Although many may have walked by an advertisement on the CT-bound side of the that said, “19,250 Deadly Islamic Attacks Since 9/11/01…It’s not Islamophobia, It’s Islamorealism,” without a thought, some local residents resent a message that they say is hateful innuendo.
However, for now, the ad at the Larchmont station that is part of a national campaign—paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an umbrella organization of the Stop Islamization of America (SION) group, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center—remains at large. According to Metro North Spokesperson Aaron Donovan, the MTA did not take it down. So where did it go?
According to Pamela Geller, co-founder of SION, “There have been numerous reports of defacement and removal [of the ads]—Hasting-on-Hudson, Larchmont, White Plains and many on the Connecticut line, etc…This has been happening from the onset of the campaign.”
Geller—no stranger to controversy—has stoked the fires of anti-Muslim rhetoric as an outspoken critic of Islam who has opposed the erection of a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan as well as a non-religious Arab-English school in Brooklyn and denied that the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of Bosnian Muslims ever happened, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center's website.
However, she argues that the message behind the current ads is not necessarily critical of Islam.
“The message is that it is not ‘hate’ or ‘Islamophobia’ to discuss the tens of thousands of jihad attacks that the attackers justify by referring to Islamic texts and teachings. We hope to raise awareness of the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat,” she said in an e-mail.
Further, she said, there is little to link the message on the ads to future attacks on peaceful members of the Muslim community.
“The idea that there have been any significant number of incidents of violence against peaceful members of the Muslim community is wildly exaggerated,” said Geller, “I would expect peaceful members of the Muslim community would support these efforts. Clearly, they do not support or sanction the global jihad or the slaughter of non-Muslims and secular Muslims under the sharia.”
As the NY Times reported in July, a Manhattan judge ruled in favor of the AFDI after the MTA refused to run an ad that said, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” on city buses.
The MTA's stance is as follows: “The MTA sells advertising space to raise revenue to support mass transit operations. The MTA’s existing policy for ads carried on subways, buses and trains permits both commercial and non-commercial paid advertisements. The MTA does not decide whether to allow a proposed advertisement based upon its viewpoint and the MTA does not endorse the viewpoint in this or any other paid advertisement. The MTA is currently reviewing its policy of accepting non-commercial viewpoint advertisements.”
One Larchmont resident who opposes the message being put out by the AFDI is Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a Muslim mother of two and associate professor of International Education and Educational Sociology at NYU, whose research focuses on contemporary right wing extremism.
“I am horrified and disturbed by this advertisement. Hate and intolerance have no place in our community, and coming just weeks after a right-wing extremist opened fire on a Sikh temple (thinking they were Muslims), this advertisement is particularly shocking,” she said.
Further, she opposes the idea that a public corporation—the MTA—could profit from the sale of advertisements to a “hate group.”
“I think we’re beyond that as a society. We don’t allow that in a public space.”
Others have joined the fight to remove the sign and publicly denounce its message.
A Bronxville resident and Metro North rider, Donna Honarpisheh, started a petition to remove the sign on Change.org that, at the moment, has nearly 15,000 signatures.
A grassroots organization that opposes Jewish, Muslim and Arab bigotry, Jewish Voice for Peace has released an open letter in response to the ads that can be viewed by clicking to the right of this article.
Miller-Idriss said that despite the horror of seeing the ad in her own community, that her friends in the area have been supportive.
"There's been a really good response to us," she said.
Betsy Aldredge, a PR Manager at the Museum of Jewish History and a Larchmont resident, said that she felt like the ads were targeting communities that were very hard hit by the attacks of 9/11.
“I’ve heard some friends and family members very upset and taken aback by the signs,” she said, continuing, “They’re clearly trying to instill fear to dehumanize and otherize a group of people based on religion.”
Aldredge, who studies the danger of propaganda in history, said that in pre-war Germany, for example, anti-Jewish propaganda was utilized in order to instill ideas of a superior race via science books, radio and school curriculums.
“My hope is that people will see it and question and do their own research and see they’re trying to create conflict and create an environment of fear and intolerance,” she said.
But, for now, CBS Outdoor will work on replacing any ads that are vandalized or removed from their locations across Westchester County.
“The vandalism and destruction of private property should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The attack is not just against my posters, but free speech. No one has the right to destroy property,” said Geller.
What do you think about the ad? Tell us in the comments section below or vote in our poll.
A statement from the organization Jewish Voice for Peace has been added to this article.