As commuters waited for their morning trains Thursday, many expressed disbelief at the sight of an anti-Islamic advertisement prominently displayed on platforms at Metro-North stations in Westchester County.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group led by Pamela Geller, paid for the signs, which associate the religion of Islam with 19,250 terrorist attacks carried out by extremists since Sept. 11, 2001. Printed in large block lettering on a dark background, an asterisk denotes that number is rising, and a slogan below reads: “It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”
Cynthia Idriss, a practicing Muslim and New York University professor specializing in right-wing extremism, was shocked when she saw the ad at the Larchmont station.
“My biggest concern is this gives legitimacy to radical extremism,” Idriss said. “Extremism is most threatening when it enters the mainstream. When you see stuff like this in public places like a Metro-North platform, it gives legitimacy to it.”
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it does not endorse the viewpoint expressed in the ad but refrains from banning advertising based on its message.
Last month, the MTA released a similar statement when it received criticism over pro-Palestinian ads at Metro-North Railroad stations, and pro-Israel ads taken out in response. The agency’s chairman and CEO, Joseph Lhota, said the MTA likely will discuss its policies on political ads in September.
Geller, a blogger and political activist, has stirred controversy in the past, most recently when her group sued the MTA for refusing to run bus ads that contained what the agency called “demeaning language.”
A federal judge ruled in the group’s favor, saying the ads, which advocate support for Israel and the defeat of jihad, are protected under the First Amendment.
Now, Geller said she is rolling out her latest campaign nationwide, which is being funded through contributions made to her website.
“The message I am trying to send is that it is not ‘Islamophobic’ to oppose jihad terror,” she wrote in an email to The Journal News. “I’m also trying to highlight the reality and magnitude of Islamic jihad and the mainstream media’s cover-up of it.”
Opponents of the anti-Islamic message acknowledge the right to free speech but think this type of ad serves no proactive purpose.
“Stereotyping an entire religion and suspecting every Muslim is secretly a jihadist creates an atmosphere that makes discrimination easier and more acceptable,” said John Harris, chairman of the New York regional board of the Anti-Defamation League. “There are extremists in every religion whose views reflect hatred and bigotry towards people they don’t understand, and to condemn the entire faith based on the views of a small minority is unwarranted.”