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October 3, 2012 3:55 am

Mona Eltahawy Claims Victory for Vandalism

avatar by Petra Marquardt-Bigman

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Mona Eltahawy. Photo: Mona Eltahawy.

Last week, opponents of free speech had a great time in New York City.

During the annual UN General Assembly meeting, some Arab and Muslim leaders, including the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, took advantage of recent Muslim riots against a hyped YouTube clip denigrating Islam’s Prophet Muhammad to revive longstanding efforts to impose a global ban on anything deemed offensive to religion. According to the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), it was now time for the international community to “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression.”

While the representatives of OIC member states took to the UN podium to demand restrictions on freedom of expression, one of the organization’s member states had the great satisfaction to see one of its nationals demonstrating right there in New York that there was always something to offend Islam.

Incensed by an ad in the New York subway that denounced violent jihad as “savage” and called for supporting Israel, the prominent Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy decided to register her objections to the ad. She did so, however, not – as one might have expected – by writing an article explaining her objections and her apparent identification with violent jihadis, but by seeking out one of the ten posted ads and defacing it with spray paint. A brawl ensued when Eltahawy encountered a woman who tried to stop her from defacing the ad, and Eltahawy was arrested and held overnight to face a criminal mischief charge in court on the following day.

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Given that she has a large following on Twitter, it was hardly surprising that, as soon as the news of her arrest spread, her supporters started a campaign with the hashtag #FreeMona. It was then that it first became clear that Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood was pleased with Eltahawy’s actions: Ikhwanweb, which represents the “official opinions of the Muslim Brotherhood,” posted a tweet in support of the #FreeMona campaign.

When Eltahawy was informed about this after her release, she, in turn, seemed pleased enough to retweet it.

A day later, an Egyptian newspaper reported that President Morsi had instructed Egypt’s consul general in New York “to closely follow the case of Egyptian-American journalist and human rights activist Mona Eltahawy.”

Responding on Twitter, Eltahawy ultimately rejected Morsi’s concern, advising the Egyptian president that he had enough challenges at home and that there was no need to worry about her.

But apparently, Eltahawy didn’t bother to ponder the question why Morsi and the Brotherhood had been so eager to show support for her.

After all, she had made a name for herself as a “heroine of the Arab Spring“ by being very open about the physical and sexual abuse she suffered when she was arrested while covering demonstrations in Cairo in November 2011. Half a year later, she caused a heated controversy with a feature essay in Foreign Policy magazine. Under the title “Why Do They Hate Us?,” Eltahawy asserted that there was a “war on women” in the Middle East and that “Arab societies hate women;” she also sharply criticized the views of the Muslim Brotherhood and its spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi on female genital mutilation.

While we can safely assume that the Brotherhood didn’t appreciate that at all, they were of course astute enough to warmly embrace Eltahawy now when she was acting in a way that was obviously very useful for the OIC’s efforts to push for restrictions to free speech.

Indeed, completely absorbed in her own breathless efforts to style herself as a latter-day heroine of the Civil Rights movement – helped along greatly by a truly disproportionate and uncritical media coverage of her “protest” that included an eight-minute segment on CNN International – Eltahawy proudly announced on Twitter that her act of vandalism had been vindicated: “Thanks to all who defaced those racist piece of shit ads: MTA Amends Rules After Pro-Israel Ads Draw Controversy http://nyti.ms/QY0KzG.”

This is of course exactly what Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz foresaw when he was asked by The Algemeiner to assess the revised advertising guidelines announced by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Dershowitz described the change not only as “clearly unconstitutional,” but emphasized that “it incentivizes people to engage in violence. What it says to people, is that if they don’t like ads, just engage in violence and then we’ll take the ads down. It’s very bad policy […] and it’s just plain dumb, because it is going to encourage violence.”

Indeed, Mona Eltahawy has repeatedly emphasized that she was proud of her actions (and, presumably, their success) and that she wouldn’t hesitate to do the same again.

At the same time, she has so far avoided to use her freedom of speech and her many possibilities as a prominent writer to explain why she would take offense when violent jihad is described as savage, and why she is so outraged by Qaradawi’s views on women, but apparently unperturbed by his glorification of genocidal jihad against the Jews.

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  • Janfrans Zuidema

    Wow. Congratulations to the three respondents to AJ. They made my case better than I would have made it.

    Surfing on the web and looking at the comments on the Mona Eltahawy case really gives me hope for humanity. The majority of the people who react seem to understand exactly why Mona’s action was an error. I hope see is willing to learn from her mistake. I understand she recently became American. I suspect & hope she might like to know more about the American way. Otherwise what’s the point of becoming an American?!

    To conclude: “To solve problems, you need to have an open mind. Humanity has loads of problems to solve. It is not the right time to close our mind. Please civil humans, dont let the savages close your mind. Don’t be destuctive, be creative!”

  • AJ

    Being a practising Muslim who strongly opposes “terrorism” and agree with most of Eltahawy’s views, I would gladly answer the last paragraph on this article – which I did foresee the moment I started reading the article.

    To be very brief, the issue can be seen from micro and macro viewpoints. The ad is a complete slander, offensive, demeaning and is no short of bigotry. For one Jihad is not a synonym of terrorism or savageness. As a matter of fact, Jihad in Islam is any form of struggle – specially within oneself. If you are struggling to stop smoking, that’s Jihad. If you are trying to keep off the bar and remain sober, that’s Jihad. If you are defending your own country/land against aggression, that’s Jihad too. The use of the word Jihad as a synonym to terrorism is thus a slander.

    What makes the ad even more offensive is that it uses this to imply the synonymity between Jihad (Islam as it rings in the head of a westerner) and savageness which is no less demeaning. Then, the ad could have stopped at that, but it even went on to show Israel as the other extreme, hence the civilized one. I don’t know if you don’t call that bigotry, what would you call it. For to many around the world, Muslims and non-Muslims, Israel is as guilty of terrorism to human beings as Al Qaida is.

    Now, if your argument is that it is freedom of speech and it should not be restricted, I find it compelling to ask; why does freedom of speech have limits when it comes to Israel or the Holocaust (which I do not deny just in case) and is almost immediately labelled as anti-Semitism? Why does freedom of speech have limits somewhere and seem to ignore that somewhere else? Why is talking about gay people considered homophobia, black people considered racism and women considered sexim but branding 1.2 billion people on this planet as savages and terrorists is free speech?

    Use one standard, and you won’t need to ask the questions.

    (Apologies if the comment offends anyone in anyway. I am only trying to make a point from a different perspective. It is by no means meant to be humiliating, derogatory or offensive to any of the readers.)

    • Charlie in NY

      AJ: I don’t know if it is too late but your thoughtful comment is deserving of a reply. While it is certainly true that the word “jihad” has many meanings ranging from an internal and personal struggle all the way to holy war, I think that in the context of the poster, it is clear that what is meant is violent jihad and not introspection. If there was really any confusion on the issue, I don’t think you can blame the Gellers of the world. Perhaps you might voice your objection to the many terrorist organizations that use the word “jihad” in their name. Again, in context, the ad targets those who attack civilians, behead hostages and the like. I would hope we would all agree that “savage” aptly describes that type of person. Out of curiosity, though, what language would you use to make the same point?
      On your other issue of freedom of speech, lets stick to the US as Europe is a different case with a very different tradition – and different ghosts to combat. Here, there are no laws restricting discussion of the Holocaust and should any state be foolish enough to waste its time on passing one, it would be struck down as unconstitutional. Because there is a premium on fighting speech with more speech (as opposed to spray paint), the facts of the Holocaust are public record and that is why those who still deny its existence are viewed as people detached from reality. So, if you are a neo-Nazi denying the Holocaust, you are probably an anti-semite who denies history. If you are someone who believes that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is true as opposed to a cut-and-paste job for the Czarist Secret Police of a book that claimed a Masonic conspiracy under Napoleon III, then you probably are also an anti-semite. Either way, you are dealing in falsehoods. On the other hand, you are free to “talk about gay people … black people … and women” all you want and not be tagged as a “homophobe” a “racist” or a “sexist” (though I think the term you were looking for is “misogynist.” What will earn you those epithets depends on whether what you say is true or not.

    • AJ, I’ve explained in my previous post: irrespective of the background of the ad’s sponsors (whom I do not endorse), this SPECIFIC ad doesn’t say anything beyond: when jihad means war, it is savage. If you are offended by this, you surely must be even more offended by terror groups like Islamic Jihad, by the Hamas Charter, and by the glorification of genocidal anti-Jewish jihad of Qaradawi, to give just a few examples.
      And that is the problem with Eltahawy’s #ProudSavage response: it implied solidarity with violent jihad — aside from the fact that so far, I have not seen or heard from her any explanation of her views on the kind of jihad espoused in the examples I mentioned. Indeed, I have to assume she has no response, since she has just blocked me on Twitter (– and no, I didn’t flood her with tweets…)

      Moreover, as I’ve argued before, in the wake of 9/11, non-Muslims were admonished to distinguish between jihadist terrorists and the 1.5 billion followers of Islam. Once it becomes “Islamophobic” to denouce jihadist terror, this distinction is gone.

    • Hans

      Sorry AJ but you’re implying there is a dual standard being used where the only duality exists in your head…

      Freedom of speech where it concerns Israel is NOT necessarily antisemitic even if it happens to be critical of Israel… Likewise, just talking about gay people isn’t necessarily considered homophobia and just talking about black people isn’t necessarily considered racism nor is just talking about women necessarily considered sexism…

      Having said that, Holocaust denial, revisionism or whatever else they want to call that filth IS inherently and quite necessarily antisemitic…

      As for 1.2 billion Muslims on this planet, spare me the crying… You know very well that there’s more then one understanding of the word Jihad but where it regards Israel there’s really only one understanding… Which has nothing to do with some “inner struggle”… And yes, for the record, I view those extremist Muslims who seek that violent Jihad (against Israel and anything else) as savages and terrorists… Even while at the same time I realize that not all Muslims share those violent views…

      Did the Buddhists of this world go on a murderous rampage when the Taliban blew up the statues?!… Do the Jews of this world go on a murderous rampage every time some Muslim cleric calls them sons of monkeys and pigs?!…

      The IOC is now trying to get blasphemy recognized as an international crime… The problem there is that Islam itself is insulting of Jews and Christians let alone Buddhists, animists, Hindu’s etc…

      I believe it’s time for many things, among other:

      1) It’s time for the moderate Muslims to make clear that the extremist Islamists do not speak for them…
      2) It’s time for all Muslims to grow shorter toes (so that they aren’t stepped upon as often)…
      3) It’s time for all Muslims to take a long hard look at those positions that some of them take that might be viewed as inherently hypocritical…

    • I’m sure you would tell us that Muhammad when he had 900 unarmed Jews decapitated at Quaraza was demonstrating how tolerant Islam is….Sorry if you revere a sociopath you are a sociopath…

      • Emyr

        Richard Sherman: in the same way that anyone who worships a God who indulges in flooding millions for not conforming to his will would also be a sociopath. The old religions are anachronistic and do not belong in what ought to be a secular world.

        The lady in question could have reacted with words rather than ‘vandalism’ but she’s a very intelligent woman and is an important voice on issues that many women from that part of the world do not have a voice.

    • Janfrans Zuidema

      Why does the Qu’ran (which is the word of Allah) say that billions (of non-muslims) will burn in hell? What kind of standard is that? But now I’m of course acting like a crusader. But the original crusade was about any form of struggle – especially within oneself. If you are struggling to stop smoking, that’s Crusade. If you are trying to get more free drink at the bar, that’s Crusade. If you are defending your own country/land/religion against aggression, that’s Crusade too. The use of the word Crusade as a synonym to terrorism is thus a slander.

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