Earlier this week, Egyptian-American journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy was arrested for spraypainting one of the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s new “anti-jihad” subway ads, which been widely criticized and denounced as fueling “anti-Muslim sentiment” by the Interfaith Center of New York. Upon Eltahawy’s release from overnight detainment yesterday, her lawyer made a questionable comment. “If the person who did this was named Schwartz and it was a Holocaust-denier poster, they’d get no worse than a summons and a violation,” he said.
The real issue is that if the person was named Schwartz and it was a Holocaust-denier poster, the ads probably wouldn’t have gone up in the first place. But if those Holocaust-denier ads did go up, and Schwartz was caught in the act of spraypainting them, Schwartz would have been detained, just like every other graffiti writer or steet artist that’s been in that situation.
Make no mistake, I think Eltahawy is awesome, and I fully support her right to deface these racist, hateful ads, but if you’re going to go out and spraypaint walls, you have to understand that you’re going to be arrested if you get caught. “As a US citizen I know that nonviolent civil disobedience is one of many ways to fight racism,” Eltahawy tweeted earlier this week. I couldn’t agree more–but with civil disobedience often comes punishment by the state. That’s what makes it disobedience.