were to be expropriated and, he added, “both the expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” This was to be done by “spirit[ing] the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country.”
    The small class of large landowners could be “had for a price.”.
    “At first, incidentally,” he writes on the pages describing “involuntary expropriation,” “people will avoid us. We are in bad odor. By the time the reshaping of world opinion in our favor has been completed, we shall be firmly established in our country, no longer fearing the influx of foreigners, and receiving our visitors with aristocratic benevolence and proud amiability.”

    Those are the sad facts of history.  I do not lay all the blame on early Zionists, but think that we have to look at them with clear eyes to understand part of why we have ended up where we have.  Where we go from here is up to us.  My hope is that people of good will are going to join together in securing a peaceful and just future.

  8. This type of dialogue is what we need to overcome blind prejudice against Muslims in the US. Could this lead us to another war? Against Iran this time? A friend introduced me to an interesting blog from Iran. I’d like to share it ;

  9. Mr Safi’s argument makes a few good points, but misses an opportunity to engage a larger debate. The seven points he cites weaken his argument and because these are the ‘take away’ parts that will be the only parts of the posting many people will actually read.

    1) The language of “savages”, and the bifurcation of humanity into “savages” and “civilized man” is old—as old as European colonialism.

    I would broaden this claim. The fact is many, if not most culture world-wide have historically made a social separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Casting the ‘civilized man’ vs ‘savage’ could imply an assumption that xenophobia is endemic the European civilization alone, which would be patently false.

    2) Bearing “civilization” was part of a racist colonial message.

    While there may have been racist reasons in colonialism, it is hard to see how this is relevant. The term “savage” in the ads would rather refer to individuals whose actions reveal a ‘savage’ disregard for fellow human beings. Drawing the so-called “Race Card” is a red herring.

    3) The advertisement perpetuates the racist language of early Zionism, while eroding support for a just and peaceful solution to the Palestinian/Israeli situation today.

    Whether those behind the ad are Zionists or not is relevant to what the ads state. This point is an ad hominem.

    4) The advertisement fundamentally and deliberately distorts the meaning of “jihad.”

    This is an accurate statement, so far as it goes. However, it must be remembered that there are groups who have proclaimed themselves as Muslim use the term “jihad” in precisely the way the ad implies. Mr Safi’s protest here is misplaced in that he does not go beyond the use of the term in the ad to clarify the distortion of the term’s use by the self-proclaimed defenders of Islam who appropriated in the first place.

    5) The advertisement does more than violate the loftiest American ideals of pluralism.  It also violates the reality of New York City as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

    This objection is at best Mr Safi’s opinion, but it is hard to see how the ad violates pluralism.

    6) The Muslim community’s response in NYC has been exemplary as both Muslims and New Yorkers.

    In that the ad does not blame the NYC Muslim community, this comment, although commendable, is irrelevant.

    7) The people behind this advertisement are a certified hate organization.

    Again, this may be true, but it does not address the substance of what the ad actually proclaims. The ad makes the claim that supporting Israel is standing on the side of civilized behavior versus savagery. A counter could be made that Israel does not have a spotless record in regards to its treatment of Palestinians and has undoubtedly recklessly killed noncombatants in the past, and thus has been guilty of terrorist acts itself. Mr Safi’s narrowing of his objects to the ad only weakens his argument.

  10. Omid safi can say The Qur’an instructs us to say:  Peace.  And then leave the ignorant hateful people to their own folly. But the facts are totally different. He can fool ignorant Americans. But Not those minorities living in Islamic countries. Did Omid write anything about the fate of Christians like me living in Pakistan? while he enjoys the peace in a Christian country.. Did he write about the little innocent Christian girl jailed in Pakistan for Blasphemy recently?. He will not. It is high time people like Omid come to Pakistan and work to remove the blasphemy laws TERRORIZING the minorities.

  11. Dear Omid Safi,

    Excellent article. There is, however, more to the story. I therefore felt I should flag up this information to you directly:

    Despite Pamela Geller and her apologists’ disingenuous claims to the contrary, including Geller’s cowardly use of the word “Jihad” instead of “Muslims” (which is what she really means), Geller’s ads are indeed racist. Because she’s actually quoting from an explicitly racist diatribe by her idol Ayn Rand.

    Full details here: The o.riginal Ayn Rand quote can also be seen here: and i,s as follows:

    “The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures. They are typically nomads. 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.”

    You can see that Geller’s ad is essentially identical to the original racist Ayn Rand quote that it’s based on.

  12. Please don’t call this a “pro-Israel” ad.  This ad does Israel no favors and only paints Israel supporters as anti-Muslim.  As you point, this is not the case.

  13. dear Frequentwind, thank you for you comment.  I agree with you that this ad does Israel and support for Israel no favors.  However, two further clarifications are necessary:  one, the folks behind this ad surely identify—and explicitly so—their hatred for Islam in the context of their support for Israel.  and secondly, a great deal of the Islamophobia in the country today is driven by folks who are motivated by an ardent and one-sided support for Israel.    I for one remain committed to the notion that ultimately it will be a commitment to justice and equality that will serve both Palestinians and Israelis.    all the best wishes, omid

  14. Is being anti-Jihad the same as being anti-Muslim?

  15. Whoever studies the nature of the conflict between the Muslims and the Jews understands an important fact, [namely that] this is a religious conflict, not a dispute about politics or nationality, or a conflict between races or tribes, or a fight over land or country, as some describe it. The conflict is one of religion and it is considered by HAMAS to be a clash between faith and unbelief, between Islam and the infidels (the Jews), between the true religion - that which supersedes all previous religions: Islam and Judaism which it nullifies.Hamas’ charter also declares: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it. ... The struggle is between Islam and Judaism. Samuel Huntington writes it so aptly: “Islam has bloody borders”. Israel is located precisely on that border. This tiny country is situated on the fault line of jihad, just like Kashmir, Kosovo, the Philippines, Southern Thailand, Darfur in Sudan, Lebanon, and Aceh in Indonesia.Israel stands at the forefront of this modern clash of civilizations as the only country that represents the Western world in the Middle East. In contrast to World War II times, now the Jewish people are not just the victims but also the frontline fighters against these evil forces that threaten the human civilization. Brutal killings of civilians by Islamic-Arab suicide bombers, and terrorists in Israel are nowadays almost a daily occurrence, and are executed in the name of “Allah” with the blessing “Allahu-Akbar” (God is great)!

  16. Wow, “Max”, whoever you are.  It takes a strong person to post something so full of lies and distortions, and hide under a fake email address. 
    If you really want to have a conversation about Huntington, go read some of the legit criticisms by real historians like Harvard’s Mottahedeh.    Otherwise spouting nonsense about “islam has bloody borders” is full of crap, because one of the evidence that Huntington used was Bosnia.  Yup, more than a hundred thousand Bosnian Muslims getting slaughtered is “proof” in this pathetic theory that Muslims can’t live with others.  Get real…. Know your history before you open your mouth.
    As to the issue of civilian casualties, I side with those who stand up for civilians and cry out against civilian casualties, no matter their race or ethnicity.  If you had a shred of moral consistency, you would go on to lament and cry out against the loss of life of Palestinian civilians, who have been killed 7 times as often by Israeli defense forces.    But of course you won’t do that, because you have already deemed them unworthy.   
    And as to your categories of “civilization”, if it consists of occupying people’s land, shooting children, dropping bombs from planes on them, well, I can do without that civilization.  I have and will continue to speak out against terrorism when committed by Palestinians and by Israelis.  I’d like to see you do the same.
    IF you want my respect, demonstrate to me and others that you care about the dignity and sanctity of all of God’s children, regardless of their race or ethnicity.  Until you do, you are just part of the problem. 
    Peace, out.

  17. What disturbs me about the ad is that it is so ambiguous; what exactly does it mean to “defeat” jihad?
    They have the right to post their ads, but it doesn’t actually advance any kind of cause.

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