Anti-Islam Subway Ads: PR Fail?

In the wake of another wave of violent protests at US embassies in the Middle East, we hesitate to touch what will almost certainly continue to be one of the most volatile political issues in the world.

That said, we have to wonder about the wisdom of a series of ads created by a group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative that are set to appear on the New York City subway system next week.

The ads, which read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” were initially rejected by the MTA for containing “demeaning language.” The group refused to rewrite the ads and took the MTA to court–and in July a federal judge ruled that the MTA’s decision not to run them had violated the AFDI’s First Amendment rights.

The ads are now scheduled to appear at ten NYC subway stops next week. Controversy is sure to follow, because the message on the ad can very easily be read to apply to all Muslims–and calling one’s opponents “savage” is never a wise way to start a mutually respectful conversation. In fact, the line was adapted from an even more inflammatory quote by anti-Communist writer and antisocial personality Ayn Rand, who wrote, “The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures…savages who don’t want to use their minds.” Sounds a little…problematic to us, no? We can certainly see why that quote would upset some people.

The ads have undoubtedly won more attention for blogger and political activist Pamela Geller, aka the mind behind AFDI, but we have to ask: Will they truly accomplish their goals? And what are their goals, exactly? Does Ms. Geller simply want to expand her own brand? Most New Yorkers who follow this issue already know who she is, and if she wants to increase American political support for Israel, she doesn’t really have anywhere to go; an overwhelming majority of Americans say their support lies with Israel in all Middle-Eastern conflicts, and we can’t see that number going down anytime soon.

So why bother with these inflammatory ads in the first place?