Recently, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy was arrested for defacing a racist poster placed in the Times Square subway station by Pamela Geller, the leader of an incendiary political group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Click here for the story details. The woman in the video defending the hate ad is a Geller activist named Pamela Hall.
In placing the racist posters in highly public places, where they would surely garner international attention, at a time when the world has become a tinderbox, Ms. Geller has joined herself at the hip with Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the producer of the Innocence of Muslims trailer, a man who an Israeli government official called a blithering idiot.
Ms. Geller’s poster ad is a form of hate speech that while legal under New York law is nevertheless reprehensible.
Ms. Eltahawy’s spray can response, a form of ad hoc sociopolitical art, consistent with the tradition of subway graffiti and quite illegal under New York law, turned the vile poster into a thing of visual beauty. A true marriage of art and political protest. (We look forward to the auction.)
We were reminded of the scene in the Bruce Lee film, Fist of Fury, where the Lee character, Chen Zhen, is barred from entering a public park. A guard points to a sign explaining the reason: No Dogs or Chinese Allowed. Zhen tears the sign off the entrance wall and destroys it with a flying kick.
There is a long tradition of destroying patently racist signs posted by those with money and authority. Regardless, Noir Nation does not advocate or condone the destruction of private property to make political points. We advocate only crimes of the imagination in the literary and visual arts, so that through Aristotelian catharsis there may be fewer actual ones.
In the meantime, as an unapologetic proponent of free speech everywhere in the world, Noir Nation holds that the way to counter the speech of blithering idiots is with speech that is sensible and intellectually sound. Historically, reason wins, idiocy loses.
So what to do about the Geller poster? Counter idiocy with reason. How about having volunteers stand by the ads — there are only ten of them — not with spray cans, but with flyers articulating a counter-position? Perhaps a statement that speaks to a universal desire to be free of daily insults and taunts?
As W.H. Auden presciently wrote in his poem, “September 1, 1939,” whose title references the day when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and started World War II,
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Update No. 1: New York City has adjusted it’s subway advertising policy so that the kind of racist ads sponsored by Pamela Geller and defended by Pamela Hall are now banned. Click here for more.
Update No. 2: New York Times columnist David Carr calls the Geller poster, “racist and dumb.” His colleague, A. O. Scott, says Eltahawy’s response is a form of expression, consistent with a noisy public square and with democracy.