Reject hate

It’s hard to know what to do when confronted with a hateful message, especially when you’re not the target.

So how do you react to the advertisements placed at all of Greenwich’s train stations and 46 other Metro-North locations? This hateful message — and make no mistake it is hateful, with no intent other than to inflame fear and prejudice — is targeted toward Islam, claiming that close to 20,000 violent acts have been committed by its followers since Sept. 11, 2001. The basis of this number is sketchy at best and the ads serve no purpose except to fuel the delusion behind them that bloodthirsty Muslim terrorists will kill us all in our sleep.

There is not a large Muslim population in Greenwich, but hateful words targeted toward some of us are really targeted toward all of us. And for a community as impacted by the Sept. 11 attacks as Greenwich was, this message of hate is particularly unwelcome.

Behind these ads is right wing blogger Pamela Geller, notorious for her anti-Islam rhetoric as well as her associations with extreme hate groups that have earned her the condemnation of people of all religious and political backgrounds. Of course to her, criticism of her advocacy just means she’s being persecuted for speaking out, but that’s not the case. Condemning her message is condemning hate and says that we, as a community, will always reject hate.

These are ads that should never have been accepted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and our residents are not alone in being outraged. The MTA has pledged to review its policy for accepting ads and that’s something it needs to do without delay.

Of course, Ms. Geller and others like her have the right to free speech, just as we have the right to speak out against her speech. But, just as hate speech is not protected, there is no constitutionally protected right to have your advertisement displayed. When the MTA accepts money from a group like Ms. Geller’s it no longer is about free speech. It’s a business transaction and just as every outlet has standards for what ads can and can’t be run, there need to be standards here that reject cynical incitement.

The MTA would not run an ad condemning all Jews for the acts of the madman who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin or those who seek to deliberately harm Palestinians. Nor would it condemn all Christians for the actions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing or those who would shoot an abortion provider in cold blood or attack a temple of Sikhs at prayer for no reason other than the madness of bigotry.

We do not stand for hateful language and religious intolerance here in Greenwich. We stand up to it. Our local officials cannot tell the MTA what ads can be accepted and, unfortunately, we probably can’t change the mind of Ms. Geller and those who stand with her. But we can make it clear that language like that has no place in our community.

Greenwich prides itself on its diversity and justifiably so. If we allow one religion to be smeared and twisted by bigots, just because it’s not our religion, then we lose an important part of ourselves. America is a country that sometimes struggles against its worst instincts, but good will win the day and we will say no to people who traffic in fear and prey on the insecurities and grief of those in this community.

People in Greenwich lost family members, friends and neighbors in the Sept. 11 attacks. We know people who have put their lives on the line in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we are better than this. We know the acts of madmen do not define an entire group of people.

We may not be able to stop the flow of hate that these ads represent. But we can make sure their message drains away quickly and completely.

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