Comedic ads about Muslim Americans went up in New York City subway stations Monday after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) originally declined to run them, saying they contained political speech.
The ads, designed by Muslim comedians Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, debuted some five months after U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon for the Southern District of New York ruled the MTA could not ban them because they were not “political in nature.” Farsad’s company, Vaguely Qualified Productions, which produced the ads, first sued the MTA last June with the help of Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization, after seeking to purchase space in September 2014 to run a total of six advertisements.
“All we wanted to do was show that Muslims have a hilarious side — to be allowed to tell our own stories and do it through jokes,” Farsad said in a statement. “We worried it would never happen.”
The ads promote a 2013 film Farsad and Obeidallah co-directed called “The Muslims Are Coming!” The film follows a group of Muslim-American comedians as they travel around the United States performing stand-up routines and interacting with locals.
One of the ads, featuring a black background with white block letters, reads, “Those Terrorists Are All Muslim.” Muslim is crossed out, and the word “Nutjobs” is written below in red italic block letters. Under “nutjobs” appears the phrase “(More Accurate)” in smaller white capital letters.
Another reads, “Beware The Muslims Are Coming!” in lettering reminiscent of posters for classic horror films. In smaller print, the ad continues, “And they shall strike with hugs so fierce, you’ll end up calling your grandmother and telling her you love her.”
All of the advertisements include the website “www.themuslimsarecoming.com” at the bottom.
Between 1994 and 2015, the MTA accepted political ads but voted to change its policy April 29, 2015, court documents said. That decision came nine days after U.S. District Judge John Koeltl for the Southern District of New York ruled that the MTA violated the First Amendment by rejecting an ad from the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), according to court documents.
“To suggest, as the MTA’s actions do, that an advertisement for the Republican presidential debate with photographs and quotes from candidates is somehow less ‘political’ than humorous statements about the Muslim population’s dislike of both terrorism and insufficient bagel schmear is, quite clearly, not viewpoint neutral.”
That advertisement, taken out in 2014, featured a photo of a man donning a headscarf with the statement “‘Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah’ — Hamas MTV. That’s His Jihad. What’s Yours?”, according to court documents.
Under its original policy, the MTA refused space for the AFDI ad because it had the potential to incite violence and disrupt transit operations, according to court documents. The MTA’s amended policy, banning advertisements that express political messages, also kept the AFDI advertisement out of the transit system, a decision a federal appeals judge upheld last week.
That same rationale was used in May to block Farsad and Obeidallah’s ads, according to the original complaint.
But McMahon wrote in her Oct. 7, 2015, ruling that the comedians’ ads were commercial and not political in nature. She added that the MTA has also approved other advertisements that she said were similar or far more political.
“To suggest, as the MTA’s actions do, that an advertisement for the Republican presidential debate with photographs and quotes from candidates is somehow less ‘political’ than humorous statements about the Muslim population’s dislike of both terrorism and insufficient bagel schmear is, quite clearly, not viewpoint neutral,” the judge wrote in her opinion.
The MTA said in a statement Monday that it disagreed with McMahon’s ruling but will not appeal the decision.
MTA spokeswoman Marisa Baldeo told NBC News in an email that there will be 144 ads appearing system-wide for four weeks. She could not, however, confirm the number of stations in which the advertisements would appear.
“We’re thrilled that finally our posters will go up and people will start loving Muslims,” Obeidallah said in a statement. “Okay, maybe one poster can't make you actually love Muslims, but perhaps it will be part of the courting process.”