The controversial ads unveiled on the back of 10 CTA buses Wednesday read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” They conclude with the words, “Support Copts. Defeat Jihad,” referring to friction between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt.
Within hours of the buses' first runs, messages appeared on Facebook and Twitter denouncing the campaign. Many said degrading a spiritual tenet of Islam -- one that refers to a Muslim's personal quest to become a better person -- amounts to hate speech.
“This whole campaign insinuates Muslims are violent,” said Asaf Bar-Tura, programs director for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, which protested the ads on social media Wednesday. “If it's within their legal powers, (CTA) should either not put it up because they incite hate and stereotypical thinking or put a label next to each sign saying `The CTA disagrees with this ad.’ ”
So far, federal judges have sided with the advertisement's sponsor, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which sued transit authorities in New York City and Washington, D.C., when they initially rejected the ads. Those judges ruled that public forums such as buses and trains can't bar advertising entitled to First Amendment protection.
Pamela Geller, executive director of the initiative, said she believes the Jewish Council has good intentions, but denies that her ad qualifies as hate speech.
"There’s nothing hateful about it," she said in an e-mail. "9/11 was hate. 3/11 in Madrid was hate. ... The Christmas underwear bomber was hate. ... Pushing back against such hate is not hate."
"Perhaps this is the strangest thing of all: their utter lack of awareness, or denial, of the barrel pointed straight between their eyes," Geller said. "It is an odd combination of naivete, brainwashing and self-loathing that I will never comprehend."
Although Geller posted on her blog "Atlas Shrugs" a letter from her lawyer threatening legal action against CTA if they didn’t place the ads, Brian Steele, a spokesman for the CTA, denied that the CTA was threatened with a lawsuit. But the precedents did deter the CTA from rejecting the ads, which are expected to run on different routes each day for the next four weeks.
“While those courts agreed that the AFDI ads violate anti-disparagement or anti-demeaning standards similar to CTA's, that violation in and of itself did not remove AFDI's First Amendment protection to place the ads,” Steele said in a statement.
“CTA understands that this ad may be offensive to our customers,” he added. “While the courts have ruled this ad is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, we object to its divisive message.”
The estimated ad revenue is about $4,500, a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said the group expects to launch its own nationwide ad campaign next week. As part of the campaign called “My Jihad,” individual Muslims define what the spiritual concept means for them.
“I don't feel the urge to fight … I'd rather put out the alternative,” Rehab said. “People can decide what racism is.”