An Egyptian-American activist was arrested by the NYPD on Tuesday and charged with criminal mischief and graffiti for spray-painting an advertisement in a New York subway station that had been viewed as hateful to Muslims.
Mona Eltahawy, 45, was detained by officers with the New York Police Department and held overnight after her attempts to cover-up an anti-Islamic advert in a Manhattan subway station yielded a minor scuffle with a woman who insisted on shielding the poster with her own body.
On Monday, ten advertisements went up across New York City that were paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), a group spearheaded by Pamela Geller, a 54-year-old activist and author who co-founded the Stop Islamization of America organization and has been chastised by both the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The posters all read "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." Authorities in New York first rejected Geller’s purchasing of ad space, but were forced in court to let her have her way on the basis of freedom of speech protections.
Eltahawy tweeted on Tuesday that she had purchased a can of pink spray paint and followed up by writing, “Fuck Pam Geller and her band of haters.”
“I believe in the right to offend & the right to protest that offense peacefully. And I will call you a racist & bigoted shit as I protest,” she added.
Eltahawy tweeted Tuesday afternoon that it was “pink spray paint time,” then disappeared off Twitter for several hours, only for a post to be published later in the evening acknowledging that she had been charged with a misdemeanor.
Video (YouTube) has since surfaced of the incident, which begins with Eltahawy attempting to cover up Geller’s poster with spray paint until she is quickly approached by a woman holding a camera
“Mona, you think you have a right to do this?” a woman identified as Pamela Hall asks Eltahawy.
"I do actually. I think this is freedom of expression, just as this is freedom of expression,” Eltahawy responds, all the while continuing her attempts to cover-up the poster.
The two women continue to argue, with their altercation pinnacling with Hall hugging the poster with her body, a maneuver that Eltahawy countered by discharging her spray paint can still.
“Defend racism,” Eltahawy tells her. “Put your body between me and racism.”
The incident goes on for several minutes until a NYPD officer approaches Eltahawy and arrests her. Despite asking repeatedly for the cop to explain what crimes she is being charged with, Eltahawy is handcuffed and hauled off without ever being told.
“This is non-violent protest,” Eltahawy says in the clip. “You see this America? This is non-violent protest. This is what happens to non-violent protesters in America in 2012.”
The cops explain that Eltahawy could have injured the woman if the spray-paint ended up in her eye.
Robin Morgan, an Award-winning writer, activist and journalist, tweeted early Tuesday that the NYPD was “very sympathetic” and acknowledges that the city attempted to prevent the posters from being hung, so much so that the case ended up in court.
On a blog maintained by Geller, a post made on Tuesday identified Eltahawy as an “Islamic supremacist journalist” and says her arrest was a result of “assaulting a defender of freedom.”
“This again proves the Islamic supremacists and the Leftist thugs are dedicated to shutting down free speech,” the post reads. “Anti-Israel ads ran all over the country without a murmur of protest; but this pro-Israel ad was hardly up an hour before fascist thugs like Eltahawy went to work to deface it.”
A well known Egyptian-American journalist, Eltahawy has previously reported for both Reuters and the Guardian, and also appeared frequently as a guest on RT. Much of her work has been dedicated to defending minorities’ rights. Now she will have to defend herself in a New York court.
Update: Mona Eltahawy confirmed over Twitter just before 4 p.m. local time in New York that she was released from law enforcement custody.
"I am proud that I spray painted that racist piece of shit poster. It's protected speech and what I did us also protected speech," she tweeted.