MTA buses to feature anti-Islam Center adsBy
For the past few weeks, New York City has been embroiled in a political battle over an Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero that will include a mosque. The Cordoba Center, approved last week by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, will take over the buildings at 45-47 Park Place, just two blocks away from Ground Zero, and the building will be modeled to resembled a JCC or a YMCA but with a mosque. It has been nothing short of controversial.
While Mayor Bloomberg supported the building, various politicians from across the country — including a prominent one from the remote state of Alaska — spoke out against it on the grounds that it was insensitive to the survivors of Ground Zero. Why should Muslims be allowed to proclaim their faith, even peacefully, in the shadows of the buildings brought down by religious extremists nearly nine years ago? The debate grew so heated that Bloomberg lashed out at those attempting to graft their views onto New York. “A handful of people,” he said, “should be ashamed of themselves.”
Now, the controversy will arrive front and center on New York City buses. Last week, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a right-wing organization run by Pamela Geller, attempted to purchase ad space on MTA buses to run this ad, but the MTA declined, claiming that the ad violated its procedures. It didn’t issue a final ruling on the matter, and after Geller tried to tinker with the image, she filed suit against the MTA, alleging violations of her free speech.
Tonight, the MTA announced that it would accept the ad in its original form. “While the MTA does not endorse the views expressed in this or other ads that appear on the transit system,” spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in a statement, “the advertisement purchased by a group opposing a planned mosque near the World Trade Center was accepted today after its review under MTA’s advertising guidelines and governing legal standards.”
At her website, Geller proclaimed it a victory for her cause, but city representatives to the MTA had a different take on it. “The wonderful thing about our country is that people have a right to express themselves, as long as it doesn’t endanger anyone’s life,” John Banks said to The Times, “I support it, even though I disagree with it vehemently.”
For her part, Geller doesn’t seem to care if the imagery is hurtful to New Yorkers. “It’s part of American history,” she said. Who can argue with such logic?
From the start, the main issue over the mosque has been an attitude of fear and retribution vs. one of tolerance and acceptance, and the MTA has, by allowing this group to advertise, taken the side of the latter. Of course free speech should triumph in New York because free speech is one of the bedrock principles of the U.S. Constitution. But there’s a deeper question at play here: Does advertising on a bus even matter?
One of the challenges the MTA faces in selling ad space on a bus or train is one of inattention. We barely pay attention to subway ads today because they have become so ubiquitous, and every time a controversy crops up — whether it’s over a pro-atheism ad that few people even notice or some racy romance novel with a suggestive cover — transit riders ignore it. We hear the debate raging amongst the talking heads on TV and the shouters on talk radio. We see the consternation in our newspapers’ op-ed pages, and we know that a Sarah Palin and a Michael Bloomberg will square off on an issue that touches the lives of few in anything more than a symbolic way.
Yet, life goes on with transit. The MTA will make nearly $10,000 off of this ad, and most New Yorkers won’t even blink. As tasteless as the image might seen, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.