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The Blue & Gray Press | May 25, 2018

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Metro Ad Highlights Debate Over Freedom of Speech


Do we ever pause to reflect on certain advertisements? Do we care what they’re really trying to say? Or do we just focus on their trademark catch phrases and cool poster designs? It is important that we understand what we’re reading so that we don’t remain gullible to advertisements that are offensive and derogatory.

Last Tuesday, Sept. 25, an Egyptian-American activist, Mona Eltahawy, ran into an altercation with Pamela Hall, an independent journalist, as she tried to stop Eltahawy from calmly spray-painting over a pro-Israeli ad that was placed in a New York subway. The ad, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), marked anyone who did not support Israel as being “savage” and uncivilized.

The two women then began arguing over freedom of expression, with Eltahawy defending her actions as her right to free speech. The commotion roused by the argument quickly brought nearby policemen to the scene who did not hesitate to apprehend Eltahawy. She was arrested and forced to spend the night in prison.

Eltahawy demanded that the policemen give reason for her arrest, but she was simply handcuffed and hauled off to jail without another word or any justification.

While Eltahawy claimed that this ad was a product of racism, the journalist regarded it as freedom of speech.

Here, one should ponder over the phrase “freedom of speech,” and question what it really entails.

Does freedom of speech give a person the right to insult and personally attack others? Does it justify the degradation of all other races except one’s own?


One of the AFDI’s co-founders, Pamela Geller, a Jewish political activist with a strong anti-Islamic stance, was the woman behind the slogan-maker, according to the New York Post.

It becomes clear that Geller specifically debases Islam when she urges the reader to “defeat Jihad.”

The Arabic word “jihad” which literally means “struggle,” has been abused by extremists as a feeble excuse for unnecessary bloodshed and who’ve obliterated its most important meaning. For a believer, jihad is the act of rising against one’s own ego through patience, justness and humility in the hopes of attaining greater closeness to God. By attacking this moral principle, Geller’s real aim seems to be to defeat anyone who abides by the principle as well.

So, what did she hope to gain through this bold statement, knowing that it would be subjected to criticism, if not by Christians, then by Muslims?

Eltahawy, now charged with criminal mischief and possession of graffiti, has been released from jail and is awaiting another appearance in court to be tried. However, the camerawoman has walked away essentially unscathed for defending an outrageously racist ad. No matter which side one takes, this ironic incident serves as an unpleasant reminder that freedom of speech, in the land of the free, can still lead to dire consequences.



  1. Have no issue with anyone being pro-Israeli or almost anything else for that matter. However, I do not see this ad as pro-Israeli as it is anti-peace as well as anti-Muslim (also stereotyping all Muslims). The ad appears to welcome the mythology of the inevitable conflict between people on basis of ethnicity and religion. It projects such conflict as being absolute with no compromise or co-existence possible, and its inevitability is welcomed as a God-send. This anti-humanistic approach offends me as a promoter of open and pluralistic societies, and it has clear effort to incite in one of the globe’s most multi-ethnic, racial and religious cities.

  2. CS

    ‘Defeat Jihad’- It is ridiculous that she does not even know what Jihad actually is. As you said it perfectly, it is a personal struggle, a fight against our own ego. And it can be a struggle of anything! I like how people reacted to this ad on Twitter using the hastag #Jihad.
    — One tweet was, “It’s midnight, I’m so sleepy but trying to stay awake & study for tomorrow’s exam!! #Jihad”

    While Pamela showed the world Israelis are ethnocentric haters, Mona on the other hand, represented Muslims as naive haters. I do not know how these two ladies did any favour to their ethnicity/religion. This is non-sense. The message in the ad, Mona spraying it, the two ladies arguing, getting arrested and what not..

    I agree with Amb. Sacirbey, and it is not only about what is anti-Islam or anti-Israel. The ad is anti-peace and promotes bigotry with an easy and noble sounding excuse – ‘freedom of speech.’

    Yes, It is time we make effort to understand what we are reading, watching, listening. A very informative and interesting piece! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts and looking forward to read more.

  3. Thikiri Yee

    Mr. Sacirbey,

    Thank you for your feedback~ I agree with what you said, and I do feel that whoever made this ad is expecting that kind of provocation in order to simply defend themselves as just “expressing” themselves~ I’m not all that familiar with the political and strategic aspects of promoting such hate, but I do know that it is not something we should just brush off our shoulders~

  4. Thikiri Yee


    Thank you for your feedback 🙂 I enjoyed it and I hope to do better to shed light on other important issues in the near future~
    While it’s true that the incident did not make sense, I still feel that it is a small step towards coming to terms with what is being thrown at us, whether it’s through advertisements, videos, and even the daily news~
    Mona acknowledged that this was racist, and refuted the statement that the ad imposed~ The worst thing we can do but have been doing is to walk past such ads without caring about it~