Posted by Gabrielle Borg on July 14, 2015 in Blog

Obeidallah_poster.pngThe Fighting-Bigotry-With-Delightful-Posters Campaign has filed a lawsuit against the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority for refusing to put up their funny posters about Muslims. The campaign, spearheaded by comedians Arab American Dean Obeidallah and Iranian American Negin Farsad, features ads like, “Beware! The Muslims Are Coming! And they shall strike with hugs so fierce that you’ll end up calling your grandmother and telling her you love her!” and “Muslims! They invented coffee, the toothbrush and algebra. Oh wait, sorry about the algebra. That’s a year of class you’ll never get back.”

After working with the group to revise the posters for months and officially approving the ads in early April, the MTA suddenly changed its policies.Obeidallah and Farsad said  “We were told that come April 28, 2015, funny Muslim ads would be gracing 140 subway stations… Then on April 29, the MTA changed its regulations about acceptable posters. The new policy restricted ‘disputed political content’—maybe the MTA considers Muslims who like frittatas ‘disputed political content.’”

The posters were created to combat the hateful Islamophobic ads produced by Pamela Gellar's Stop Islamization of America/American Freedom Defense Initiative. The inflammatory anti-Islam ads have been featured on public transportation in New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. They spread hateful messages such as, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel.  Defeat Jihad" and “Yesterday’s moderate is today’s headline. It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”

In 2012, the MTA tried to refuse displaying the Islamophobic messages, but a U.S. District Court Judge ruled they were protected by the First Amendment. This decision was recently reversed after the MTA changed its policy to ban all political ads.

The comedians' posters, on the other hand, were created to make people laugh and ultimately shift the negative discourse about Muslims. It is clear that the goal was to fight bigotry with humor and show that Muslims are ordinary people. After spending $19,000 to produce and run the ads and entering into a contract with the MTA prior to the policy change, it only seems logical that the MTA should be held accountable to display the ads.

According to Obeidallah and Farsad, the terms of the lawsuit are simple: “What do we want from them? We want to ride the subway for free forever. But that’s not part of our lawsuit. We are asking that the MTA live up to its promise and put up our posters.”

Gabrielle Borg is an intern with the Arab American Institute