Monday Morning Thoughts: The Common Thread between the Davis Imam and Charlottesville

Statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville

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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith O

    David Greenwald wrote:

    One comment however that struck me as wrongheaded was his claim that the protest was largely carried out by outside agitators rather than Woodland residents.
    First, I’m not sure what it matters, there are certainly people from around the region whether they be in Davis, West Sacramento, Winters, or Sacramento who are concerned about what happened.  I do not happen to see a problem with that.
    So why is it different now?

    1. David Greenwald

      It was 8 years ago, the situation was very different (Yolo County Sheriff’s are a countywide office to begin with so having people from Davis, West Sacramento and Winters are people in the jurisdiction), the size of the crowd was huge (the event last week was comparatively very small), etc.

      1. Keith O

        Nic try.  As you wrote:

         I’m not sure what it matters, there are certainly people from around the region whether they be in Davis, West Sacramento, Winters, or Sacramento who are concerned about what happened.  I do not happen to see a problem with that.


        So don’t you think that there are people around the region who are concerned about what happened here in Davis with the Imam’s hate speech?

        1. Keith O

          Another quote from David’s article:

          I do not see what is gained by dismissing the protest.


          So in turn what’s gained by dismissing the protest about the Imam’s speech?

        2. Keith O

          Oh, so are you implying that only protests that you agree with or are advocating for certain causes are allowed to be attended and/or organized by out of towners?

          Can you please supply a list of the accepted causes so out of towners know when they are welcome and their participation will not be dismissed?

        3. David Greenwald

          No, I’m implying that the situations were considerably different.  I don’t have an objection in general to protesting the Imam, however, I think in a lot of ways what transpired moved well beyond that.  Read the op-ed from Al Sokolow, this is no longer about the Imam, this is about Arab-Israeli politics.  Whereas the situation you keep pulling from were protests from an officer-involved shooting, in a lot of ways a local precursor to the national dialogue that has developed since Ferguson.  I just don’t see a parallel here.

  2. Alan Miller

    Find it a stretch to bring these issues together.

    I am much for the movement to remove symbols of the old south.  I can’t imagine the sense of oppression one feels living in such a place and having those symbols around as if that’s the accepted view of history.  The natural progression will be the removal of these statues in more liberal cities and slowly, slowly throughout the rest of the south, though it may take decades with many reruns, getting uglier and uglier as the conflict comes to more conservative cities and towns.

  3. Claire Benoit

    There should be some sort of common sense policy that any tributes to dead people that cause riots and wars amongst the living are to be taken down or else relocated to a privately owned estate of one of their descendants or anyone willing to foot the bill to relocate and house the lump of stone.

    Fact: no one really rolls over in their grave for caring about anything. Dead people don’t move.

    1. Todd Edelman

      That’s a rather odd kind of false equivalency, isn’t it, Claire? Consensus is wonderful, but hopefully any majority victory is orchestrated with fairness and justice. Tous ne seront pas benoîts… there will still be haters, so if this risks a war the statue comes down?

  4. Claire Benoit

    even better: local communities OR perhaps D.C. Should create a museum for controversial history (if one doesn’t already exists); monuments such as these should be shipped to them IF enough money can be raised by public supporters to safely relocate them. People pay to visit the museum. So all those enthusiasts willing to die to look at stone carvings of unattractive old farts that most people hated can pay money to see them. And the revenues raised by such museums would go toward causes that relate to unifying the communities in ways that don’t irritate people by being too one-sided (e.g. Free Kids camps where kids from “both sides” learn about their shared history in a way that inspires empathy and mutual respect) … maybe visitors/members could complete profiles identifying what interests them most etc etc… lots of ways this could benefit people.

  5. Todd Edelman

    David Greenwald wrote:

    Palestinian-Israel conflict


    Palestinian-Israel struggle


    dispute in Israel 

    The nouns paired with adjectives? We’ll leave those aside. Before your interpretations take us for a ride, perhaps you should consult your own style guide.

  6. Claire Benoit

    Thank you Keith 🤗

    Todd; I think people are too attached to these things. I am at least as sentimental as the next person but when you really think about it; people need to be more occupied with the living….
    I’d feel the same about any monument causing this much trouble. Lovers can put their money where their mouths are; move it somewhere… even better if they can be moved somewhere that generates revenue for their respective counties.

  7. Claire Benoit

    Okay one more and then I’ll stop commenting lol

    how cool would it be for these very controversial statues to be moved to their nearest prisons where in addition to creating unique “jobs for inmates”; every year law students/debate teams (etc, etc) held mock trials to prosecute/ parole the represented figure…

    im sure this could also tie into some enrichment program for the inmates as well … tons of creative ways to play with this… it could be a really fun and positive thing… instead of a matter of violent buffoonery

    1. Alan Miller

      how cool would it be for these very controversial statues to be moved to their nearest prisons

      That is hilarious!  Place southern civil war “heroes”‘s statues on trial for war crimes, and put the statues in prison.  Maybe ship a few off to Gitmo.

      1. Howard P

        One statue was ‘lynched’ in NC… from a physics perspective, made sense… longest moment arm… more effective for pulling it off its pedestal… yet ironic…

  8. Jerry Waszczuk

    Something similar  to Virginia
      Left and Right in Russia and Poland
    Tensions Mount and Insults Fly for Russia and Poland Over Memorials
    Russia’s Foreign Ministry made it clear that Russia would go the whole nine yards to inflict maximum damage to Poland’s reputation over the country’s recent “decommunization” law, which aims to dismantle Soviet monuments.
    According to estimates from the Institute of the National Remembrance of Poland, about 230 out of 469 Soviet monuments in the country are going to be demolished within 12 months.


  9. Claire Benoit

    That’s a shame Jerry. It’s happening all over the world really….

    I think “leftists” have the right intention but wrong methods on things like this… erase history? Destroy it? And “far-right” tends to be insensitive and callous in their intentions but accidentally stumble into doing the right thing but insulting so many people in the process that it makes a bigger problem.

    Keep history alive in ways that foster understanding, forgiveness, proper reverence and mindfulness not to repeat its mistakes. And if we can profit financially from doing this it’s a sweet deal.

  10. Claire Benoit

    Some really complicated truths:

    no black (AA) person in America would exist (in America nor anywhere else) were it not for the horrors of slavery…

    African Americans are largely the biological descendants of slave masters whereas most white Americans share no more than their pigmentation and some remaining fringe “privileges” (that don’t necessarily make an individuals life “better”)

    although the benefits are not equally distributed and don’t match the prices paid; everyone existing today has benefitted from slavery 😬. The people we have all come to be (most of us) would be lost in a world that did not profit as it has from slavery.


    this sort of complicated truth eventualizes in some variation from every tragedy. If people focused on understanding this and healing through it, moving on would be easier. A monument could command some reflection but not this deep suffering and insult.

    some faiths hold that good and evil are just extreme ends of a vast spectrum of in-betweens. I think that’s found in the balance.

    You can’t overcome what you don’t understand and you cannot understand what you’ve erased.

  11. Alan Miller

    You can’t overcome what you don’t understand and you cannot understand what you’ve erased.

    This is deep.  No really, it is.  I don’t think history should be erased, but statues in place where the oppressors  put them is celebrating the oppression, so moving them is not erasing.  That is Soviet or Southern.

  12. Alan Miller

    Erasing comments in the Vanguard comments section for no apparent reason (such as the above) is erasing history.  Erasing articles because “trust me, or not” is erasing history.  The Vanguard is erasing history!

  13. Claire Benoit

    Alan, At one point I considered creating a business related to rehabbing people with serious drug addictions. I myself have never touched drugs but in my childhood witnessed them wreak havoc on most people I loved. Because of this I thought my understanding would be enough to make me capable of such an endeavor… then I started researching addiction and recovery; the physiological details of it… These people can die of heart attacks if the drugs their bodies have come to depend on are taken from them cold turkey with zero treatment, monitoring, and often supplemental drugs through which their dependencies can be gently weaned….

    my point (I know I’m terribly long winded😅😜): thats exactly what (mostly well meaning) people are doing by taking these statues down this way. Which is why one idea that makes sense to me is moving them to a public museum of sorts for controversial monuments of AMERICAS HISTORY. But the truth is even moving them is skipping a lot of steps for true and thorough healing that’s overdue in America… it would, however, keep the peace more on both sides while we dig in to the necessary work.

    White Americans of the south feel attacked and slighted in the most. What do you do when your deepest convictions are attacked and someone tries to force feed you THEIR ideologies? I know exactly what I do. Ears plugged and fists up.

    Everyone wants to focus on the obvious victims. But in every tragedy, everyone present is a victim of some kind – even the perpetrator. He/she is a victim of their own shortcomings. People who have the condition that makes it impossible for them to feel pain still suffer the ultimate consequences of violence or meet death…

    When people look down upon generational poverty (especially among black Americans) and denounce them as “lazy leeches of society” or worse; I cringe a little. How can anyone be so unwilling to see the relevance of history and look with compassion. If for nothing else but to find the understanding necessary to change these patterns… this makes sense to a lot of people, true enough.

    But I cringe the same when some too easily denounce all “racists/bigots” as evil, useless, scourges etc etc… i think how can you not see that the paradigm of these people is as much a product of AMERICAN HISTORY as generational poverty for too many blacks is… These people need to be handled with compassion, care, and patience just as much…

    While we are taking down statues, let’s also cut off social services to families of generational poverty. Let’s just throw two of the largest and most vulnerable groups in America; both the primary beneficiaries of our dark history – let’s just throw them in a state of total chaos and expect them to instantly change into their most enlightened and healed version of themselves on their own.. thats a reasonable expectation, right?

    We have to do the work first… better than taking the statues down (or even moving them which I like the idea of for an assortment of reasons) lets work on creating programs in our communities to where both a birthright bigot and a black American can shed a few tears together while looking at these historical figures with proper reverence for OUR PAST…
    Right now we’re lighting a fire to bring the worst of the past back to life. A bad play.

  14. Claire Benoit

    I can tell you from direct experience many times over – it’s not human nature to be consciously hateful. Hatred/bigotry is inherited and conditioned into people and very very often (in every case that I’ve encountered intimately) people let go of it like outdated unwanted luggage at the first opportunity for someone to see their humanity behind their conditioning. When these “bigots” open their hearts, they will fight to the death for their brothers and sisters. I know what I’m saying may rub some the wrong way but it’s true.

    The people are always fighting with each other but all of them are victims of a handful of asses who abused their power by manipulating the dynamics that remain in effect today. (Just my opinion)

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