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NYC Subway Ads Fight Hate With Humor

Amid free speech debate, new campaign aims to inspire a fresh image of Muslims

Gabriela Geselowitz
April 29, 2015
(The Muslims Are Coming )
(The Muslims Are Coming )

Did you know that Muslims invented Justin Timberlake?

This may sound far-fetched, but it’s likely not the wildest thing you’ll read this week in the New York City subway, where the decision whether or not to allow ads brandished with political messaging has become a hot topic.

This week the “Fighting-Bigotry-with-Delightful-Posters” campaign, created by comedians Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, will begin popping up at subway stations across the Big Apple. One ad straphangers will see: “The Ugly Truth About Muslims: Muslims have great frittata recipes.”

“Muslims can be funny,” said Farsad, “which is something most people don’t know.”

Farsad and Obeidallah, who co-directed the 2013 documentary The Muslims are Coming, created their campaign in response to anti-Muslim posters slated to hit the underground shortly.

Last week, a judge ruled that these controversial ads, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization co-founded by Pamela Geller, are protected under free speech. One ad shows a man wearing a kefiyah with the text: “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah”—citing “Hamas MTV”—and “That’s His Jihad. What’s Yours?”

“It’s comedic in its own right,” said Obeidallah of Geller’s vitriol. “You almost have to laugh.”

Today, however, the MTA ruled to ban all political subway ads.

But Obeidallah believes his campaign is safe. “Our ads were approved and printed,” he said. “We have been promised—they already starting going up yesterday. Our ads are not political in any way. They are more akin to public service announcements.”

Farsad and Obeidallah first hatched the idea for their campaign in September, when they heard about Geller’s plan. In just two days with nothing but a Paypal button on their website, the duo managed to crowd-source nearly $20,000. With that money, the comedians created their posters centered on spreading rather unusual “facts” about Islam.

“Muslims Hate Terrorism,” another ad begins, while listing several more things Muslims hate, including “people who tell you they went to an Ivy League within 10 seconds of meeting them” and “kale.” After all, American Muslims are often only given voice in the context of decrying terrorism, say the comedians. This is that, but with a twist.

While Geller’s campaign was the impetus to the humorous one, Farsad says that they are combating a larger problem of the image of Muslims in the media.

“99% of the time what we see about Muslims is negative,” she said. “There is absolutely little-to-no counter-narrative. We want your racist uncle to see you with a photo with one of our posters. And maybe he’ll laugh? Is it possible? I think it is possible!”

Gabriela Geselowitz is a writer and the former editor of