Prominent Egyptian-American journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy, author of FP’s May/June cover story, was arrested on Tuesday in New York City and jailed overnight following a scuffle over American Freedom Defense Initiative leader Pamela Geller’s anti-Islam subway ads. In a video shot by the New York Post, Eltahawy is seen defacing one of the ads with a can of pink spray paint, until Pamela Hall, a supporter of Geller’s initiative, throws herself into the line of fire.
"Mona, do you have the right to do this?" Hall yells.
"I think this is freedom of expression," Eltahawy counters before letting loose with her brightly colored weapon of choice.
Things continue in this vein until NYPD officers intervene and promptly handcuff an indignant Eltahawy, who is clad in a coat almost the same shade as her paint.
"This is what happens when you nonviolently protest in America!" she shouts to the gathering crowd.
Eltahawy was later charged with criminal mischief, making graffiti, and possession of a graffiti instrument, all misdemeanors.
Geller’s ads, which read "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man" and conclude with "Support Israel. Defeat Jihad," have been the cause of a legal and political firestorm in recent weeks. In late August, a federal court ruled that the Metropolitan Transit Authority couldn’t prevent the ads from being posted. This order was unaffected by the spate of violent anti-American protests over the anti-Islam film "The Innocence of Muslims" currently taking place across the globe.
"Our hands are tied," Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority, told the New York Times. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the decision on Sept. 21, saying that Americans often have to tolerate things they find offensive because of the First Amendment.
Geller later blogged her version of the pink spray paint spat, calling Eltahawy a "thug" and correctly predicting that "This criminal behavior and fascism will be lauded in Leftist circles." The flurry of celebratory tweets from Eltahawy’s many Twitter followers following her arrest would seem to confirm Geller’s fears.
Today, only the squat silhouette of a woman outlined in pink serves as a reminder of the confrontation, but Eltahawy’s arrest has become something of a social media legend, inspiring the hashtags #freemona and #proudsavage as well as an online parody.
"As an US citizen I know that non-violent civil disobedience is one of many ways to fight racism," Eltahawy later tweeted.
If only Gandhi had thought of acquiring a can of pink spray paint.