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Controversial D.C. subway ad prompts 'Post-it note' protest

October 09, 2012|By Richard Simon

WASHINGTON -- A controversial ad in the D.C. subway system has drawn an unusual form of protest: yellow Post-it notes.

The ad, which reads, "In any war between a civilized man and a savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,’’ has been assailed as offensive and inflammatory.

Debbie Polhemus, a public high school teacher, didn’t like it either.

So she struck back by putting up about 100 Post-it notes over one of the ads.  On the notes she wrote messages such as "Choose Tolerance" and "If you see something hateful, say something peaceful."

"I was able to make a statement without defacing the sign,’’ she told the Los Angeles Times. Her response to the ad was reported in the Washington Examiner.

"I didn’t like the message,’’ she told The Times, calling it ugly "to talk about Muslims as savages.’’

"And I especially didn’t like it was in the Metro where thousands of us coexist with each other relatively peacefully every day,’’ she said.  

The ad was put up this week after a federal judge denied the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s request to delay the ad’s display, citing the 1st Amendment. The transit agency had expressed concern about the display so soon after violent protests abroad over an anti-Islamic video, saying the ad "constitutes fighting words in the context of current events.’’

The ad was sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which paid for similar ads in New York and San Francisco.

On Tuesday, a coalition of more than 100 groups, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace, called on the transit agency to place disclaimers by the ads saying that "hate speech" does not reflect the agency’s views and to offer free space for counter ads "focused on promoting understanding and tolerance ... and awareness of the harm caused by Islamophobia and anti-Arab hatred and discrimination.’’ 

Earlier this year, another ad in the Washington subway system – one that told President Obama to "go to hell’’ – generated controversy.

Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) complained that the Obama ad, which was for a movie critical of the Obama-backed healthcare overhaul, was disrespectful of the president and that advertisements on taxpayer-funded facilities should meet the minimum standards of propriety.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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