San Francisco — San Francisco city buses began carrying political ads on Monday denounced by several municipal leaders as anti-Islamic, racist messages that unfairly depict Arabs and Muslims as groups defined by extremism and violence.
But rather than seek to bar San Francisco’s transit agency from accepting the paid ads and risk a court fight over free speech rights, city officials said they would instead mount a public service campaign preaching tolerance and peace.
The bus ads were paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the same group behind a similar campaign in San Francisco and New York last year that referred to the Arab-Israeli conflict as a war “between the civilized man and the savage.”
“Support the civilized man,” those adds implored. “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The founder of AFDI, Pamela Geller, is a New York-based blogger and commentator whom the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks U.S. hate groups, describes as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
The latest series of ads, posted on San Francisco’s so-called Muni buses, picture such figures as al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and convicted Times Square would-be car bomber Faisal Shahzad with quotes that essentially equate the Islamic concept of jihad, or holy struggle, with militant violence.
Geller, who spoke by telephone with Reuters, defended her ads, denying they were motivated by bigotry.
“Truth is hate now?” she asked. “My point is to raise awareness of the greatest threat that this nation and that freedom lovers face. The purpose of our ads is to show the reality of jihad and the root causes of terrorism from the words of jihadists themselves.”