MTA buses to feature anti-Islam Center ads


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.

Categories : Subway Advertising

46 Responses to “MTA buses to feature anti-Islam Center ads”

  1. rhywun says:

    The name is not “WTC MEGA MOSQUE” – we should demand higher accuracy from the inflammatory rhetoric our public spaces are compelled to display. And it’s not “at Ground Zero” either, as the opponents always claim. I guess the MTA isn’t too choosy when it comes to fact-checking.

  2. Haurspex says:

    It’s not only an offensive ad culturally, but also graphically. That’s some of the most amateur design I’ve seen for such a high profile ad, but at the same time it’s some of the most amateur posturing I’ve seen, too. Ugh.

    • Scott E says:

      Well said. Yes, it’s amateurish and sensationalistic, but that’s not my big complaint with it. We all have a mental image of the airplane approaching a burning tower forever stuck in our minds, but to thrust the visual image of such a traumatic event in front of our eyes is mean-spritied and wrong. Ironically, putting the image out there again just might desensitize some people to it, the exact opposite of what the ad tries to achieve.

      Ben, thank you for not putting this image at the top of the article, and instead for including it as a link. That shows class.

  3. Trencherbone says:

    Busting the multiculturalist myth of diversity bringing ‘cultural enrichment’.

    Islamists are already trying to restrict and destroy our culture – see additional links under ‘Cultural Jihad’.

  4. Nesta says:

    Islam considers 9/11/01 a HUGE religious victory in there war against everyone that isn’t a radical extremist including fellow muslims that are peaceful. Because of this I can understand why so many people would be upset about this mosque being built downtown.

    Do your research and see where the funding is gonna from for this project. All of these projects are funded by anti-western governments like Saudi Arabia home of almost all of the 9/11 murderers!

    • AK says:

      Wow. Really? “Islam” considers 9/11 a victory? You must have the inside scoop– I didn’t know “Islam” issued press releases about such matters. Come on. The vast, vast majority of Muslims, like every other religious group in the world, decry terrorism, especially terrorism in the name of religious zealotry that perverts the teachings of their beloved faith.

      • Nesta says:

        When have you ever seen muslims PUBLICY decry terrorism? It doesn’t happen. Do your research and you will see how radical islamists feel about the “great victory” they acheived on 9/11!

    • PeaceinNYC says:

      A major victory? What crack are you smoking. Millions of Muslims in this country, including myself, would like nothing better than to hunt down the bastards who killed so many innocents in the name of a peaceful religion and in the process affected the lives of the 1.2 Billion peaceful Muslims around the world.

      Ignorance, and ignorant people such as yourself, do nothing but breed the hate that will one day destroy not only this city, but this state, country, and the world.

    • rhywun says:

      Where the funding is coming from is none of my business, unless there’s a public component to it.

  5. Al D says:

    Palin and Gingrich, wrong!! The mosque is NOT at Ground Zero. It is 2 blocks away!

    The ad is as wrong as these 2 fools. The ad clearly states that the mosque is AT Ground Zero. It is not, and should be pulled for false advertising. Ms. Geller needs to get her facts straight first.

    Additionally, a “Mega-Mosque”? Is this anything like a Mega Walmart? !!!

    • SEAN says:

      The FOX News idiots know how to misinform & the public falls for it every time.

      BTW, where does a large portion of our oil supply come from? Oh yeah the land of the terrorists. You think Palen, Geller & other right wingers would say something about that. Of course not, a lot of their money comes from big oil & associated businesses.

      Also they need the terrorists as a buggyman to further there agenda. No terrorists no platform to stand on. Everything these people say comes down to this basic fact, yet the public just doesn’t get it & that’s the way the right wants it. Listen to us & don’t think too much otherwise you maybe one of those terrorists

    • Alon Levy says:

      Al, the US doesn’t have strong false advertising rules. Under American law, you can say anything you want, as long as it’s not defamatory.

      • AK says:

        Unless you are a lawyer or violate certain laws against deceptive advertising (which is fraudulent). However, Alon is right that there is no way this ad, which puts forth a “political opinion,” would fall under the latter category.

  6. Nathan H. says:

    For another $4,840,000 Geller could have bought the property straight-up and put a confederate history museum there.

  7. LCee says:

    “For her part, Geller doesn’t seem to care if the imagery is hurtful to New Yorkers. ”
    That’s a fair point, Ben, but will you also acknowledge that the developers of the mosque don’t seem to care that the venue they chose would also be hurtful to New Yorkers?

    • Chris says:

      You can avoid the Islamic Center by not walking past it. You cannot avoid walking into a subway car with this ad in it.

      • LCee says:

        And you can walk to work or maybe spring for a taxi?

        • KPL says:

          Actually, they are on buses, so the only way to avoid them is to avoid streets where buses pass by.

          • LCee says:

            Sensitivity should be a two-way street. Too many supporters of Cordoba/PARK51 breezily dismissed the voices of NYers who had concerns about the project but now demand sensitivity in response to a proposed advert.

            • Alon Levy says:

              Um, no. Pamela Geller is spewing hatred for people. The Islamic center doesn’t. Religious expression isn’t the same as racism, sorry.

              • LCee says:

                Neither side has clean hands, Alon. Imam Rauf is a board member of the Perdana Global Peace Organization (, founded in 2005 by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (, Perdana is accused of being the single largest donor to the Gaza flotilla organizers.

                • LCee says:

                  By the way, Alon, here is the link between Perdana and the Free Gaza Movement:

                • Alon Levy says:

                  The Gaza flotilla was not a radical Islamist group. It’s a civil rights attempt at breaking the Israeli blockade. What you’re telling me is that Rauf apparently thinks that a) Israel is a human rights violator and b) Islamism is wrong and Islam should be moderated. It’s a common position among the European elite, as well as many leftists and pacifists.

                  • LCee says:

                    LOL, Alon! If I had described a “common position” among Republicans like Peter King, let alone those who live in the heartland, you would have rushed to call them “racists.” These flotilla “activists” care not one iota about democracy/pluralism in Gaza, Gilad Shalit, or Israeli civilians in Sderot. They live only to deligitimize Israel. That’s hate.

                    And please read the link above on Mohamad’s most recent outrageous act, ok? Why is Rauf still sitting on that board?

                    • LCee says:

                      To be clear, “Mohamad” refers to Dr. Mahathir.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      Many of the flotilla activists have in fact promoted secular, democratic NGOs in Gaza, which have been attacked by both Hamas and the IDF. And the Israeli government doesn’t care about civilians in Sderot, either, except for show; it’s too far out for the elite in Tel Aviv to give a crap about.

                      It’s moronic to expect every imam to be pro-Israeli before you consider him kosher. Would you ask every rabbi to denounce the occupation before granting him the right to build a synagogue?

                      But it’s okay. People of your level of intelligence rule New York City. I can’t honestly expect you to do better than the people in charge around you. All I can expect you to is learn that you aren’t in fact as profound as you think you are.

    • rhywun says:

      The only New Yorkers who are “hurt” by this are those who are not intellectually capable of recognizing the dignity of the individual but instead assume they know everything about a person based on his “clan” or “tribe”. History is littered with sad examples of where that kind of thought leads.

  8. petey says:

    i remember in the 80s the MTA refused an ad that had, on the left, reagan pointing and laughing, and on the right, a group of unemployed workers. it was a patch of two pix, but had text and made an economic point, and was part of american history. so, er, why censor that, but not this lying piece of trash?

    • SEAN says:

      Because times have changed. The great communicator is a god in old school republican circles, but not so much with the radical neocon T-party crowd.

      Disagreeing with hard core conservitives is a kin to saying I hate america. Meanwhile some of these same conservitives still think the president wasn’t born here & are trying to bring a law suit challenging his standing as a US citizen. Wich solves what exactly?

  9. mudfarmer says:

    It would be regrettable if these advertisements were to be defaced. I I’m not calling for such acts of course, just saying it would be regrettable.

  10. LCee says:

    When you cannot defend your position, Alon, you resort to gratuitous insults. Well done.

  11. LCee says:

    Your side can preach whatever it wants, no matter how reactionary, but anyone with whom you disagree is a “racist” and spouts “hatred.” So much for tolerance.
    Stick to mass transit conversations, Alon. You are way out of your league on this topic.

    • What the grownups do in the main mosque space tends to be 100% legitimately protected religious practice. The problem is the mosque-sponsored youth activities that may be going on in the basement. One way or the other, way too many mosque-attending teens in this area end up indoctrinated in the belief that jihad is somehow a noble, virtuous, eminently honorable form of heroism.

    • Alon Levy says:

      You are way out of your league on this topic.

      And you, sir, are so stupid it’s a wonder you remember to breathe. Quick question: do you condition the acceptance of a synagogue on whether the rabbi has criticized the Israeli occupation of Palestine? If not, why the double-standard with Islam?

  12. petey says:

    alon: “Many of the flotilla activists have in fact promoted secular, democratic NGOs in Gaza, which have been attacked by both Hamas and the IDF.”

    this is an important point. we must be very careful not to let the rightwingers suck the debate into a binary, which is one of their m.o.’s. i (for one) revile the policies of the isralei govt, but that in no way entails support for a bunch of reactionary islamists like hamas who actually have the same attitude as the settlers do about “whose land it is”.

    sorry, off topic, i’ll stop.

  13. Aliya says:

    “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.”

    the latter or the former?

  14. Ben, I agree we’ve seen this type of propaganda before. I also think it is completely inappropriate for a city bus. It juxtaposes images of 9/11, a shocking event that most New Yorkers still feel deep pain about (including American Muslims) with an Image of a completely unrelated community center. This ad is totally outrageous and incites intolerance and paranoia. It is extremely disrespectful of those who live in the city and MTA employees as well.


  1. […] day one, subway advertising has been controversial. Today, we argue over religious themes and offensive images, but back in the early days of the subway, potential straphangers were outraged that ads would be […]

  2. […] the past two years, the MTA and Pamela Geller, head of a prominent anti-Islam organization, have squared off over bus ads. Geller wanted to run a series of placards on the outsides of buses that the MTA claimed violated […]

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