A series of comic posters that aim to combat stereotypes and show Muslims in a positive light debuted in New York City subway stations on Monday. They arrived after months of back-and-forth between New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the production company Vaguely Qualified Productions, which eventually led to a lawsuit.
The ads come courtesy of the filmmakers Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, who directed the 2013 documentary feature, The Muslims Are Coming!
“Facts About Muslims,” one of the posters reads, and includes three statements: “Muslims invented the concept of a hospital”; “Grownup Muslims can do more pushups than baby Muslims”; and “Muslims invented Justin Timberlake.” The bottom of the poster then adds in parentheses that, “Well, the thing about the hospitals is true, the other two might be kinda true.”
Another ad says, “The Ugly Truth About Muslims: Muslims have great frittata recipes,” and another reads: “Beware The Muslims Are Coming!” Then, below, it says, “And they shall strike with hugs so fierce, you'll end up calling your grandmother and telling her you love her.”
Yet another declares that “Muslims hate terrorism!” before adding that they also hate a few other things, such as “people who tell you they went to an Ivy League school within 10 seconds of meeting them,” “when the deli guy doesn’t put enough schmear on the bagel” and “hipsters who wear winter hats in the summer.”
Farsad and Obeidallah’s The Muslims Are Coming! follows Muslim-American comedians across the U.S. as they “combat Islamophobia,” according to the film’s synopsis, which adds: “These Muzzies not only perform standup at each tour stop, but create ridiculous interventions in unsuspecting town squares, like the ol’ classic, ‘Ask a Muslim Booth.’”
The filmmakers initially broached the idea for the funny posters in the fall of 2014 as a response to anti-Muslim ads that appeared in New York’s subway system. “This campaign was born in response to a right-wing activist hate group who spent $100,000 on a series of posters and ads on MTA buses and subways that demonized Muslims,” according to an April press release. The group behind those posters, the release said, had been criticized in the past by the Anti-Defamation League for "consistently vilifying the Islamic faith."
Though the filmmakers don’t explicitly give the name of the group or describe the series of posters in any identifying detail in the press release, Vaguely Qualified’s lawsuit against the MTA specifically mentions the American Freedom Defense Initiative, run by blogger and activist Pamela Geller, and a campaign the group launched in September 2014. Obeidallah, the complaint says, described the Muslims Are Coming! ads as "'the next step' to the feature film," and "as a reaction to AFDI’s advertisements displayed in the MTA system.”
“My thought was, Why not post our own ads? Ads that are aren’t hateful, but totally loving, and hopefully hilarious,” Farsad is quoted as saying in the April release. The filmmakers raised nearly $20,000 online to launch a “Fighting-Bigotry-With-Delightful-Posters Campaign.”
After months of discussion and requested changes to proposed posters, the MTA approved a set of ads, but soon afterward changed course after adopting a new advertising policy that prohibited messages that are “political in nature.” In June 2015, Vaguely Qualified Productions sued the MTA, and a judge ruled in favor of the production company in October.
The film and the plan for the ads came well before the 2016 presidential race began, prior to the attacks in Paris in January and November of 2015 and before December’s deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. But the posters are all the more timely with a belated arrival, following the anti-Muslim rhetoric of candidates like Donald Trump, a fearful climate that has U.S. governors declaring their states would refuse Syrian refugees and a spike in hate crimes against Muslim-Americans and mosques.
“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,” Obeidallah said in the April release.
“Besides, if you’re gonna stare at posters wouldn’t you rather be laughing?” Farsad added. “Hate just doesn’t have the same entertainment value!”