Hate (and free) speech

mike koozman/sf newspaper co.

How far can you push free speech? Is it okay for Muni to run ads that are utterly, inexcusably offensive to Arabs and Muslims in the name of political expression?

I'm pretty much always on the side of the First Amendment. And we were furious when a Bay Guardian ad campaign accusing then-mayor WIllie Brown of political corruption suddenly vanished from the sides of the local buses. It's hard to seek government limitations on any political statement. But if the ads that appeared Aug. 7 on Muni aren't over the line, they're pretty close to it.

Here you have an organization described not only by the Southern Poverty Law Center but by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate group buying space on San Francisco buses for ads that effectively disparage a vast religious, ethnic and cultural community as "savages." The campaign is obviously designed to get publicity; not that many San Franciscans are going to be convinced to join the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Nobody's opinion on the Middle East will be swayed by this shit.

But this tiny cadre of loonies, led by Pamela Geller, who is really fucking scary, wants attention. In New York, the anti-Muslim group sued when the city tried to take down the same bus ads, and you know they'd love it if that happened here. Muni says it can't legally pull the ads, which is probably true -- although BART has a more restrictive policy.

It's not just idle rhetoric -- this stuff frightens people. "We're hearing from people that they're uncomfortable riding Muni," Zahra Biloo, executive director of the Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told me.

Obviously, you can't run ads that enourage someone to engage in violence. Is dehumanizing people and calling them "savages" the same thing? Biloo thinks it's pretty close: "It's important for progressive cities to say, 'not in our city,'" she said.

A change.org petition condemning the ads has more than 2,000 signatures.

On the other hand, I don't want to give Geller the pleasure of suing San Francisco and making this into a Free Speech cause. Because that's exactly what she wants, and probably the reason she bought the ads in the first place. So how about this: The supervisors pass a resolution denouncing the ad and the message, and Muni agrees to give CAIR the same number of ads, free, in the same locations (gee, maybe even on the other side of the same buses) to present an alternative message.

At least it's a start.



defending themselves from a lawsuit, which is exactly what happened to the transportation agency in NY when they refused Geller's ads. That appears to be a wise decision seeing how desperate MUNI is for cash.

This doesn't concern the Board of Supervisors and it doesn't need to be made into an international incident. What Geller REALLY wants is free publicity and you're giving her exactly what she craves and what sustains her - the oxygen of free media coverage.

Posted by Troll II on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

The obvious solution is for the "Jihadis" to demand equal ad space to make a rebuttal.

"Defeat the Hasidis."


Hasidic paper airbrushes Hillary Clinton out of Sit Room photo

Posted by Guest on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

It's "Hasidim". But that would be even more directly offensive. Try just "Defeat bigots".

If you want throw in "Reform Israel" as well, people might think you're in favor of the civilized Israelis and opposed to the bigoted ones, or they might not.

Posted by Bill Stewart on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

Everyone recognizes this for what it is.

If I were a jihadi I'd want to put up exactly that kind of propaganda to discredit the opposition as extremist.

Big fail.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

Southern Poverty Law Center is a joke operation.

The wording of the ad is bizarre to say the least, most likely designed to infuriate people and raise lawsuits, thus "occupying" their way into the media. What isn't odd is that Redmond seems to fall for it all, the the equation of Muslim with Jihad?

The add doesn't attack Muslims but the concept of Jihad, or the present use of the word anyway. The perpetually outraged left has fallen for this one hook line and sinker, Jihad = Muslim, which is silly. But now Redmond and gang are defending that equation. Can't wait to see that dead chicken hung around their necks by crazy right wings backed by David Horowitz.

The wacky right pulls the strings and the wacky left jumps.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

by an ad mentioning "jihad" when lots of Arabs are not Muslims?

Posted by Troll II on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

don't agree with this Jihad.

The ad was written to inflame of course.

SF "progressives" are played again.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

Because plenty are Muslims, Troll II, as you well know, and plenty of Muslims living in America aren't Arab. Again, as you know, this kind of thing is planned by Geller's ilk to inflame anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment, and that's it. (And it does Israel no real favors, either.)

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

I don't even live in San Francisco but I'd be willing to donate a little if needed to purchase space for positive messages.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

Why can't people just ignore what offends them?

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 10:51 pm

Human nature is to pole vault over mouse turds rather than step over them.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 8:51 am

Get out the sharpies. We can take care of it ourselves.

Posted by sfmike on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

and stick MUNI with the cost to replace the ads!

SFmike is stupid enough to want to scramble alongside a moving 30-ton bus while attempting to squiggle in something legible on one of these ads. He's a candidate for the Darwin awards - SPLAT!

Posted by Troll II on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

You can't predict who might be offended by even the smallest thing.

The right of free speech trumps the right to never be offended. Fear of that latter is what brought us political correctness in all it's vulgar and pathetic forms.

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

Hopefully this will open the door to full monty pornographic ads on Muni vehicles.

Posted by marcos on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 5:33 am

Perhaps someone could fund a campaign that points out how "civilized" Israel really is, esp. in regards to the Palestinians

Posted by ron on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 9:24 am

Cough up the cash. If you really cared you would.

Posted by Troll II on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

wringing his hands, wondering if it's more politically correct to back the Jews or the Arabs.

Posted by Greg Lillipublicans on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 11:51 am

Geller is baiting a political community in SF that ignored how Islamists tried---and to a large extent succeeded---to intimidate the media during the Muhammed cartoon riots.

Aren't those who practice terrorism---burning girl's schools in Afghanistan, killing Christians in Africa, bombing markets in Iraq and killing other Moslems, etc.---morally "savages"? Why is it that we never read anything about Moslem terrorism in so-called alternative media outlets in SF? Is there something "borderline" about the subject that makes it uncomfortable for progressives to discuss?

Of course just because she denounces "savages" doesn't make Geller "civilized," and those upset by this ad could do their own denouncing Israel for its aggressive settlements policy and how it treats Palestinians.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Aug. 20, 2012 @ 8:25 am

The older I become, the more I despise true believers. When one is a member of a powerful majority racial or ethnic group, it is very easy to pontificate about how, the bigots' right to spout racial epithets and to use the mass media to amplify their message trumps the rights of those whom they target to feel safe or comfortable, especially when those being targeted and offended are members of traditionally despised and powerless racial or ethnic groups. Prior to the so-called civil rights movement, Whites could, and did exercise their unlimited rights to free speech to set and to maintain a very ugly tone of human relations throughout this society, at the personal level, in legislation and through the education system and the mass media. The vast majority of those who claim to advocate and to believe in unlimited rights of free speech when it comes to using hateful and offensive language are either willfully naive, or are incredibly ignorant of the role that unlimited free speech (for White people anyway) played in shaping nation's ugly racial history. I believe that if the shoe were on the other foot, and a more powerful racial, ethnic, or religious group used "free speech" as a means to relentlessly attack them and their families and their culture and their humanity, most of these hypocrites wouldn't be nearly as quick to defend the "greater good theory" of hate speech.

Posted by PEASEHEAD on Aug. 21, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

Related articles

  • The warriors arena: How are you going to get there?

  • Guest opinion: Free Muni for all youth

  • Politics over policy

    Paid Sunday parking meters benefit drivers, businesses, and Muni riders. So why did the plan get killed?