Stay Civilized NYC: a 'civilized' response to MTA hate ads

Cyrus McGoldrick
Advocacy Director, CAIR-NY

This month 10 ads paid for by Pamela Geller's anti-Muslim hate group will be posted on New York City subways stating "In the war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

The purchasers of these ads are hate-mongers on lists with the Ku Klux Klan, building careers demonizing Islam and Muslims, preying on ignorance and paranoia to whip the masses into a militarized, xenophobic frenzy. Their diatribes about the Muslim tide taking over the West inspired Anders Behring Breivik to kill 77 human beings in a terrorist attack in Norway. (One of them then justified his murderous rampage, showing a picture of the victims and pointing out that many of them were not “pure Norwegian,” and therefore worthy of being killed.)

Now they want to stir up trouble in NYC, just two years after they successfully manufactured a controversy about the building of a mosque. 

The ad's message is deeper than its authors could have guessed.
Many of us already understand that anti-Muslim activists and propagandists are part of the war machine, legitimizing and normalizing American wars in Muslim countries by making the Muslim “other” seem like the aggressor. The extreme right wing in this country, including many in the Christian far-right, have been hypnotized by the narrative that America needs Israel to keep the Muslims and Arabs at bay, even though poll numbers suggest that they dislike Jews and Muslims almost equally. “Fear Inc.,” the report by the Center for American Progress, exposed quite clearly how much money has flooded into anti-Muslim organizations and fostered a public discourse that is at once vitriolic and violent. The promoters of the aforementioned ads are the poster children of this new hate movement.

This time, though, they have truly outdone themselves.

“Savage” is timeless, a verbal weapon wielded at every culture colonized or oppressed by Europeans in the last 700 years. The imperial project always depended on dehumanizing the “other.” Africa, Asia, the Americas…indigenous people have always been the “savages,” the “brutes,” the animals in need of domestication (or, often, extermination). The idea that Israelis (occupier) are civilized, as opposed to the Palestinians (occupied; both Muslims and Christians, although their association with “jihad” is clearly meant to essentialize them as the Muslim) who are savages, is an irony worth noting.

It’s almost hard to be angry. (Almost.) The ads do a better job than we could ever do at exposing their backers for the bigoted, white supremacist, hateful, war-hungry imperialists that they are, by using the term, “savage.” Bells are ringing in communities and collective memories throughout the developing world, those lands that survived (or are still in the struggle for survival) the encroachment of powerful nation-states hungry for the resources contained therein. This narrative is familiar to the Palestinian people, who have been strong, who have survived. We, too, can be strong. We, too, can survive. The time for unified, collective action is now.

An assault on human dignity requires a dignified response.

When the ads went up in San Francisco, Westchester, NY and Connecticut, communities of conscience acted. Elected officials reaffirmed their commitment to inclusiveness. The transportation authority in San Francisco countered the hate ads with a pointed disclaimer of their own, and donated the money paid for the ads to the city’s human rights commission. And, of course, some Bay Area artists took matters into their own hands.

New York, we can do even better. ACT NOW:

  1. Sign onto the CAIR-NY coalition letter asking Mayor Bloomberg to take a public stand denouncing these hate ads. (share with your networks)
  2. Sign onto the CAIR-NY coalition letter asking the MTA to mitigate the hate speech promoted in the ads. (share with your networks)
  3. Starting on Monday, September 24, if you see these hate ads, share the location details with CAIR-NY. Tweet us the location at @CAIR_NY hashtag #HateFreeNY, or email us at 
    • CAIR-NY will send volunteers there to leaflet and hold posters in front of the ads.
    • You can join us by printing the leaflets, and tweeting a photo of your efforts for us to share.
  4. Save the Date: Tuesday October 9 CAIR-NY will host a community forum featuring artist Mark Gonzales titled Savages Unite. We will hear performances and presentations which will redefine the narrative surrounding these hate ads. #SavagesUnite

If you have other ideas, let us know. It’s time to organize and reclaim New York as a city for all people and all faiths.

Download your own leaflets to handout by clicking here