People have asked what difference it makes if the protest last week in Davis against the Imam was locally based or if it was exacerbated by people from outside of the community.
Davis has already gone through a contentious discussion, last August and September, over the Gandhi statue – with many of the Indian community in Davis supporting the statue but a large group of Sikhs from outside of Davis, around the Sacramento region, opposing the placement of the statue in the park.
While the issue of the Palestinian-Israel conflict has often created dissension between the two communities, the faith-based community has enjoyed very strong relations.
It was notable during the apology that Bruce Pomer of the Jewish Community Relations Council said, when he first heard the remarks, “I was so angry.” But the process of working together brought the two communities together.
“We’re allies most of the time,” he said. “And when we got done preparing for this event, we were allies again.”
Amr Zedan, President of the Islamic Center of Davis, said that “we are fortunate to have the Jewish community that has always stood by us, never failed to stand by us at times of need and we only want to see our relationship grow.”
In the letter from Davis Muslim Hands, they noted that “many Jewish and Muslim community leaders actively came together to work behind the scenes to contain and correct the situation, and restore peace and harmony to our precious hometown.”
The work done between the two faith groups to restore their relations is notable but fragile, and could be quickly undone if gasoline is thrown on the fire. There is certainly not universal acceptance, either, from local community members – as evidenced by letters to the editor and the comment section on social media sites.
In the meantime, we have seen where this could go as white nationalists showed up in Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to remove a statue memorializing Robert E. Lee.
The issue had been burning in Charlottesville since at least 2012, and discussing the fate of the 1924 statue was contentious. Last year, the city’s vice mayor led the way to appoint a commission to study the issue.
That commission issued a report later in 2016 which recommended two options: relocation and transformation. The idea would be to include “new accurate historical information.”
In February of 2017, the city council voted to remove the statue from the park and opponents sued, arguing the city had overstepped their legal authority under state law. That case is still in progress.
But of course, just like the issue of the Imam and the Palestinian-Israel struggle, the issue of Confederate monuments and symbols in the South is not just a local issue, but rather a growing issue of contention between those who wish to preserve the southern legacy and liberal and progressive groups arguing that they represent an affront to people of color and “a refusal to reckon with the legacy of slavery and white supremacism in the U.S.”
An Atlantic article over the weekend paints a less romantic picture of many of these statues, which were erected not only as symbols of continued southern defiance but also as a reminder of white supremacy.
In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu removed three monuments to the Confederacy.
“These statues were a part of … terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city,” he explained.
In Kentucky, “the mayor of Lexington responded to Charlottesville by accelerating his efforts to move statues of two Confederate leaders from the courthouse lawn to a public park.”
In many ways it was against this tide that the pushback in Charlottesville hoped to stem.
At the same time, the statue in Charlottesville appears somewhat more benign in its origins: “It was commissioned exactly 100 years ago, a gift to the city from a local philanthropist, to honor his parents with a physical incarnation of Southern ideals.”
However, the Atlantic article notes that “the statue was hardly the only contemporary effort to enshrine and defend these ideals. As it was being commissioned, sculpted, and erected, the second Ku Klux Klan was surging through the country.”
Indeed, “In Charlottesville, the local Klan gave $1,000 to the University of Virginia’s Centennial Endowment Fund in 1921, funds it gratefully received; there was a second Klan chapter for the students on campus.”
This is the part of the history of these statues and monuments that conservatives who argue for respecting history have conveniently ignored.
Adding to that is the fact, “Many of the white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville had little connection to the South.”
Richard Spencer is an alt-right leader who was scheduled to speak on Saturday. Fortune reports he “had organized a previous march protesting the statue’s removal in May. In July, the KKK also held a rally there.”
As Fortune notes, “Spencer, at least, clearly regards the Lee statue less as a symbol of Southern heritage than as a convenient proxy for an explicitly racist agenda. Spencer has said he wanted to make Charlottesville “the center of the universe” for his movement, whose goals include an end to immigration and the establishment of a whites-only ‘ethno-state.’”
Does it matter if locals or outsiders are involved in these protests? I think it does. Just like the community members in Charlottesville are going to be left to pick up the pieces of what happened over the weekend, the residents of Davis are going to need to figure out a path forward.
The comments made by the Imam were unfortunate and detestable. The dispute in Israel will not be resolved locally in Davis. But what matters here is whether the Jewish and Muslim communities can forge together a common path forward, and that is less likely to occur if people are coming in from out of the city to stir things up – just as the path forward in Charlottesville is now made more difficult by what occurred over the weekend.
—David M. Greenwald reporting