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The New York subway ‘jihad poster’ fracas

Some of you may have been following the controversy involving posters in the subways. Pamela Geller, who sees the threat of Sharia under every bed, wanted to place signs in the subway stations of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) of New York that said “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” The odd wording derives from something that Ayn Rand once said.

Initially, the MTA refused to allow the ads but Geller went to court and they ruled that she had a First Amendment right to put it up and the MTA had to allow it. So she puts the posters up and has plans to expand the project to other cities.

But then a writer named Mona Eltahawy, who found the message to be hateful, tried to spray paint over a poster, was confronted by a defender, and following an altercation was arrested on charges including criminal mischief and making graffiti and later released. You can see video of the confrontation.

Jonathan Turley says that as a result of this fracas, the MTA has adopted a new regulation that says that certain categories of ads will not be allowed and one of them is the following:

The advertisement, or any information contained in it, is directly adverse to the commercial or administrative interests of the MTA or is harmful to the morale of MTA employees or contains material the display of which the MTA reasonably foresees would incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace, and so harm, disrupt, or interfere with safe, efficient, and orderly transit operations. [My italics-MS]

This seems to me to be to be the wrong way to go. This rule is like a blasphemy law that effectively gives a veto to whoever claims to be offended by something enough that they threaten to create a ruckus.

As far as I am concerned, Geller may be a provocateur but she had every right to put up the posters and Eltahawy had no right to deface it. What she should have done is put up other posters with an opposing message. That’s how free speech works best, not by suppression but with speech competing with speech.

[UPDATE: Two Christian and one Jewish groups are putting up ads in the NYC subway countering the Geller ads.]

Comments

  1. Brownian says

    That’s how free speech works best, not by suppression but with speech competing with speech.

    Free speech for free speech leaves the whole world deaf.

  2. Brownian says

    I should be clearer. Free speech doesn’t work best. Generally, it doesn’t seem to work much at all. But suppression may work even worse.

  3. says

    This rule is like a blasphemy law…

    No, it’s not at all like a “blasphemy law;” it’s more like a code of manners: don’t insult your customers, or any subset thereof, when they’re exercising their right to use the service they’re paying to use. In order to see just how evil Gellar’s message is — and how totally asinine the court ruling is — let me give you another example for an ad poster:

    In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support the white man. Defeat black power.

    Does anyone here really think that would be an appropriate message to plaster on the walls of a public transit facility that everyone (including, in the case of NY, a huge number of blacks) has both a need and a right to use? Gellar’s message is on the same level as that: pure bigotry and stupid hatred directed at a whole class of people. “Freedom of speech” does NOT mean public officials have to allow expressions of bigotry to be directed at people who are using their public service.

    A tube station is not just a public place; it’s a facility providing a certain service to the public, for a public good, which all people have an equal right to use, without being singled out or made to feel unwelcome. And if a large class of people are made to feel unwelcome in that facility, they’ll be less likely to use the facility, and that will be bad for everyone, as well as for the tube system’s revenue.

    This court’s ruling was pure stupidity, and probably nudged by anti-Muslim bigotry. I have no doubt that a message calling blacks or Hispanics uncivilized would not fly in a NYC tube station.

  4. says

    A rule against racist posters (and that’s what Gellar’s ad is, a racist message saying that Israel’s opponents are uncivilized and inferior) has no more place in a tube station than an ad for a porn site showing full frontal nudity and explicit pornographic text. No one’s free speech is being suppressed by a ban on either: both the racist and the porn-lover can still access what they want in many different places after they’ve left the tube station (or other government property accessible to the public).

    Besides, a tube station isn’t just a government property accessible to the public for certain purposes; it’s also a business, providing a service and charging a fee for it. And like any other business, they have, not just a right, but a DUTY, to make their customers feel comfortable on their turf — otherwise they’ll likely lose customers. Why is this basic concept suddenly an alien tyrannical idea?

  5. filethirteen says

    Well said Bee. Also, I personally believe that defacing an inflammatory poster is as much a statement of free speech as making one, and that the poster is as much graffiti as the defacement. The law doesn’t agree though, it is firmly entrenched on the side of the money. No wonder it all ended in a fracas.

    Mona may not have been able to afford the mass financing of opposing posters saying, for example, “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Palestine. Defeat Zionism.” And now she can’t, but I don’t blame the MTA for their decision. It would be interesting to see what effect such posters had, but not at the price of turning tube stations into war zones.

  6. says

    I fully support Mona’s actions here. This is nonviolent civil disobediance against an unjust bigoted slur campaign, supported by an unjust court ruling that goes against longstanding traditions of common sense and decency. If a black woman had been arrested for defacing a racist poster like the hypothetical one I quoted above, she’d have been praised for standing up against hatred; and the only people whining about “free speech” would be the racists. Mona Eltahawy deserves the same respect for the same reason; and anyone calling her the bad guy in the name of “free speech” should be ashamed of themselves.

  7. says

    I also note that Eltahawy didn’t touch that other woman until the other woman began touching her. She just tried to spray paint around her (not *at* her) after the woman got in her way. It was the other woman who started pushing Eltahawy around. Seems like there could be a case for that other woman’s behavior being considered to be assault. And the miniscule amount of spray paint that got on her clothes or the fact that Eltahawy was doing something that might be classed as illegal shouldn’t count as a legitimate provocation, either. She could easily have retreated out of Eltahawy’s way and just summoned the police if she wished to do what she saw as her duty to prevent the defacement. Instead, she escalated the matter to (minor) violence. So why is she not also being charged?

  8. scotlyn says

    I was with you up to this bit:

    Geller may be a provocateur but she had every right to put up the posters and Eltahawy had no right to deface it

    Yes, Geller had every right to put up the posters but EQUALLY Eltahawy had every right to respond with her own speech – ie to add her own counter message.

    Perhaps if she was trying to obscure and “deface” ie “silence” the original message, you might have a point. But my take was that she wanted to add a counter message.

  9. Jay says

    Professor Singham, reading the comments to your posting, I find myself wondering if Free Thought Blogs is really the best home for your blog, or if you have had any teaching moments derived from blogging here.

    I definitely thank you for your link to Professor Turley and your comments. I agree 100%.

  10. Mano Singham says

    I am intrigued as to why you think FtB is not the best home for my blog based on the comments. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me and saying so. Their arguments are usually thought provoking even if I am not always persuaded. Can you please clarify?

  11. Jay says

    I am intrigued as to why you think FtB is not the best home for my blog based on the comments. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me and saying so. Their arguments are usually thought provoking even if I am not always persuaded. Can you please clarify?

    Believe me, it’s not your problem or your ability to handle disagreement I am addressing.

    It’s the sadly typical comments from Anne C. Hanna, and scotlyn, Raging Bee and others that leave so many people wondering why free thought blogs tries to associate with … free thoughts.

    It’s similar to the disagreements, speech policing, and name calling that have very recently been used against Edwin Kagan and Maryam Namazie (as well as to thunderf00t).

    I apologize I don’t have anything tremendously insightful to add, but I cannot say that the comments above in this thread are terribly thought provoking. They actually seem to be terribly trite, rote, unthought-out and not very well supported.

    The alternative take to yours and Professor Turley’s seems much better addressed by Noah Feldman in his recent pieces.

  12. rvkevin says

    I just looked up NY’s assault laws and it requires a serious injury to have occurred so your analysis wouldn’t work.

    Also, it would be hard to argue that she didn’t have intent because she basically admits it when she says “Do you want paint on yourself? Do you really? Ok, fine.”

    Oblique intent: a person has oblique intent when the event is a natural consequence of a voluntary act and they foresee it as such

    Mona knew that damage to her property was a foreseeable outcome of her actions and continued anyway so she had intent. So the other woman only touched Mona after the battery took place. It resulted in no injury or damage so it would be hard to argue that it was unreasonable force to ward off the offender.

  13. rvkevin says

    Free speech is not just for speech that we agree with. If it doesn’t cover controversial views, then it is pointless.

    Some people are saying that if you switch the demographic, then they wouldn’t be in favor of it, but that’s not correct. I happened to be viewing an art gallery in DC and walked upon a painting that painted atheists in a negative light. There was a river with streams splitting off from both sides. On one side, there were synonyms for atheists (e.g. heretic, atheist) and negative attributes (e.g. sinner, liar, etc.) and on the other side were synonyms for religious people (e.g. saint, believer) and positive attributes (e.g. moral, honest). Also, the atheist side was dark whereas the religious side was full of light and life. As an atheist, I should be outraged, right? Well, no. Despite my strong disagreement with the message, that is a depiction for a view that some people have and its a part of reality that I have to accept. As an atheist, I should lodge a complaint to the gallery, right? Well, no. I would only do that if I didn’t value freedom of speech. I would be justified in defacing the painting, right? Well, no. Again, only if I didn’t value free speech.

    The moral of the story is that I think that ideas should be displayed despite strong disagreement to them. I want to hear all perspectives, despite how ignorant and xenophobic the originator is/was. Now, if you think that the public subway is not an appropriate venue for dialogue, then perhaps you’re right and I would go along with that, but that would mean that they should only have posters related to the subway and not sell ad space to third parties.

  14. Chiroptera says

    It’s the sadly typical comments from Anne C. Hanna, and scotlyn, Raging Bee and others that leave so many people wondering why free thought blogs tries to associate with … free thoughts.

    But what is the problem with their comments? That you disagree with them? That they have a perspective that you don’t share?

    It really isn’t obvious to me that there is anything objectionable about their comments.

  15. Jay says

    “But what is the problem with their comments? That you disagree with them? That they have a perspective that you don’t share?”

    That they rationalize prior restraint, that label violent assault as non-violent, and that they are hypocritical in the extreme in the context of the gedanken experiment, what would these commenters say if the situation was reversed? Mona had put up some “offensive” poster and Pam Hall or Pam Geller had taken it down?

    And that all of this silliness takes place at a blog platform that claims a moral superiority on skeptical thought and whinges about equality and rights for everyone while trying to deny them for many.

    Apart from that, yes, it’s because I disagree with them.

  16. Jay says

    Is there a “Mission Statement” for Free Thought blogs?

    Not for Atheism+, but for Free Thought Blogs?

    If you can’t find one (I couldn’t), can you tell me what you think would be included in one? Why they chose the name “Free Thought” and what it might be in contrast to?

    What is the experience of the Free Thought Bloggers that led them to create a blogging space titled “Free Thought” and how that might relate to the subway fracas?

  17. says

    Fair enough about the definition of assault; the laws where I live currently are a little bit different on that front — touching someone in a hostile fashion with out their permission would count — so I was going based on what I knew from that. However, is it generally considered justifiable to use force against a person (shoving her toward the train tracks struck me as particularly iffy, even though the intent was surely not to endanger Eltahawy to that degree) to ward off minor property damage? That’s one of those things that may depend on the jurisdiction too, but it’s not obvious on its face. It just really did surprise me that (as far as can be seen from the video) the cops walked up on two people struggling with each other and, without appearing to spend any time assessing who was the aggressor or what each of them had been doing, only restrained one of them.

  18. Jay says

    The police are not blind. They knew ahead of time about that poster. It was a poster that was subject to a huge court fight.

    So one of those people was carrying a spray paint can.

    The poster has spray paint on it.

    The other person had spray paint on her too.

    Seriously. A person was the subject of an assault and you are here rationalizing that. You go on further to rationalize the destruction of speech.

    If the poster contained messages about atheism, and Mona was a fundamentalist, are you saying you would be defending her right to deface it, and to assault the woman?

  19. filethirteen says

    If religion is a shackle on thought, then removing that shackle gives you… what?

    A mandate to talk about whatever you find interesting perhaps. I’m not aware of any mission statement.

  20. Chiroptera says

    What is the experience of the Free Thought Bloggers that led them to create a blogging space titled “Free Thought”….

    If I recall correctly, Ed Brayton and PZ Myers started this network because there was fear that the owners of their old network might interfere with what they wanted to write.

    -

    …and how that might relate to the subway fracas?

    Let’s see, a blogger wrote about the subway incident, some people posted comments disagreeing with the blogger, and the blogger has expressed an appreciation for their different perspectives.

    I may not know much about “free thought,” but it looks to me, perhaps naively, as if it’s working exactly the way it’s supposed to.

    What does “free thought” mean to you? Banning commenters who disagree? Leaving a blog network because there are commenters who disagree?

  21. Jay says

    “If I recall correctly, Ed Brayton and PZ Myers started this network because there was fear that the owners of their old network might interfere with what they wanted to write.”

    Fascinating.

    TIL it would be free speech if a group of Creationists massed a DDOS against this network, but used orange packets to do so.

  22. Chiroptera says

    Jay: If the poster contained messages about atheism, and Mona was a fundamentalist, are you saying you would be defending her right to deface it, and to assault the woman?

    Is the atheist a member of a hate group? And do the posters have a message that is viewed by some as supporting gross human rights violations and ethnic cleansing?

    ‘Cause if not, then the analogy is a poor one.

  23. says

    Orly? Which of those things did I do? My point was simply that the question of who should be arrested in that altercation did not seem to me as clear-cut as the police were treating it, based on the laws that I’ve encountered governing such situations. I think they at least should have spent a little more time sorting out what was going on before deciding who to arrest, and at bare minimum, they should’ve given the other woman a bit of a talking to about how she chose to handle things.

    As for Eltahawy herself, I can’t bring myself to be terribly bothered by the basic notion of defacing posters as a form of civil disobedience, provided one makes it clear what one is doing and why and is willing to accept reasonable legal consequences for the minor property damage involved. Eltahawy wasn’t just destroying the poster anonymously and then running off like a common vandal, she was having herself filmed doing so and making a very careful effort to explain what she was doing and why, which I think brings what she did much more into the realm of a speech act and makes it significantly more defensible. And she also wasn’t just going out and ripping down all the posters, DDOSing Gellar’s website, or physically threatening Gellar or those who agree with her. If anything, this incident has probably brought *more* attention to the posters rather than less, so I don’t think we can say that this really made a serious dent in Gellar’s ability to convey her message (even though, as property damage, it’s certainly still illegal). If I make a YouTube video of myself standing in a bookstore ripping up a copy of a book I don’t like (not having purchased the book first), that’s theft and destruction of property mixed in with my own freedom of speech in making the video, but not a serious threat to the author’s freedom of speech. If I try to organize a campaign to get lots of people to do this in lots of bookstores, or if I destroy the books secretly all over the place, that’s a more serious threat.

    In regard to the question of whether these posters should’ve been allowed to be put up at all, one can make a similar analogy: if I protest in front of a bookstore to try to get the owners to stop stocking a book I don’t like, that’s exercising my own free speech rights. If I try to get the federal government to ban the book entirely, that’s attempted suppression of the author’s free speech. I don’t know the exact status of the subway poster advertising approval agency relative to government entities, so it may be that it’s not actually controlled by the government (in which case the ad agency isn’t necessarily required to put up any particular ad that’s submitted to them and it might well be perfectly legitimate to pressure them into rejecting such ads), or it may be that it constitutes some kind of limited open forum, in which case there *can* potentially be some minimum standards for what’s allowed to be posted, provided those standards are applied in an unbiased fashion. Or maybe the poster boards really *are* an “anything goes” forum, in which case I would really like to see some seriously hardcore pr0n going up in the next round of ads. At bottom, I expect that we will find that there are indeed *some* standards, and the question will then become who sets those standards, what they should be, and how are they applied. I think there’s at least room for discussion about whether naked racism meets those standards or not, and the answer to that question will almost certainly depend on the precise nature of the forum — it’s not just going to be a blanket “yes, naked racism must always be permitted”.

    In any case, returning to Eltahawy for a moment, I do also want to note that I agree that her protest went a bit off the rails in her response to the other woman’s interference. It seemed pretty clear to me that she was just trying to continue her protest action *around* the woman rather than attacking the woman, but that was also pretty clearly unwise, as it made the situation more ambiguous than it needed to be. I assume that she was just responding in an unplanned way in the heat of the moment, but that’s why serious civil disobedience requires a lot of preparation and planning so that one maintains control of the moral high ground against all antagonists. On the other hand, I’m not one of the people who was targeted by this ad of Gellar’s, so I’m loath to nanny the people who were targeted for being imperfectly Vulcan in responding to it. Eltahawy and others targeted by this ad have good reason to be pretty upset about this, and, given the degree of hatred expressed by the ad, her response was maybe a little stronger than would have been ideal, but not massively disproportionate. I don’t know that I’d react much better if I was faced with an ad campaign targeting women for similar hatred and discrimination, so I’m not terribly enthusiastic about the notion of getting on a high horse about how awful her actions were.

  24. Chiroptera says

    Jay:

    TIL it would be free speech if a group of Creationists massed a DDOS against this network, but used orange packets to do so.

    Thanks for your response. But it would be less confusing if, when responding to me, you were to respond to the things that I actually write.

  25. says

    How do you know they knew ahead of time that it was about the poster? And just because only one person has a spray can doesn’t mean the actions of the other person were justified. From the video, it seems pretty clear that they did not see the vast majority of the incident. All that they could possibly have seen when they walked in were two people struggling before the poster.

    I’ve called the cops about incidents in the past, including assault, and *every* *single* *time*, what I’ve seen is that they separated the parties involved and talked to them both individually, as well as other witnesses, before they drew any conclusions about what had happened or took any further actions. They didn’t just arrest the person whom they had been told over the phone was the aggressor, they actually investigated it for themselves and considered the matter first. That doesn’t seem to be in evidence in this video, which strikes me as pretty weird. If you’ve got extra information about how they could come to the decision who to arrest and who not to arrest so quickly, feel free to share, but otherwise it seems to me that you’re just making assumptions because you don’t like Eltahawy’s actions.

  26. Jay says

    “How do you know they knew ahead of time that it was about the poster? ”

    Sigh, a free thoughts blog commenter doubling down on her derp.

    EVERYONE KNEW ABOUT THE POSTER.

    They went to court over it.
    Mona knew about it, she tweeted she was going to do her act.
    Pam knew about it, that’s why she brought a several thousand dollar camera.

    The MTA knew about it, they were taken to court over it. The MTA Police knew about it, they work for the MTA.

    The New York Post knew about it, they were on hand to witness it as it occurred. http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2012/09/mona-eltahawy-arrested-for-assaulting-pro-freedom-blogger-while-defacing-afdi-pro-freedom-ad.html

    Everyone knew about the ad.

    Except for you.

  27. Jay says

    It’s a poor analogy perhaps for members of Atheism Plus, because Atheism Plus is a movement derived from radical feminist theory that disdains free speech.

    It’s a fine analogy for run of the mill skeptics and atheists who understand that it’s rather pointless to fuss over free speech that you agree with, the debate is over ugly free speech.

  28. rvkevin says

    However, is it generally considered justifiable to use force against a person (shoving her toward the train tracks struck me as particularly iffy, even though the intent was surely not to endanger Eltahawy to that degree) to ward off minor property damage?

    First, there are no train tracks. They are in a corridor as you can clearly see the opposing wall. Second, the property damage was the result of a battery that could have resulted in serious injury. I don’t know the specific extent spray paint can damage the eyes, but it’s not something that I would risk or take lightly so force would be required in such an instance to stop the threat. This defense wouldn’t work for her since she didn’t look threatened, but if someone did grab Mona’s hand and disarm her with a good amount of force, I would consider that justified. And yes, you can use force to protect your property so she does have this defense as well (and considering that it’s hard to imagine her using less force, I think this justifies her use of force):

    “The ownership and possession of property confer a certain right to defend that possession, [including] a defense of it which results in an assault and battery, and that which results in the destruction of the means used to invade and interfere with that possession.”

    People v. Kane, 131 N.Y. 111 (142 N.Y. 366, 37 N.E. 104).

  29. says

    Jay, so in other words, this was a *planned* and widely-publicized stunt (sorry, I don’t follow every single thing there is, I was just going based on what Mano posted), and you’re going to argue that by engaging in such a stunt Eltahawy was suppressing Geller’s free speech rather than engaging in speech of her own? Srsly?

    And, rvkevin, this other person (who does not appear to be either Pam Geller or an employee of the transit system, so I’m not sure what the hell ownership rights have to do with the reasonableness of her getting physically involved in the incident) decided that the best thing to do about a planned peaceful protest of this nature was to insert herself physically into the situation rather than stand back and let the police take care of it? Sorry, that makes her, at best, a dumbass, not a brave defender of free speech. There is no reasonable interpretation of this incident in which the can of spray paint can be portrayed as a significantly dangerous weapon, especially as Eltahawy is *clearly* trying to aim it around the woman rather than at her. (Or are you gonna cite some obscure case at me now wherein somebody was convicted of “violent assault with close-quarters spray paint mist”?) The other woman is the one who is physically interfering with Eltahawy, in defense of a very low-value and easily replaceable piece of property which is not hers, and in full knowledge that the cops are on the way and that Eltahawy has no intention of fleeing them. All she is doing is escalating the incident, which is *exactly* the kind of thing that cops usually yell at people for at best and arrest them for at worst.

    The only thing either of you is even a little bit right about is that I hallucinated a black border along the bottom edge of the opposite wall as being the edge of the pit where the subway tracks go, because I was focusing more on the people than on their surroundings. So, oops. The shoving is still not appropriate, though.

  30. Chiroptera says

    It’s a poor analogy perhaps for members of Atheism Plus, because Atheism Plus is a movement derived from radical feminist theory that disdains free speech.

    Um, what?

    Are you talking about something else now?

  31. emily isalwaysright says

    Well said Anne.

    The fact Jay simply ignored your well-thought-out and dispassionate response to the criticism he directed at you leads me to wonder whether he is just trolling.

  32. says

    Actually… here’s what strikes me as kind of fucked-up and poisonous in this comment thread:

    I came over here, I read Mano’s post, and I watched the video he’d embedded, and I commented to highlight something that struck me as kind of off about the video. Now, it turns out there was some additional context to this issue beyond what I’d seen here, and I misperceived one small detail about the video. I’m not convinced that the additional information is definitive either against the thing that I’d been bugged by in the video or against Eltahawy’s actions in general, but that’s neither here nor there.

    What *is* here, and possibly also there, is that Jay made a snap decision based on a single and fairly narrowly-focused comment of mine that it was reasonable to dismiss me as “sadly typical” and, then, when I did not instantly convert to Jay’s viewpoint in its entirety based on rvkevin’s supplemental information, “doubling down on [my] derp” all because my initial reaction to the information in this posting was that the other woman in the video (apparently someone named Pamela Hall, who I now see appears to have been one of Pam Geller’s comrades in arms in putting up these damn things in the first place) didn’t come off looking terribly innocent to me. He *could* have just said, “Hey, here’s a link to a little more information that might change your perspective on this,” or, “I see why it might come off that way, but you might want to consider .” But no, instead he decided instantly that I was an enemy of all freethought merely because it was not immediately obvious to me (and still is not obvious to me) that it was okay for Hall to shove Eltahawy in defense of this shitty, racist poster, or that damaging one stupid poster is some kind of huge crime against free speech.

    There are reasonable discussions to be had about this, and I’m willing to be convinced, or at least to have my perspective altered, by reasonable arguments. I am *not* willing to tolerate insults just because my initial impression of the issue, based on what I read in the post, was not precisely in line with Jay’s. Jay, if you’re really well intentioned and not just here looking to snipe at FtB, then walk that stuff back and restart without caricaturing and insulting me, and we’ll try again. If the sniping is all you’re here for, then fine, go ahead and make that clear. It won’t stop me from looking for more information about this issue to see what stance on it makes the most sense, but it *will* save us cluttering up Mano’s comment page with pointless fisticuffs.

  33. says

    rvkevin: Prompted by confusion about your comments, I went out and tried to figure out who the other woman in the video actually is, and I guess she’s Pamela Hall, some member of the group that was putting up the posters? I guess I can see why she might feel a sense of ownership and personal investment in the posters in that case, but I still think getting physically involved in trying to stop Eltahawy’s protest was a pretty poor choice on her part, regardless of how the legalities might sort out on whether a single member of the group that paid to put up the poster has a legitimate right to use physical force in its defense.

    In addition to that bit of nitty-gritty, I was trying to parse out exactly what NY uses as legal definitions for “assault” and “battery”, since these apparently vary wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and I can’t even seem to find battery in the NY penal code. Do you have any cites on it? Assault in NY, as you say, seems to cover only actions which result in actual physical injury (through intent or recklessness), which nobody in the video did, and battery doesn’t seem to exist at all. So if this is correct, then neither Hall nor Eltahawy committed any crimes against the other’s person (contra your initial suggestion that Eltahawy should be charged with battery as well as my dismay at Hall’s actions). This would indeed explain why the only person who was arrested and charged was Eltahawy for the vandalism. I’d be sort of surprised if NY really has no criminal statute at all, not even a misdemeanor, associated with shoving someone as long as they don’t get hurt, but maybe I’ve just spent too much time in environments where any touching above a handshake is considered a significant pushing of boundaries.

  34. billyeager says

    From what I can tell, this incident is about a woman who believes she is entitled to spray-paint over a paid advertisement. That’s just vandalism.

    Whatever your personal stance is on either side’s position, if you choose to deface someone’s property, you are breaking the law. If you are breaking the law then expect to face the consequences.

    I would have had more sympathy for Mona Eltahawy had she not tried to claim that she was entitled to spray-paint the advert and then complained that she was being arrested for having done so.

    Yes, the message on the advert is morally repugnant and should certainly be classified as inciting racial hatred, but you protest that through the appropriate channels, not by trying to legitimise your own illegal behaviour.

    At the very least, if she just wanted to make a scene and draw public attention to the advert by committing an illegal act herself, at least have the honesty to admit you know that what you are doing is illegal, but that you are willing to accept the consequences in order to highlight the issue.

  35. Dairy says

    He’s wrong, but he’s not that wrong.

    It’s a poor analogy perhaps for members of Atheism Plus, because Atheism Plus is a movement derived from radical feminist theory that disdains free speech.

    Nope, the theory as it currently stands is more like a Radical-Liberal Hybrid feminism (rejecting the transphobia) with some ideas from 3rd Wave, anti-racist/Womanist, and Cultural Marxist feminism.
    There is no disdaining of free speech, in fact it’s generally very pro free speech, however there are some limits that need to be observed, for the protection of vulnerable or oppressed populations.
    This is why it is a poor analogy perhaps for members of Atheism Plus, because the acceptability of Free Speech is determined not by a blanket rule (i.e. Always except in Crowded Theatres/Threats/etc) but with relation to the speaker, and the listener, and their relative privilege and socioeconomic position, and predicted levels of risk/harm to any oppressed groups discussed.
    Therefore while a simple supporter of free speech could be reached and potentially persuaded by the question “What if it were you?” the Atheist+ answer is simply “Then the morality of the situation would be changed because of the socioeconomic and kyrarchical power differences between us and our respective groups.”

    “It’s a fine analogy for run of the mill skeptics and atheists who understand that it’s rather pointless to fuss over free speech that you agree with, the debate is over ugly free speech.”

    i.e. if you’re a person who values free speech as a bulwark against the fascism of “for your own good” morality, and believes that the slippery slope will drag us from “No more Nazi pamphlets” to “None of these other things that disagree with the heirarchy either” then you will agree that defending things no-one opposes is pointless (“We must not ban pictures of kittens!”) but that the slippery slope will always start with banning repugnant speech.

  36. Chiroptera says

    Actually, my participation in this thread was to ask about Jay’s strange suggestion that Dr. Singham should feel that FtB is an inappropriate venue for his blog because — and I get this from a plain reading of Jay’s first comment here — some people left comments disagreeing with his opinion he expressed in the OP.

    But the way that both Jay (and now you) have brought up “Atheism Plus” (and Jay even mentioned, out of nowhere, “radical feminists”) suggests to me that your beef against FtB isn’t about people’s opinions on the status of free speech in New York’s subways.

    That pretty much answers the question I first had when I started commenting myself.

  37. says

    …they are hypocritical in the extreme in the context of the gedanken experiment, what would these commenters say if the situation was reversed? Mona had put up some “offensive” poster and Pam Hall or Pam Geller had taken it down?

    What evidence do you have that any of us would have behaved that way? Absolutely none — you just pulled that allegation out of your ass because you couldn’t think of any better response. Singham may be dead wrong here, but at least he’s not a pathological liar like you.

    So, in answer to your original question, no, Singham is not at all out of place here. You are.

    PS: I stand corrected re: the “violence” in Eltahawy’s action. She should, of course, accept a just punishment for whatever laws she broke; but she was still in the right to try to take down a hateful racist message from a tube station where it didn’t belong in the first place.

  38. Dairy says

    No. I replied to his mention of A+. Are you sure you’re not drunk? I have no beef with FTB. Are you thinking of Jay?

    “That pretty much answers the question I first had when I started commenting myself.”

    You must be thinking of Jay, since I hadn’t said anything when you started commenting. Control your pronouns better. ‘He’ not ‘you’ when you’re talking about someone else.

  39. says

    I happened to be viewing an art gallery in DC and walked upon a painting that painted atheists in a negative light…

    So what? That’s an art gallery, not a tube station. Different purpose, different expectations, different rules. I’ve seen lots of erotic art, and lots of really disturbing and/or disgusting art — all of which is fine in an art gallery, but not acceptable in a tube station, police station, or other public facility.

    What’s the fucking problem with you so-called defenders of free speech? Is analogy suddenly a lost art? Or have you just stopped thinking and gone on auto-pilot?

  40. says

    Okay, Jay’s just admitted he’s an ignorant troll spouting pure nonsense — nonsense that we’ve all heard before, and was probably spoon-fed to him by someone else, and which he mindlessly swallowed without chewing even once. Thre’s really no point in arguing with someone this stupid.

  41. says

    Yes, the message on the advert is morally repugnant and should certainly be classified as inciting racial hatred, but you protest that through the appropriate channels, not by trying to legitimise your own illegal behaviour.

    Civil disobediance IS an appropriate channel.

  42. JagerBaBomb says

    Personally, I feel like the message shouldn’t have been allowed to be put up in the first place. It’s very clearly hate speech–an indictment of an entire people. And being that this was a commercial in nature, the MTA shouldn’t have been forced by the court to have to leave it up. They’re the advertiser so they should get to choose what messages they’ll display. Granted, it would have been nice if they’d simply said no to Pamela Geller in the first place, as it seems they got cold feet after taking her money. Don’t they review these things before they accept to advertise something?

  43. Mano Singham says

    The MTA initially rejected the message and was taken to court, which ruled that they had insufficient grounds for rejecting it. So they had no choice but to allow it.

  44. rvkevin says

    So what? That’s an art gallery, not a tube station. Different purpose, different expectations, different rules. I’ve seen lots of erotic art, and lots of really disturbing and/or disgusting art — all of which is fine in an art gallery, but not acceptable in a tube station, police station, or other public facility.

    It was a public facility. This wasn’t some private collection; it was a government owned museum. As such, they have the same duty to the public in both places. If they have a duty to not show ‘indecent’ images to the public, then they should make sure the gallery is clean as well. I just disagree that the government should be in the business of deciding what qualifies as indecent.

  45. rvkevin says

    And, rvkevin, this other person (who does not appear to be either Pam Geller or an employee of the transit system, so I’m not sure what the hell ownership rights have to do with the reasonableness of her getting physically involved in the incident) decided that the best thing to do about a planned peaceful protest of this nature was to insert herself physically into the situation rather than stand back and let the police take care of it?

    It was the legal question I was trying to answer, whether an individual can use force to defend property. The answer to that question is yes. Most states say that you can use the same amount of force whether you are the one being offended or whether you are defending for someone else. So, for example, if this were a case of someone using deadly force against an attempted rape of someone else, I would see if someone who is defended themselves against a rape could use deadly force. The legal principle would be the same regardless of who is doing the defending, the individual being targeted or a third party. By the way, here it is for clarity (no mention of possession, and Mona was charged with criminal mischief):

    “A person may use physical force, other than deadly physical force, upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate what he reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission by such other person of larceny or of criminal mischief with respect to property other than premises.”

    There is no reasonable interpretation of this incident in which the can of spray paint can be portrayed as a significantly dangerous weapon, especially as Eltahawy is *clearly* trying to aim it around the woman rather than at her. (Or are you gonna cite some obscure case at me now wherein somebody was convicted of “violent assault with close-quarters spray paint mist”?)

    I told you that it wouldn’t apply to this case, since she didn’t act alarmed. What I said is that I would not fault someone for using even greater force than she did. “Clearly” trying to aim around doesn’t matter if it constitutes reckless behavior and ‘clearly’ trying to aim around her doesn’t matter when she knows that she is going to spray her (oblique intent), it’s the same as if she targeted her.

    As for whether a spray paint can be considered a significantly dangerous weapon, I think it can. If it can permanently cause damage to the eyes, then that constitutes serious bodily harm. If it can cause blindness, then that constitutes great bodily harm. These are very significant statements to make since the threat of great bodily harm is a defense for using deadly force in some regions (although not NY). Like I said, this is not something to take lightly. And in those regions, you only need to show it’s an imminent threat (barring duty to retreat provisions), not that the attacker intended it or have any injury of it. Moral of the story, don’t spray chemicals that are harmful to people onto people, it’s dangerous.

    The other woman is the one who is physically interfering with Eltahawy, in defense of a very low-value and easily replaceable piece of property which is not hers, and in full knowledge that the cops are on the way and that Eltahawy has no intention of fleeing them.

    Again, you have the right to defend property, the fact the police are on their way doesn’t change this right. Also, the value doesn’t matter. It’s a right regardless of whether you’re defending a gold bracelet or a plastic one.

    All she is doing is escalating the incident, which is *exactly* the kind of thing that cops usually yell at people for at best and arrest them for at worst.

    And she has every right to do so. As per the previous citation, you can defend your property even if it results in assault or battery. I’m not too concerned with what cops say. It may be good advice not to intervene and to give up your possessions if someone mugs you, but I’m talking about the law, not what constitutes good advice. The only reason someone would be arrested for intervening would be if they used excessive force, and that doesn’t seem to be a problem here.

    As for the battery comment, it seems like NY has consolidated it under assault. It seems like the charge of criminal mischief is suitable for this case for the damage to her property (the graffiti charge would be the damage to the poster). It seems odd that they don’t have something that would prevent you from just going down the street poking people, but maybe they do. I’d imagine that they would fine you for disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct. Those terms are fairly open to interpretation and may be their go to offense for simple battery.

  46. says

    It was a public facility. This wasn’t some private collection; it was a government owned museum. As such, they have the same duty to the public in both places.

    No, they don’t. Public or private, an art gallery has a completely different mission from a tube station; and that means (at the very least) different decision-making processes as to what gets displayed on the walls.

    If you can’t defend “free speech” without soundling like an idiot, maybe you should just shut up and let the grownups do the talking. Who knows — you might actually learn something.

  47. says

    I just disagree that the government should be in the business of deciding what qualifies as indecent.

    So you’re saying government doesn’t even get to decide what gets displayed on government property? That’s about as stupid, simpleminded and juvenile as anything else I hear from libertards on a regular basis. Do you even THINK about what you’re saying?

  48. says

    And as I said before, the court ruling was WRONG — and probably driven by anti-Muslim bigotry, which seems today to be a little more acceptable than anti-black or anti-Jewish bigotry, which I’m sure both the MTA and the courts would not have allowed in the current political climate.

  49. says

    The MTA, being sort of a government body, may have some different obligations from an ordinary commercial advertiser in this realm. However, even a government-run forum is allowed to have some standards, otherwise they’d find themselves having to post pr0n and suchlike. The question isn’t whether any kind of speech whatsoever is permissible in this forum, because it’s clearly not, despite some of the more broad-brush “free speech” claims people are making. Rather, the question is precisely what kinds of restrictions may be put in place and whether those restrictions are being enforced fairly.

    As Mano says, a court did rule that the MTA was required to accept these advertisements, so the MTA didn’t have much choice in the matter, but of course that doesn’t mean that the court ruling was in line with either the Constitution or basic human decency. Civil disobedience in objection to the posters seems like pretty legit free speech to me, so I support Eltahawy to that extent. I don’t know how I feel about her claim that she shouldn’t be arrested for the vandalism aspect of her actions, but I’m reluctant to strongly nitpick her response given that she was one of the people personally targeted by the posters and I am not.

  50. says

    rvkevin,

    Sorry I was snapping at you a little bit. Some of my annoyance with Jay kind of slopped over onto you, and on rereading I realize that that wasn’t entirely justified. I still don’t agree with you, though.

    To begin with, I question the extent to which Hall’s level of ownership of the poster justifies her level of response. There’s such a thing as a sense of proportion in these issues. Were I an NYC resident, I might feel a certain sense of ownership of the wall near the poster which Eltahawy accidentally sprayed. Would that level of ownership justify me physically interposing myself and shoving her? Or, for another example, I’m a fairly inactive but dues-paying member of the ACLU. What if it was an ACLU poster Eltahawy was spraying — would my level of membership in that organization make my ownership of the poster sufficient that it would be okay for me to start shoving people? What’s the level of personal investment (as opposed to merely distant corporate membership) that’s required to legitimize physical attacks?

    I also don’t think your example of fighting off somebody else’s rapist applies here, because serious bodily harm is a whole different class of crime than minor property damage, and the definition of a proportionate response is necessarily very different. Just because it’s okay for me to physically attack somebody who is physically attacking somebody else does not mean that it’s okay for me (as an ordinary citizen, and not an officer of the law) to physically attack somebody who is engaging in minor vandalism of somebody else’s stuff. There’s also a difference between being the first person to use violence and choosing to use violence against someone else who is already violent. So I don’t think the rapist example gives us much guidance about what was appropriate in this situation.

    As for the spray paint, to the degree that it could be said to pose any danger to Hall, it was only to the extent that she was *deliberately putting herself in its path*. If somebody is swinging a hammer and I deliberately put my hand under it, and they try to divert the swing and fail, it’s my own dumb fault if I get hurt, not theirs. Hall was in danger from the spray paint only to the extent that she repeatedly *tried* to put herself in its path. Every time Eltahawy adjusted the path of the paint so as to remove Hall from the path, Hall adjusted her own location in order to get in the way again. And it seems to me that Eltahawy had a pretty reasonable expectation that she would not seriously (or even minorly) injure Hall with the paint, seeing as how despite Hall’s interference Eltahawy was pretty clearly capable of aiming the paint around her, and, indeed, did so successfully throughout the entire encounter. So I don’t see how you can reasonably claim that Eltahawy, by continuing to use the paint, was putting Hall in danger. Mere remote possibility can’t possibly be enough to create even oblique intent, otherwise I’d be obliquely intending grievous bodily harm and serious property damage to all the other drivers on the road every time I start my car, since there’s always a possibility, however slight, that I might fuck up and cause an accident.

    But in any case, as the info on NY laws seems to make clear, since nobody was hurt, there was no assault, and no battery. Just minor property damage and vandalism, and everything else is a matter of personal judgments about socially appropriate behavior rather than actual law. I personally think that being the first person to use violence is very rarely justified (morally, regardless of legalities), especially over an easily replaceable piece of paper, and so someone as proud of her supposed civilizedness as Hall should’ve stood back, videotaped Eltahawy, called the police, and taken her satisfaction from jeering as Eltahawy got arrested. I also think that, Hall being a nasty racist person who got deliberately violent in defense of a nasty, racist poster, frankly kinda deserved to get a little pink on her given her behavior, so I don’t feel terribly sorry for her even if she might technically have a legal claim for property damage on that front. And I think that Eltahawy should’ve planned a little better for the possibility of physical interference and should’ve accepted the vandalism charge calmly as the price of civil disobedience, but I have a hell of a lot more sympathy for her agitation than I do for Hall’s.

  51. Jared A says

    If you had just quoted the next sentence you would have gotten a pretty decent description of civil disobedience as a legitimate channel:

    if she just wanted to make a scene and draw public attention to the advert by committing an illegal act herself, at least have the honesty to admit you know that what you are doing is illegal, but that you are willing to accept the consequences in order to highlight the issue.

    Perhaps your disagreement is about what the motivation for civil disobedience is. Is Mona:

    A) flaunting the anti-vandalism law to protest the court ruling allowing the ads
    or
    B) Is she protesting the law that makes it illegal to vandalize the poster (anti-vandalism).

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it it seems that you (Raging Bee) feel that she is protesting both. I think that that Bill Yeagar’s point is that you can’t consistently do that because for A to constitute civil disobedience you must accept that anti-vandalism laws are valid for. The entire point of A is that it is illegal to vandalize, but the contentious poster is illegitimate so we must break the anti-vandalism law to show our discontent. In which case it is dishonest to act like you also hold B to be true, which Mona seems to be doing.

    Now, if only case B were true and she was protesting the same law she was breaking then it would make sense to protest your own arrest, but it doesn’t appear to be the case. If it were, then the content of the poster would be immaterial, since if you believe that anti-vandalism laws are illegitimate than one should be able to vandalize any poster, no matter how benign.

    TL;DR – For civil disobedience to be effective it requires understanding what you are disobeying and why.

  52. says

    …Is Mona:

    A) flaunting the anti-vandalism law to protest the court ruling allowing the ads or
    B) Is she protesting the law that makes it illegal to vandalize the poster (anti-vandalism).

    Um, no, she seemed to be protesting the CONTENT of the ads. I wonder why you totally failed to mention that option, after so many comments here talking about the CONTENT of the ads. (Oh, and the correct word here is “flouting,” not “flaunting.”)

  53. says

    TL;DR – For civil disobedience to be effective it requires understanding what you are disobeying and why.

    Well, you seem to be the only person here who has trouble understanding what she was protesting (probably because, as you admitted, you didn’t care enough to read up on it). So I’d say, with only one exception I’ve seen so far, this particular act of civil disobedience was about as effective as could be expected.

  54. Jared A says

    I totally agree, Jay was being a giant dick. But why didn’t you also call anyone else while you were at it? Are the people you agree with exempt?

    Not trying to needle you specifically, I really want to know how you feel about that.

  55. says

    He’s wrong, but he’s not that wrong.

    He’s wrong enough that your wordy “explanation” of a stupid brain-fart only makes you look silly.

  56. Jared A says

    yeah, I got that word wrong. I do that some times.

    Protesting the content of the ads is not civil disobedience. It’s just disagreeing with someone else. That’s why I didn’t mention it as an option.

    Why are you such an asshole all of the time? You realize it doesn’t help you out?

  57. Jared A says

    What? When did I admit that? What are you talking about?

    Anyway, I’m not talking about making others understand your protest, I’m talking about understanding yourself what precisely you are protesting.

    You are assuming a lot about my opinions on this. I was more interested in clearing up this one thing then coming down for or against the whole thing.

  58. rvkevin says

    So you’re saying government doesn’t even get to decide what gets displayed on government property?

    I’m saying that if the government sets up a process available to the public, that they can’t discriminate based on political ideology. They gave up control when they opened it up to the public. If they chose not to allow any advertisements, then they would be able to control that space.

  59. rvkevin says

    Public or private, an art gallery has a completely different mission from a tube station

    So? The posters that the subway has decided to display aren’t fulfilling the mission to provide efficient transportation, perhaps they should remove them completely. If not, then you have to have some sort of criteria to sort out the ‘indecent’ posters. If you want to say that controversial or offensive statements shouldn’t be displayed, then a lot of atheistic signs fall into this category as well (apparently its offensive to suggest that atheists exist to some people). And if it’s not alright to display a poster in the subway that attacks a group, I’m not entirely sure why the change in venue makes it alright even if it is consistent with the organizations mission statement.

  60. Chiroptera says

    Are you sure you’re not drunk?

    What’s funny is that in the last two responses to Jay, I had to fight the urge to ask if he or she were drunk.

    -

    No. I replied to his mention of A+.

    No, you replied to me. And your comment gives every impression that you are expressing your opinion on the matter, and that bringing up Atheism+ and radical feminism is appropriate on a topic that was about a particular incident concerning free speech. That seemed, and continues to seem, strange to me considering the incident didn’t have anything to do with atheism+ or radical feminism, nor were you or Jay able to really explain what you think the connection is.

    Was that comment an expression of your opinion? If not, then were you mocking Jay? That wasn’t clear. Were you trying to just explain what you think Jay would have said had Jay replied his or herself? In that case, that wasn’t clear, either, and you should just let people speak for themselves.

    -

    Control your pronouns better. ‘He’ not ‘you’ when you’re talking about someone else.

    If you were telling us your own opinions, then you and Jay are bringing some stange issues (Atheism+ and radical feminism) as a strange non-sequitur, and I think it shouldn’t be a surprise if people wonder whether you and Jay perhaps have a different agenda than just discussing free speech rights in a public space. I think “you” (plural) is a justified pronoun.

    -

    Me: “That pretty much answers the question I first had when I started commenting myself.”

    Dairy: You must be thinking of Jay, since I hadn’t said anything when you started commenting.

    Again, I was wondering what Jay’s real agenda is considering the gratuitous injection of “Atheism+” and “radical feminism” into the topic. And now you show up and do the same, seeming, from your comment, to think that these things are somehow relevant to a discussion of this incident in the New York subway. Yeah, I think you and Jay have something else on your minds than free speech.

    It could be just poor communication skills either on your part or mine, though.

  61. Chiroptera says

    As Mano says, a court did rule that the MTA was required to accept these advertisements, so the MTA didn’t have much choice in the matter, but of course that doesn’t mean that the court ruling was in line with either the Constitution or basic human decency.

    I’m not a lawyer, and I haven’t yet looked into the details of this particular case, but if my understanding is correct, then if the MTA didn’t have any restrictions or very limited restrictions, then it could very well be that the walls of the subway were a public forum; in that case, the MTA would then have very little authority to forbid the posters from being put up.

    I could be wrong, though. I think that the MTA can put restrictions on the posters, but the rules would have to be clear and fair to all.

    As far as human decency goes, well, as we all know human decency and the law don’t always coincide.

  62. rvkevin says

    To begin with, I question the extent to which Hall’s level of ownership of the poster justifies her level of response. There’s such a thing as a sense of proportion in these issues. Were I an NYC resident, I might feel a certain sense of ownership of the wall near the poster which Eltahawy accidentally sprayed. Would that level of ownership justify me physically interposing myself and shoving her? Or, for another example, I’m a fairly inactive but dues-paying member of the ACLU. What if it was an ACLU poster Eltahawy was spraying — would my level of membership in that organization make my ownership of the poster sufficient that it would be okay for me to start shoving people? What’s the level of personal investment (as opposed to merely distant corporate membership) that’s required to legitimize physical attacks?

    The level of ownership is not an issue. Even if she had no ownership, she would still have had the right to defend someone else’s property.

    I also don’t think your example of fighting off somebody else’s rapist applies here, because serious bodily harm is a whole different class of crime than minor property damage, and the definition of a proportionate response is necessarily very different. Just because it’s okay for me to physically attack somebody who is physically attacking somebody else does not mean that it’s okay for me (as an ordinary citizen, and not an officer of the law) to physically attack somebody who is engaging in minor vandalism of somebody else’s stuff. There’s also a difference between being the first person to use violence and choosing to use violence against someone else who is already violent. So I don’t think the rapist example gives us much guidance about what was appropriate in this situation.

    You totally missed the analogy. I was simply explaining how the use of force is transferrable from individual to third parties. And again, the law disagrees with you on using force to defend property.

    As for the spray paint, to the degree that it could be said to pose any danger to Hall, it was only to the extent that she was *deliberately putting herself in its path*. If somebody is swinging a hammer and I deliberately put my hand under it, and they try to divert the swing and fail, it’s my own dumb fault if I get hurt, not theirs. Hall was in danger from the spray paint only to the extent that she repeatedly *tried* to put herself in its path. Every time Eltahawy adjusted the path of the paint so as to remove Hall from the path, Hall adjusted her own location in order to get in the way again. And it seems to me that Eltahawy had a pretty reasonable expectation that she would not seriously (or even minorly) injure Hall with the paint, seeing as how despite Hall’s interference Eltahawy was pretty clearly capable of aiming the paint around her, and, indeed, did so successfully throughout the entire encounter. So I don’t see how you can reasonably claim that Eltahawy, by continuing to use the paint, was putting Hall in danger. Mere remote possibility can’t possibly be enough to create even oblique intent, otherwise I’d be obliquely intending grievous bodily harm and serious property damage to all the other drivers on the road every time I start my car, since there’s always a possibility, however slight, that I might fuck up and cause an accident.

    Oblique intent applies to the charge of criminal mischief. This means that Mona intentionally caused damage to Hall’s property with the paint. It’s asinine to turn this around and say that Hall was at fault. For the hammer example, if they acknowledge that you’re going to get your hand hit if you keep doing it, and then continue hammering away, then they are responsible for it. If you put your hand there without their knowledge, then they aren’t. The problem is that Mona did acknowledge that Hall was going to get paint on her as a result of her actions.

  63. says

    …apparently its offensive to suggest that atheists exist to some people…

    You can’t see a difference between an atheist message, and a message calling whole classes of people uncivilized and inferior, and calling on “civilized” people to fight against them?

    And you really think that such obvious hateful insults and hostility is just another “political ideology?” So I guess if a white guy started shouting epithets in the faces of black people in a tube station, that’s just another political speech in your eyes, right?

    You’re making yourself look stupider with every comment.

  64. says

    Protesting the content of the ads is not civil disobedience. It’s just disagreeing with someone else. That’s why I didn’t mention it as an option.

    If you use civil disobedience to protest the content of an ad, then it’s civil disobedience. Are you really this stupid, or are you just spouting random BS to avoid the issue?

  65. rvkevin says

    You can’t see a difference between an atheist message, and a message calling whole classes of people uncivilized and inferior, and calling on “civilized” people to fight against them?

    I see the difference. I can also see the similarities. Whether the differences or similarities are significant depends on the scope of the discussion. I was talking about controversial advertisements. So since you made an issue of this, do you really think that the ads from atheist groups, which are often vandalized and receive media attention, are not as controversial as this one?

    And you really think that such obvious hateful insults and hostility is just another “political ideology?” So I guess if a white guy started shouting epithets in the faces of black people in a tube station, that’s just another political speech in your eyes, right?

    Yes, they are considered political speech and that has been backed up by the courts. Whenever Fred Phelps gets sued on this issue, he wins because we have laws protecting free speech and despite his hostility to homosexuals, his speech is protected. As long as it remains in the category of speech and not harassment, disorderly conduct, etc., then he has a right to convey his message.

  66. says

    So since you made an issue of this, do you really think that the ads from atheist groups, which are often vandalized and receive media attention, are not as controversial as this one?

    “Controversial?” Yes. Explicitly bigoted, demeaning and threatening rhetoric? No. The difference seems obvious to everyone except you.

  67. Jared A says

    When has civil disobedience ever been a form of protest between private parties? I thought it was by definition a situation where the civilians defy the government to show how the law itself is unjust.

    Maybe I am misinformed, but I am not stupid and I am not spouting random BS. I am not avoiding any issues, I have been quite focused in my comments. From my perspective it is you that latches onto minutiae and misses the bigger picture. If you stopped your raging for a second and spent some time thinking about nuance before jumping to conclusions you would realize that we have more or less the same opinion.

    Let’s make some things clear. I find the ‘jihad’ posters so offensive I can see myself vandalizing one too. I don’t have the guts that Eltahawy does to do this in such a provocative manner. I think that it’s laudable that she put herself at risk in her demonstration to prove a point.

    I also think there is room to think carefully about the things I have been talking about with regard to civil disobedience and how the message changed with subtle shifts in action and tone. Taking the time to do this helps sharpen the message. This is what I have been talking about. So, for example, I know that you think that the court ruling is unjust, so I think that if you did a similar demonstration your message would have a lot more punch if you accepted being arrested for vandalism in stride.

    That is all. Now go see a therapist about your rage issues.

  68. rvkevin says

    Nice job at missing the point. I wonder if it was willful or just ignorance, or perhaps a combination of the two.

  69. Jay says

    “Jay, so in other words, this was a *planned* and widely-publicized stunt (sorry, I don’t follow every single thing there is, I was just going based on what Mano posted), and you’re going to argue that by engaging in such a stunt Eltahawy was suppressing Geller’s free speech rather than engaging in speech of her own? Srsly?”

    Did you write this?

    Then yes, you ARE an enemy of free thought and free speech.

    Seriously, you should own it. Be loud and proud.

  70. says

    I called Jay out because he was being a dick to me, so I happened to notice his dickishness. You’re welcome to call out the other people you think are being dicks, and then we can talk about whether they are in fact dicks. I have zero interest in playing passive-aggressive games about it.

  71. says

    The level of ownership is not an issue. Even if she had no ownership, she would still have had the right to defend someone else’s property.

    The question is not whether there’s a right to “defend someone else’s property”, but whether the level of Hall’s physical engagement with the issue was proportionate to the level of offense Eltahawy was committing. I don’t agree that it was, but since, as we’ve repeatedly noted, the level of force did not rise to the point at which NY law would take notice even if Eltahawy had just been minding her own business, this is a matter of moral condemnation, not legality. If Hall had actually injured Eltahawy, then the evaluation might be different.

    You totally missed the analogy. I was simply explaining how the use of force is transferrable from individual to third parties. And again, the law disagrees with you on using force to defend property.

    No, I get the analogy. You missed the point of my response — just because it’s okay to use force to defend someone else’s person or one’s own property does not mean that it is always necessarily okay to use force to defend someone else’s property. That’s one of those borderline things that can vary by jurisdiction. You’re welcome to find a citation appropriate to the jurisdiction in which the incident occurred, but it doesn’t just follow logically.

    Oblique intent applies to the charge of criminal mischief. This means that Mona intentionally caused damage to Hall’s property with the paint. It’s asinine to turn this around and say that Hall was at fault. For the hammer example, if they acknowledge that you’re going to get your hand hit if you keep doing it, and then continue hammering away, then they are responsible for it. If you put your hand there without their knowledge, then they aren’t. The problem is that Mona did acknowledge that Hall was going to get paint on her as a result of her actions.

    Okay, so when you said this:

    I told you that it wouldn’t apply to this case, since she didn’t act alarmed. What I said is that I would not fault someone for using even greater force than she did. “Clearly” trying to aim around doesn’t matter if it constitutes reckless behavior and ‘clearly’ trying to aim around her doesn’t matter when she knows that she is going to spray her (oblique intent), it’s the same as if she targeted her.

    As for whether a spray paint can be considered a significantly dangerous weapon, I think it can. If it can permanently cause damage to the eyes, then that constitutes serious bodily harm. If it can cause blindness, then that constitutes great bodily harm. These are very significant statements to make since the threat of great bodily harm is a defense for using deadly force in some regions (although not NY). Like I said, this is not something to take lightly. And in those regions, you only need to show it’s an imminent threat (barring duty to retreat provisions), not that the attacker intended it or have any injury of it. Moral of the story, don’t spray chemicals that are harmful to people onto people, it’s dangerous.

    you didn’t mean to imply that the oblique intent was related to the possibility of physically harming Hall with the spray paing? Does this mean that you now agree that the most Eltahawy can be considered to have done in this incident was vandalism and property damage, and that all the stuff about how dangerous spray paint and how she should be charged with battery is irrelevant?

  72. says

    So, Jay, you’re reading enough of my comments here to cherry-pick them for things you can twist to condemn me, but not enough to actually comprehend and engage with my points in detail? Nice of you to make it crystal clear that you’re not actually operating in good faith here.

    I’m highly unlikely to waste my time responding to you again unless your next comment to me gives evidence that you’ve actually read all the things I said in this thread, and not just the snippets you found convenient for your anti-FtB campaign. In particular, you can start with this one:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2012/10/03/the-new-york-subway-jihad-poster-fracas/#comment-98896

  73. billopenthalt says

    It’s very clearly hate speech–an indictment of an entire people.

    Actually, the poster is cleverly worded and does not mention a people (unless Jihad is the name of a people). It did not say that the Palestinians are savages, it asked for support for Israel.

    We can disagree on the meaning of Jihad (like we can disagree on the meaning of everything when it comes to religion, because by definition, religion is beyond proof). If we take the meaning espoused by extremists, the poster merely calls to defeat the waging of war on people of a different faith. And it’s not a stretch to call people who advocate killing for religion savages, now is it?

    My guess is that the reaction of Mona Eltahawy was the result of a profound dislike of the ideas and ideology of Pamela Geller. But the idea behind free speech is that we allow others to say what is utterly disgusting to us, so that we can say what is utterly disgusting to them. If we want to place limits on freedom of speech, why would they be “our” limits? Because we are right and they are wrong? Or because they are weak and we are strong?

  74. rvkevin says

    this is a matter of moral condemnation, not legality

    Well then you can believe whatever you want. Like I said before, I would be alright if more force was used if it was targeted at disarming Mona.

    You’re welcome to find a citation appropriate to the jurisdiction in which the incident occurred, but it doesn’t just follow logically.

    I did. It’s quoted above and I’ll quote again:
    “A person may use physical force, other than deadly physical force, upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate what he reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission by such other person of larceny or of criminal mischief with respect to property other than premises.”

    you didn’t mean to imply that the oblique intent was related to the possibility of physically harming Hall with the spray paing? Does this mean that you now agree that the most Eltahawy can be considered to have done in this incident was vandalism and property damage, and that all the stuff about how dangerous spray paint and how she should be charged with battery is irrelevant?

    I already said that the battery charge was misplaced because of NY’s unusual classification of it. The possibility of harming Hall comes from the charge of criminal mischief and you are responsible for foreseeable consequences from those actions and it is foreseeable that you could harm someone who is wearing the property you intend to destroy. Oblique intent justifies the criminal mischief charge, which makes her liable from any harm that reasonably results from it. However, this is all irrelevant since no harm was done.

  75. says

    It occurred to me this morning that a more entertaining form of defacement would be to alter the message parodically rather than erase it entirely. Some suggestions:

    In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support THE PEACEMAKER.

    In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support THE WOMEN.

    In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support THE ONES WHO AREN’T A BUNCH OF FUCKING RACISTS.

    In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support OUR NEW ROBOT OVERLORDS.

    In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support JUDGE DREDD.

    In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support A TOMATO.

    In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support THE TOTAL THERMONUCLEAR DESTRUCTION OF ALL LIFE ON EARTH.

    In any war between BELTS and SUSPENDERS, support YOUR PANTS.

    … and so forth. :P

  76. Chiroptera says

    Heh. When I first saw the poster, my first thought was:

    In In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the one who is in the moral right.

  77. says

    There are always limits. Somebody (or a collection of somebodies) *always* has to decide. Otherwise there would be hardcore pr0n in the advertising slot right next door to Geller’s hateful nonsense. The question is, which limits can we mostly agree are acceptable and don’t cause serious harm to people’s freedom to hold and express differing opinions, and how do we ensure that those limits are being implemented fairly? And the answer will always depend on the nature of the forum, and there will be some cases which are less clear-cut than others.

    Personally, I don’t think that speech which dismisses a whole huge class of people as “savages” is something that any specific forum, even a government-run forum, is necessarily obligated to post. And if American Atheists, for example, wanted to run an ad campaign dismissing all religious people as savages and the MTA turned them down, I’d consider that pretty reasonable (and I’d think AA were being a bunch of dumbasses to even try).

    That doesn’t mean that I think the government should go in and shut down Geller’s website, or prevent her from buying ads from a billboard company that considers her views acceptable, or prevent her from publishing books about it. I just don’t think that it’s reasonable to assert that a particular forum choosing to reject a particular message from her, or a particular person choosing to deface a particular exemplar of her message, is *necessarily* a suppression of her free speech without more careful examination of the details of the situation. Now, the court has decided otherwise in regard to the MTA’s obligation to post the ads, and I’m not prepared to decide whether that’s due to anti-Muslim bias or careful examination of the MTA’s advertising standards and their application of those standards, but the point is that this is a matter of fairly specific legal issues, not broad generalizations about free speech.

  78. billopenthalt says

    Of course there are limits, but in the current case, the ads were refused by the MTA, and then a Court decided they were acceptable. You say that their acceptability was decided on “fairly specific legal issues”. What other issues could these be but that the ads were not in the objectionable categories, such as pr0n, or hatespeech?

    And since when is “Jihadist” a “whole huge class of people”? My understanding is that Jihadists are an insignificant extremist minority. And they are savages indeed.

    The Geller poster worked because it awakened the associations Jihad = Islam = all Muslims. And these associations live in your head just as much as in the heads of people who agree with the message. But it didn’t say so explicitely, and hence I would not expect a Court to rule they’re hatespeech.

    In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support abortion clinics. Defeat violent anti-abortion groups.

    Is this anti-christian?

    For the record, I would like to see Jihadists defeated. And I support Israel, as well as Palestine. I do not support Netanyahu, and I despair at the current generation of Israeli politicians.

  79. says

    Is this anti-christian?

    The problem is not whether it’s explicitly anti-christian, the problem is that it’s calling people savages. It has the same problem that you cite in Geller’s poster — it awakens the associations “violent anti-choice” = anti-choice = all Christians. I would not expect the MTA to accept such an ad either, and I would not be pleased to have a pro-choice group try to submit such an ad. I would expect them to create a message more appropriate to the intended forum.

    I’ll happily call violent anti-choicers and violent jihdis both savages in casual conversation, but a formal advertising message should rise above that.

    It also makes a difference that this message about “civilized men” and “savages” is coming from a group of people who actually do have a history of trying to tar all Muslims (and people who look Muslim) with the jihadi brush. Pro-choice organizations don’t have a similar history with regard to violent anti-choicers and Christianity in general, so even though I would still consider such an ad from them inappropriate, it’s not nearly as bad as what Geller is doing.

  80. says

    As far as I am concerned, Geller may be a provocateur but she had every right to put up the posters and Eltahawy had no right to deface it. What she should have done is put up other posters with an opposing message. That’s how free speech works best, not by suppression but with speech competing with speech.

    Unfortunately, one problem with “free” speech is that it often isn’t free in a financial or even practical sense. Eltahawy may not have the resources to finance a competing poster, for example. Yet, I do agree this is better than suppression. It may even be the best system we can hope to have. (Thanks be to the Internet, though, for helping level the playing field when it comes to those practical costs, though there is kind of an “information overload” in this domain.)

  81. rvkevin says

    Just because she can’t afford the space on the wall doesn’t mean that she can’t hold up a poster and stand next to it.

  82. Jared A says

    Ugh… ok.

    Honestly, I made that comment before Raging Bee started flaming me, so that’s not what I was talking about. To be fair, I can definitely see how at this point it looks like I was being oblique, but that wasn’t the order of things.

    So maybe I should clarify. There was a lot of flaming going on in this thread. You had a thoughtful comment about how the discourse was denigrated by flippancy and jumping to conclusions.

    I agreed and thought it is also worth talking specifically about how we react to flamers that are “on our side” versus the ones that aren’t, and how this can also have an effect on blinding us to intent and it contributes to people talking past each other. I think this is a general problem.

    Sadly, I think your response kind of proved my point. Please, let’s not jump to conclusions.

  83. says

    Okay, if you didn’t mean to be passive-aggressive about it, then I accept that, and I’m sorry I was mistaken about your intentions. There’s just been a lot of sort of nasty “both sides” games being played around the atheist/skeptic/secular/humanist/freethought blogosphere lately, and I’ve kind of lost patience with them. I’d prefer that we talk about specific bad things that were done in specific cases by specific people rather than condemning large classes of people with vague generalities and guilt-by-association.

    That’s why I called Jay out by name and mentioned the specific things he said that I found objectionable. I would suggest that if you’re finding that some of Raging Bee’s comments go beyond the pale of what you consider acceptable discourse, it might be worthwhile for you to do the same, rather than kind of gesturing vaguely at your conversation with hir and leaving hir and all the rest of us to guess exactly what you’re bothered by. As you said, it’s much easier to pick out the flamers amongst one’s opponents than to recognize when oneself and one’s allies are becoming problematic. So if you don’t like what’s being said in this conversation by some people you disagree with, then help the rest of us see it too.

  84. Jared A says

    Cool, thanks for that. I especially appreciate your point about the counter-productivity of saying things like “well both sides suck”, so I apologize for effectively doing that myself. I agree that the discourse is improved if we avoid the very tempting urge to lump ourselves into “sides”.

    As I hinted I’m not too bothered by Raging Bee, so I have no grievances to air.

    Have a good one.

  85. billopenthalt says

    Anne, I know you find the Geller ad repulsive. But the people it calls savages are savages (Merriam-Webster: noun, 2. a brutal person) . Jihadists and violent anti-abortionists are savage (M-W: adjective, 1.b. lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings).

    19th century Europeans used to call most non-Europeans “savages” (M-W: noun, 1. a person belonging to a primitive society), and this has given the word a bad rap, certainly with those of use who are ashamed of our ancestors (if you are, don’t be — all peoples have dubious ancestors)

    The point is that the ad works by activating prejudices. It never says: all Muslims are savages (which would be hate speech.)

    It is true that Geller and Spencer believe that Islam is inherently violent, based on their interpretation of the Qur’an. The problem with religious texts is that they can be interpreted to mean anything. But no matter how distasteful their interpretation, they are entitled to think what they want, and to speak their mind. They did not incite violence, they did not mention peoples or groups of people (so my variation was actually worse than theirs, as I said “defeat violent anti-abortion groups”, a clear call to attack specific groups of people). They asked for “Jihad” (a concept) to be defeated. They asked to support Israel (not a crime). And they quoted Ayn Rand (bad taste, but not a crime last time I checked).

    All the negative connotations and interpretations come from your mind.

    Free speech, including the right to ridicule all religions, is the cornerstone of a secular society.

  86. says

    Sorry, billopenthalt, but I’ve got zero respect for the argument by dictionary. Go read Pam Geller’s website for a bit (or Pamela Hall’s for that matter) and then come back and tell me it’s all in my mind.

  87. billopenthalt says

    I know Ms Geller’s website. But you are looking at the messenger, while I look at the message. The essence of free speech is that we allow people with whom we don’t agree to say what we profoundly dislike, and people whom we dislike, to say what we don’t agree with.

    You see, in matters religious there is no way to determine whose interpretation is right, and whose is wrong. We can be so much in disagreement with someone, that we feel whatever they say to be hate speech. And so others might feel about us. I have met quite a few catholics who are utterly disgusted by Tim Minchin’s Pope Song, and call it hate speech. As an ex-catholic, I happen to agree with Tim, so for me the song is merely appropriate criticism. I also happen to know ex-muslims who agree with Ms Geller.

    Look beyond your distaste for the messenger, and you’ll see that the ad itself isn’t any worse, language-wise, than the Pope Song.

    If you want the right to silence others, be prepared to be silenced yourself.

  88. billopenthalt says

    The abrahamic religions: That’s they way they are, folks – just one big happy family!

    (with apologies to Cap’n Andy)

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