UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority suspended “all issue-oriented” ads on the D.C. Metro system through the end of 2015. Here is AFDI founder Pamela Geller’s response:
It’s not just any image of the Islamic prophet, but the cartoon by artist Bosch Fawstin that won the AFDI’s “Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” competition this month in Garland, Tex., where two gunmen attacking the contest venue were killed.
Geller announced this week on Breitbart.com (as first reported by The Hill) that the AFDI has submitted the Muhammad ad for review by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel has acknowledged that the ad is going through the review process, and said in a statement that the Muhammad sign “has not yet been approved for our system” — which includes Metro buses and trains.
Besides Washington, Geller has previously succeeded in getting ads placed on transit systems in San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia. Last month, New York’s MTA voted to ban all political ads in the wake of a judge’s ruling that the agency could not reject provocative ads, like those of the AFDI, because they were critical of Islam. The MTA’s move could foreshadow the decision facing the WMATA, which in 2012 lost a federal judge’s ruling to Geller; her ad at that time read, “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
Comic Riffs caught up with Geller to talk about her latest Washington campaign within her longer endgame:
MICHAEL CAVNA: First, can you confirm that you specifically submitted Bosch’s winning cartoon [to WMATA] for consideration as an ad — and [if so], did you write any ad copy to run with it? Basically, if it’s approved as is, what will we see?
PAMELA GELLER: Yes, I submitted it with the caption, “Support Free Speech.” That’s what we will see, along with the AFDI logo.
MC: You were initially legally successful in getting your [“Hamas Killing Jews"] ads placed on public transit in New York, of course. How do you compare that to this new D.C. effort, in terms of legal hurdles and likelihood?
PG: First Amendment rights are the same in N.Y. and D.C. The outcome of legal challenges should also be the same.
MC: Have you submitted this ad anywhere besides Washington?
PG: We have not yet submitted the ad anywhere besides Washington. We await word from the WMATA.
MC: Have you had any direct contact or response from anyone [at WMATA]? And if D.C. Metro does not approve your ad, do you plan to pursue this further in Washington — either legally, or by eyeing other potential places of public signage?
PG: No, I haven’t heard from anyone, and yes, we will challenge in court any ban on the ad.
MC: In terms of freedom of expression in this country, is there anything you believe is too visually profane, or objectionable, or sacrilegious, to be allowed as public signage such as a Metro ad or billboard?
PG: There are reasonable obscenity laws. There is nothing profane, or objectionable, or sacrilegious about my ad. The cartoon clearly addresses the need to stand up against, rather than surrender to, violent intimidation and forcible attempts to impose Sharia upon Americans — for drawing Muhammad is not illegal under American law, but only under Sharia.
MC: Over the weekend, I spoke with, and listened to [via panel debate], “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau — in Washington, coincidentally — on the matter of his belief that satire should strive to be “responsible,” and that free speech can be its own kind of fanaticism — and that Charlie Hebdo, in the context of France, was “punching down.” If you were debating Mr. Trudeau on this subject yourself, what would you first say in response to his statements?
PG: I’d tell him that he was making excuses for self-censorship in the face of violent intimidation. He never spoke about being “responsible” in regard to the crucifix in a jar of urine or other expressions of contempt for Christianity. He is only speaking that way about cartoons critical of Muhammad because Muslims kill over them. He is advocating surrender. And as for “punching down,” his claim that Muslims in France are a despised and oppressed minority is leftist fantasy. In reality, the killers were part of a well-financed, highly trained global network of jihadis intent upon murdering anyone who dares stand in the way of their goal of imposing Sharia in the West. They won’t have to murder Trudeau. He is already on his knees.
MC: I’ve spoken with scores of American cartoonists about drawing Muhammad, and many who believe in the First Amendment as an absolute still decline to draw Muhammad. What do you think most motivated the cartoonists like Bosch who entered your Texas contest — beyond, of course, a $10,000 winner’s purse?
PG: First, a love of freedom. And courage, which those cartoonists with whom you spoke obviously don’t have, and a determination to show that we will not kowtow to thuggery.
MC: Danish editor Flemming Rose told me his goal a decade ago — in commissioning Muhammad cartoons — was not to antagonize Muslims in Denmark, but rather to acculturate them in the liberties of his nation. How would you characterize your Muhammad-cartoon efforts in the U.S.?
PG: In the same way.
MC: How do you respond to [Southern Poverty Law Center] labels like “hate group”?
PG: As for the SPLC, it is the real “hate group.” Who appointed it the arbiter of what is and what isn’t a hate group? It uses this label to defame and stigmatize all those who don’t share its far-left views — and the mainstream media willingly aid and abet this defamation by treating the SPLC as a neutral and objective authority.
MC: What’s next for you on this front, and how would you define “victory” for your group in regards to Muhammad cartoons? What’s the longer endgame?
PG: Victory would be government and law-enforcement officials standing up for the freedom of speech instead of surrendering to Sharia. The longer endgame: the safeguarding of human freedom and individual rights.