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As anger over an anti-Muslim film continues to reverberate in the Middle East, a new controversial statement has emerged here in the U.S. It is an ad in New York City subway stations, which equates jihad with savagery. The ad was funded by a conservative activist who is no stranger to controversy.
Here's NPR's Joel Rose.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The text of the ad is only 18 words long. It says: In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, defeat and jihad.
PAMELA GELLER: Any war on innocent civilians is savagery.
ROSE: Pamela Geller is the conservative blogger and activist who paid for the ads.
GELLER: The tens of thousands of rockets going into southern Israel from Gaza, the blowing up of a bus of Jewish women and children in Bulgaria, the assassination of Ambassador Stevens is savagery.
ROSE: Geller was also involved in the campaign to block an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site. She insists the new ad campaign is not offensive to what she calls peaceful Muslims. But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, did not agree. The MTA initially refused to run the ads. Geller took the agency to court and won.
GELLER: I will not sacrifice my freedom of speech so as not to offend savages.
ROSE: The ad appeared for the first time today in the hallways of 10 New York subway stations, including Times Square.
(SOUNDBITE OF SUBWAY TRAIN)
ROSE: Most New Yorkers rushed by without paying any attention at all to the new billboard. But a few stopped to investigate.
MOHAMMED SAMRA: If I'm passing by and am just looking at it, the only thing pops in my head is the defeat jihad. The thing in the red because they chose a bright color to attract people.
ROSE: Mohammed Samra(ph) points to the words that defeat jihad, the only words on the billboard written in red. Samra lives in Queens. He describes himself as a Palestinian and a practicing Muslim. Samra doesn't argue with Geller's right to free speech, but he is bothered when Geller and others in the West misuse jihad to mean terrorism. Samra says the religious meaning is struggle.
SAMRA: Jihad means is to sacrifice for your children. They say sacrifice, not going to blow up yourself.
ROSE: Samra isn't the only New Yorker who's offended by the ad. David Vermilion(ph) stopped to snap a picture of it with his Blackberry.
DAVID VERMILION: When you look at words like savage, you wonder whether that kind of language will be permitted if it was directed towards any other Catholic organization, Jewish organization, any other ethnic minority. It's horrible.
ROSE: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg condemned the ad in his weekly radio show last week. So do the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American Islamic Relations. But they all acknowledged Geller's right to free speech. So does Frank Parris(ph), a Cuban-American New Yorker.
FRANK PARRIS: The First Amendment should not be violated selectively. We have the right, I would say, to offend anyone or to be offended by anyone. So freedom has to be unconditional. If we start to set conditions, it's going to be the end of it.
ROSE: The anti-jihad ad already appeared last month on the sides of buses in San Francisco. Pamela Geller filed a lawsuit last week to force the metro system in the Washington, D.C. area to run them in 10 stations there, too.
Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.