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Controversial 'Defeat Jihad' ad to appear in NYC subways

From Erinn Cawthon, CNN
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Wed September 19, 2012
Starting Monday, some subway riders might see the ad that critics say is offensive but a judge ruled is protected speech.
Starting Monday, some subway riders might see the ad that critics say is offensive but a judge ruled is protected speech.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Controversial "Defeat Jihad" ad to appear in several New York subway stations next week
  • Last year, city transit officials refused to display the ad
  • That decision was overturned by a federal judge last month
  • Group behind ad says it's not concerned about inflaming Muslims

New York (CNN) -- A controversial advertisement that critics say is hateful toward Muslims will appear in New York City subway stations starting next week, despite the city's attempts to halt the campaign.

New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority initially rejected the ad, which reads: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

The authority's decision was overturned last month when a federal judge ruled that the ad is protected speech under the First Amendment.

Jihad -- Arabic for "struggle" -- is considered a religious duty for Muslims, although there are peaceful and violent interpretations of what it means.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative, which produced the ad, has been fighting to place the message in New York's subway system since last year after the authority refused to display it.

"We don't think it's controversial," said Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative. "It's truth. The MTA has run anti-Israel ads before and no one had an issue about it. 'Any war on innocent civilians is savagery': What's controversial here?"

Starting next week, the ads will be displayed in 10 of the city's more than 400 subway stations. The exact locations have not been selected by the transportation authority.

Geller said she had no qualms about releasing the message amid ongoing protests against an American-made anti-Islam film clip that led to the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya last week.

"If it's not a film, it's a cartoon, it's always some event," Geller said. "I will not sacrifice my freedom."

She noted that other places such as San Francisco have had these ads appear on buses with disclaimers next to them.

It's the latest controversy fueling the debate over free speech versus hate speech. In addition to protests over the film clip, a French satirical magazine published cartoons on Wednesday featuring a figure resembling Islam's Prophet Mohammed, triggering security concerns.

"These hate ads are part of a larger problem," said Muneer Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. "We're trying to make sure MTA has policies to discourage hate speech."

Awad wants to ensure that anyone seeing the ads next week are aware that the message is not sanctioned by the city of New York.

"It is a hate group paying for these advertisements; an avenue to promote hate speech," said Awad. "Millions of people will see this, we want to make sure they realize that it is not (promoted by) the city of New York."

While his council cannot stop the ads, Awad hopes transit officials will put a disclaimer on the advertisements and redirect any funding of the ad to the Human Rights Commission.

The MTA is considering amending its advertising policies as soon as next week to prohibit all noncommercial advertisements, spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

It is unclear what effect that might have on the American Freedom Defense Initiative's advertisement.

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