Comic book heroine Ms. Marvel, also known as Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager Kamala Khan, brought her shape-shifting superpowers into the real world as part of a grassroots response to anti-Islamic ads on San Francisco buses.
Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist anti-Muslim hate group, purchased 50 controversial ads on San Francisco Muni busses equating Islam with Nazism, including one with an image of Haj Amin al-Husseini, a 20th Century Palestinian Muslim leader who opposed Zionism, with Adolf Hitler.
Yuck! American fascists attempt to paint Muslims as Nazis — the latest in the Islamophobic ads on San Francisco MUNI pic.twitter.com/Iov2ajjm2h
Street artists challenged the ads by adding triumphant images of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel alongside new messages including, “Calling all Bigotry Busters,” “Stamp out Racism,” “Free speech isn’t a license to spread hate,” “Islamophobia hurts us all,” and “Racist,” complete with red hearts for punctuation.
Bay Area Art Queers Unleashing Power (BAAQUP) and Street Cred told NBC News that they “took action because Pamela Geller's repeated hate speech campaigns have normalized Islamophobia and verbal violence in the community we love. We appreciate what Marvel has done in introducing Kamala Khan, who gives young Muslims a positive image of themselves and their power.”
G. Willow Wilson, the writer of the Ms. Marvel series, was impressed with the use of her character as part of the response.
Some amazing person has been painting over the anti-Muslim bus ads in SF with Ms. Marvel graffiti. Spread love. https://t.co/U8W2g01O2T
City leaders and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni) have said that despite complaints from the public, they can do nothing to stop the anti-Islamic ads because of freedom of speech issues. In the past, the ad fees have been donated to the Human Rights Commission and Muni has countered with their own Peace Campaign to promote San Francisco values of peace, love, acceptance, and respect.
However, Wilson says that the street art response shows that free speech is working.
To me, the graffiti is part of the back-and-forth of the free speech conversation. Call and response. Argument, counterargument.