Sunday Commentary: The Anti-Imam Protest and the Need For Unity

Imam Ammar Shahin

What at first appeared to be a protest organized locally now appears to be a little different.  I wasn’t at the protest on Wednesday evening along 5th Street near the Davis Farmer’s Market.  Instead, a citizen, friendly to the Vanguard, snapped some photos as I was getting home from my vacation.

We were able to track down the organizing email which complained that “no member of the DIC’s board of directors, nor its congregants, have come out asking for his resignation.

“No Christian, Jewish, or Muslim clergy who preaches murder of any minority group should be tolerated. Such speech leads to violence and murder. It simply has no place in a civilized society,” they wrote.

We had received an email claiming the event was organized by a single member of Bet Haverim.  That turned out to be erroneous information.

However, what was interesting were the posts from a Victor Styrsky.  A letter writer fills us in that Mr. Styrsky is not a local resident but rather a full time and professional organizer for a group call CUFI, or Christians United for Israel.

He currently resides in Stockton.  That’s fine, but this is no longer a local reaction that is upset about the Imam’s comments.

As our letter writer indicates, “I believe this protest was not about Peace and Reconciliation in Davis, but about defending Israel at all costs.”

Another resident wrote to me to describe his encounter with the protest or, as some have called, “silent vigil.”

I am told the resident asked why the protesters were there and their response was “to support Israel.”  What struck the resident as odd were the “carefully prepared signs that were printed and kept in special storage bins.”  It appeared to the resident that the protesters were “clearly working with a kit that was set up again and again,” and now at the end of the protest “he is methodically putting the signs in storage to be ready for the next event.”

Not everyone was from out of town.  Someone on our Facebook page posted a photo of themselves holding a clearly handmade sign and saying that they were from Davis.  So it is important not to paint this with a broader brush than need be.

For his part, Mr. Styrsky wrote a comment on the Vanguard last night stating that he did not organize the protest, but acknowledged “I did call some friends who like you ‘were concerned.’”

He writes, “The greatest thing about the response concerning the soon to be fired Imam was from a strong, female Sufi Muslim leader who is demanding he be removed and she has started a petition to be certain it happens.”

It is not clear where this is headed.  The whole situation appeared to be slowly winding down.  But the protest followed an op-ed from a couple of retired professors who pushed back and defended the Israeli defense posturing at the Temple Mount – which incited much of the Imam’s sermon and led to protests that eventually caused even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to back down.

In their op-ed in the local paper they dismissed the Imam’s apology, calling it “a public ‘apology’ of sorts, apparently with the intent of keeping the interfaith relations so valued by Davisites intact.”

They continue that the Imam claims his comments on July 21 were motivated by his anger at Israel’s security actions at the Temple Mount.  Writes Mr. Sokolow and Mr. Rooks, “He urges the public to believe that he was so incensed by the recent placement of metal detectors and security cameras outside three Muslim-access gates to the Mount that he felt compelled to call for the destruction of the Jews.”

Instead they argue, “In fact, Shahin’s claims and those of others ignore reality.”

The reality they cite is in fact their own personal view of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

My reaction here is one of uncertainty.  Following the controversy, there was a well-orchestrated but also heartfelt apology offered by the Imam.  It appeared that the Jewish community in Davis was accepting of that apology even as Facebook posts and letters suggested otherwise.

Now we see a bigger picture creeping into play.  These are all voices of dissension in our community or outside our community, trying to use this unfortunate incident to stir things up.

Instead, we should focus on the positive steps that have emerged.

The words of Davis Muslim Hands resonate, who wrote to “strongly repudiate the hurtful and inexcusable anti-Semitic words that were delivered July 21 in the sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis.”

They write, “Our hearts go out to the Jewish community here and worldwide for the deep pain this sermon has caused you, your family, and your friends.”

And there are the words of Joy Cohan who relayed how Davis Muslim Hands, “disgusted and outraged by the hateful, anti-Semitic words of the Imam’s recent sermons” came to the Shabbat services at Bet Haverim with heartfelt words and gifts that helped to bridge the gulf between the two communities.

There are forces out there that want to divide our community, but there are forces which will not let that happen.  Those are the voices we need to listen to now.

—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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28 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: The Anti-Imam Protest and the Need For Unity”

  1. Victor Styrsky

    David: As I noted when reaching out to you yesterday, I am available to help you in your fact finding for these updates if that is of interest to you and your readers.

    First of all, I don’t live in Stockton and never have.
    Secondly, Anonymous stated that “…he  asked why they were there and their response was “to support Israel.”

    He didn’t talk to me or the three people who came with me and live  twenty minutes away from Davis.

    I was there, as were many others to simply support our Jewish friends and the city of Davis from a dark shadow of hatred that is poisoning the university and now threatening the city.

    Had your anonymous letter writer stood with us in solidarity for the Jewish community of Davis and the world, he would have noticed the overwhelming support we received from the hundreds of cars that passed by during the 3-hours of our protest – including a Davis resident who stopped his car in the middle of traffic, rolled down his window and shouted, “I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING YOU ARE SAYING! THANK YOU – and I am Muslim!”

    The mosque where Imam Shahin preaches is across the street from the university where some of his Muslim UCD student congregants attend classes – when not working with the pro-Hamas SJP campus group. (See 40-seconds on UC Davis video) Your university and many others around the nation have become a hotbed of extremism and we have been fighting against it alongside of our Jewish friends for years.

    40-seconds on UC Davis

    UC San Diego

    The Jewish Voices on Campus – Muslim Student activity across the nation

    You are absolutely correct in your poignant  summary of today’s article:
    “There are forces out there that want to divide our community and but there are forces that will not let that happen.  Those are the voices we need to listen to now.”

    You are obviously unaware of the forces that have been at work dividing your community for years and completely confused as to the voices of your friends – whom we sincerely pray you can hear.

    You don’t know what you don’t know – and I beseech you to listen to the 3 short videos I have attached.

    It is 1939 again – but we will never again be silent when a madman calls for the destruction of the Jewish people.
    Never Again.

  2. Victor Styrsky


    The voice of California Congressman Brad Sherman from outside the Davis community, “trying to use this unfortunate incident to stir things up” according to Mr. Greenwald. 

    From Congressman Sherman’s official web page:
    “It is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere, and at any time to call to annihilate Jews or any other religious or ethnic group.  Imam Shahin’s rhetoric was nothing short of a call for genocide. I call upon the Islamic Center of Davis to terminate the employment of Mr. Ammar Shahin, to declare that he is ineligible for any future employment, and to permanently bar him from attendance at the mosque or at any of its facilities.  I further call upon every organization to permanently bar Mr. Shahin from all of their activities and disassociate itself from the Islamic Center of Davis until it permanently disassociates itself from Mr. Shahin.”

    “In particular, I have contacted the following organizations and urged them to inform me when Mr. Shahin would be barred from participation in their activities and whether the Islamic Center of Davis would be likewise barred until it completely severs its relationship with Mr. Shahin.  The organizations contacted are as follows: the University of California, Davis (the Islamic Center is located across the street from its campus), the Council on American Relations (CAIR), The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), The Islamic Society of North America, The American Muslim Council, and all interfaith organizations in the greater Sacramento area including Celebration of Abraham (A local Yolo County interfaith organization, of which the Islamic Center of Davis is a member).”

    Click Here:

    1. Jerry Waszczuk

      Mr. Styrsky .

      Don’t be naïve or  pretend you   don’t  that Imam got paid for his well crafted sermon to end the support for Islamic Center from the local community and Jews . Who paid him is a biggest problem to find out who was behind his  sermon .  You have resources to find out .



  3. Robin W.

    The letter from Davis Muslim Hands condemns the Imam’s statement and apologizes for the pain the Imam’s words caused.  But, based on the Davis Muslim Hands folks who showed up at Congregation Bet Haverim last week, Davis Muslim Hands is apparently a very small group that contains a number of members who are not even from Davis.

    Where is the apology and the condemnation/repudiation of the Imam’s “sermon” from the Islamic Center of Davis?

    And about that “apology” made by the Imam — He “apologized” that people were hurt.  He never once repudiated his statements calling for the killing of all Jews everywhere.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Where is the apology and the condemnation/repudiation of the Imam’s “sermon” from the Islamic Center of Davis?”

      I think that’s a very legitimate question – one that I continue to ask.

      1. Keith O

        I think that’s a very legitimate question – one that I continue to ask.

        What, from reading this article I got the impression everyone was supposed to move on?

      2. Rodney J

        We need to trust the response of our local synagogue and Rabi.  There was a meeting among all community leaders which included those from our local mosque, synoguge and Christian leaders.  Since then its been very quiet.  We should respect that and it is more than interesting that local Jewish leaders did not organize or even apparantly participate in the protest.  As was written and at least for now “let it be”.

        1. Alan Miller

          “let it be”

          Leaders and groups don’t speak for me or for most of us. Self-appointed spokesholes don’t speak for me.   I couldn’t give a good God damned about crafted apologies, singing Kumbaya, or photo ops.  The words were spoken, there’s no “it” to “let be”.

  4. Keith O

    These are all voices of dissension in our community or outside our community, trying to use this unfortunate incident to stir things up.

    In my opinion what’s unfortunate is the V minimizing any group of people who are standing up against hate speech.  How many times has the V come out over the years saying that people need to speak out against hate?  What’s different this time?

    I think we all know the answer to that.

    The V constantly brings up old racial incidents in Davis like “mowing while black” so could the V be accused of “trying to use this unfortunate incident to stir things up”?

    Maybe the V needs to take it’s own advice: “Instead, we should focus on the positive steps that have emerged.”

      1. Jerry Waszczuk

        I think you would make a lot more money by opening your own church . Your sermons would be  a lot more   interesting that your articles about Islam and Imams in Davis .


  5. Alan Miller


    I went back to reply to a comment from yesterday’s “Letter” “Article” thingy, and it was gone.  Then, I went to the history and used the link, and it was a blank page.  Now, I don’t see it in the article list or in the letters.

    Did it getting taken down for some reason?  I thought it was, like, more important than the other letter, which is why it got status to be listed in the articles list, but the other letter that wasn’t so important is still a letter, but the important one is gone?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Vanguard article simply vanish before, no matter how controversial.

    What happened?

      1. Alan Miller

        Oh, I read your comments BP, same thought I had about it disappearing.  All he said is “I pulled it”, and doesn’t want to reply?  This is all getting really weird.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I had good reason for pulling it, but I can’t get into it. You’re just going to have to trust my judgment – or not trust it. It really doesn’t matter.

  6. Alan Miller

    I’m perplexed about this concern for if the silent protestvigil was locally organized or not.  Who cares?  That someone in our town was calling for the death of all Jews should be heard around the world.  That’s not exactly a local issue.  Who cares if there were people here — helping organize or not — who were from Stockton, Sac, or Davis?  Who cares if they are Jewish or not?

    You may recall the reason the University used to justify the Pepper Spraying is that were “outsiders” in the tents, when in fact before the pepper spraying there were very few.  Demonizing and delegitimizing a protest by calling into question who is organizing it is a tactic as old as the sun.  Be careful falling into that trap.

    1. Keith O

      Alan, you might find this interesting:
      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.

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