Protesters Hope to Derail Controversial Ads
A group of religious leaders, elected officials and community activists rally for solidarity with Muslims after controversial billboards were posted in area train stations in August.
Calling controversial billboards posted in Westchester train stations “hate speech” from “political opportunists”, protesters took to the streets of White Plains Thursday, expressing their solidarity with the Muslim community.
Posted in August, the billboards at the forefront of the debate state that 19,250 deadly Islamic attacks have taken place worldwide since Sept. 11, 2001. They then state, “It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”
Protesters called the ads bigotry, standing at the corner of Main St. and Mamaroneck Ave. holding signs of their own with sayings like “stop anti-Muslim bigotry” and “unity not Islamiphobia for 9/11”.
“Every established Jewish, Arab and Christianorganization against defamation and bigotry has spoken out against these ads and we are hoping to bring it to the streets of White Plains,” said Howard Horowitz, a New Rochelle native who was one of six people to speak during a press conference before a group of reporters.
The ads in question were paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an umbrella organization of the Stop Islamization of America (SION) group.
Pamela Geller, co-founder of SION, told Patch in an e-mail in August the billboards were posted to support awareness, adding that violence against peaceful members of the Muslim community is “wildly exaggerated”.
“The message is that it is not ‘hate’ or ‘Islamophobia’ to discuss the tens of thousands of jihad attacks that the attackers justify by referring to Islamic texts and teachings. We hope to raise awareness of the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat,” she said.
Khusro Elley, a Chappaqua resident and Muslim-American, doesn’t see it that way, saying the signs create hate when people should be rallying against it.
“This discrimination against Muslims is taking a new turn when it comes to a place like Chappaqua,” Elley said. “The Muslims are frightened, they feel under the microscope.”
The MTA is currently reviewing its policy on non-commercial viewpoint advertisements, but stated last month it does not endorse the content of these, or any other advertisement.
Paul Feiner, Greenburgh’s town supervisor, suggested the MTA place disclaimers on the billboards while donating proceeds to anti-violence groups.
“I don’t think the Metro-North should profit from the ads,” he said. “They are making a lot of money even if they say they don’t like the ads.”
Others said the advertisements set a bad precedent.
“We are a role model in the rest of the world, I think we need to show the rest of the world what tolerance, peace and unity is,” said Farzana Habib Levy, of Greenwich, CT. “We are a diverse country, we are a painting of different colors.”
Priscilla Read, a Tarrytown native who helped organize the rally, has been distributing a letter asking people to join a coalition in support of Muslims.
“The bigotry and hate that this ad directs at Muslims and Islam is totally unacceptable in Westchester or anywhere else,” she said.