By now you’ve probably heard about Pamela Geller and her American Freedom Defense Initiative, which bought ad space in New York City that many have called hate speech (because it is). Earlier this month New York’s Metropolitan Authority was forced put up the ads, which a court ruled were protected under freedom of speech (indeed it is). The ads read “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Earlier this year, the same group put the same ads on buses in San Francisco. Both situations have brought forward the number of ways to respond to free speech used in hateful ways. When hate speech is used, and critics call it such, the defenders of hate routinely argue that you can’t infringe upon their right to free speech. This is true, but the conversation doesn’t stop there. The First Amendment goes both ways, and there’s a diversity of tactics to respond to hate speech. The so-called “anti-Jihad” ads have shed light on just a few ways to shout down hate speech.
This Monday, New York’s MTA put up the ads in ten places throughout the city. Almost immediately, street artists took up the task of marking the posters for what they are, labeling them “hate speech” and “racist.”
Not long after that, Mona Eltahawy embarked on a quest to spray paint over one of the posters when a woman with a camera stood in the way, creating a weird scuffle of paint and yelling that ended in Eltahawy’s arrest.
Last month, San Francisco’s saw a very different response. The SFMTA announced that any proceeds from the AFDI ads would go to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and subsequently put up their own ads to complement the hateful posters. The new ads read “SFMTA policy prohibits discrimination based on national origin, religion, and other characteristics and condemns statements that describe any group as ‘savages.'” They are posted on the same buses as the AFDI ads, and there’s a big arrow to make sure everyone understands what they’re talking about.
The First Amendment guarantees free speech, but it doesn’t shield you from criticism or from others speaking against you. I think a lot of us can agree that the ads should be allowed to go up and still be absolutely elated when they’re graffitied, covered, and mocked. SFMTA and the activists in New York called the ads what they are: hate speech. And they have the right to do so. To paraphrase Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, in any war between hate speech and stickers/spray paint/counter-ads, support whatever the hell isn’t hate speech.