What is the best way to response to hate and bigotry? One could think of many ways but what’s better than making people laugh? Well, that is exactly what Dean Obeidellah and his colleague Negin Farsad set out to do. It all started when Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of Islam was allowed under the First Amendment right of free speech to take out anti-Islam bus ads in New York City. Geller’s new ad states, “Killing Jews is Worship which draws us close to Allah.” This statement was attributed to Hamas MTV. The quote is accompanied by an image of a man wearing a scarf and continues to state, “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”
Geller and her organization, American Freedom Defense Initiative, had previously taken out hateful anti-Islam ad in major cities, such as New York. “Like the majority of New Yorkers, we were shocked at the posters we saw in our city,” said Obeidallah. The American comedian of Palestinian-Italian descent is also a columnist for The Daily Beast, and the host of SiriusXM’s “The Dean Obeidallah Show,” the first national radio show that looks at the issues of the week from the Muslim-American point of view. Obeidallah added, “And who spends $100,000 to demonize any minority group?! You really, really have to hate a group of people to spend that much money – I would’ve spent the money on much more fun stuff.”
“My thought was, why not post our own ads? Ads that are aren’t hateful, but totally loving, and hopefully hilarious,” Farsad remarked. A former policy advisor to the City of New York, Farsad, an Iranian-American, is now a social justice comedian and TEDFellow who has made four feature films and has written/directed shows for Comedy Central, MTV, BBC, and Nickelodeon.
Obeidellah and Farsad reached out to friends and within 48 hours were able to raise $20,000 to fund their brilliant idea, “Fighting-Bigotry-with-Delightful-Posters Campaign”. This was enough to buy 144 colorfully funny posters which were posted in 140 subway stations in New York City on Tuesday April 28. The duo’s success in receiving support can be attributed to the fact that they already made themselves known as a result of a 2013 road trip movie The Muslims Are Coming! which features a team of Muslim-American comedians as they tour the American South and Southwest performing free stand-up comedy routines.
The posters feature cheeky messages including: “The Ugly Truth About Muslims: They have great frittata recipes,” “Muslims Hate Terrorism! And people who tell you they went to an Ivy League within 10 seconds of meeting them,” and “All Terrorists are Muslim Nutjobs (more accurate).”
Obeidellah and Farsad’s campaign is very timely since Pamela Geller’s ad is not up yet. The New York MTA’s board passed a resolution on Wednesday by a vote of 9-2 to ban all political advertising on subways and buses. Pamela Geller is seeking to overturn this ban. In the meantime 5.5 million New Yorkers will be able to have a laugh while they wait to catch the bus or the train.
“Our hope is that our posters will inspire people to remember why bigotry and hate towards any religion or race is harmful to everyone. There is just no room for this type of fear mongering – especially in a packed subway car during rush hour,” said Obeidallah. “Besides, if you’re gonna stare at posters wouldn’t you rather be laughing? Hate just doesn’t have the same entertainment value!” added Farsad.