Attending the event last week where Imam Shahin apologized was a powerful experience and, watching his body language and his demeanor, I believe it was a sincere apology. Though I have taken some flack for this in the past week, I accept that his apology is sincere and, while his words were horrible and unfortunate, he will learn from this experience.
He said, “I said things that were hurtful to Jews. This was unacceptable.”
I get that some people believe you can’t say things like that which you don’t mean – but, at the end of the day, I believe people do speak in the emotion of the moment without a clear chance to reflect on the meaning or consequences of those words.
“Is it enough?” Mayor Robb Davis asked. At the time, he said no. And after a week’s passage it becomes even more clear that the answer is no – and in fact, much more needs to happen.
As Rabbi Seth Castleman added, “[A]pologies are only as worthy as the actions that follow.”
That is the fundamental problem – so far.
Yesterday, the Vanguard published the apology from a group calling themselves Davis Muslim Hands. They wrote that “we strongly repudiate the hurtful and inexcusable anti-Semitic words that were delivered July 21 in the sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis. 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.”
They clearly recognized the need for the Muslim community to follow up with a strong statement and that is certainly appreciated. I do not know the membership of this group, although I spoke with Hamza El-Nakhal briefly yesterday and he is the one who sent the statement.
Who are they and for whom do they speak?
The overwhelming sentiment expressed in the community at this point is one of anger and distrust.
Here are a few snippets of thoughts in the community:
- “That is hate speech — not merely ‘hurtful’ speech. Hatred like that can’t be tidied up with a carefully crafted, politically expedient apology. Hatred like that is not the American way.”
- “The imam of the local Muslim congregation, in an extensive sermon, called for the murder of Jews. One would expect such incitement to result in the immediate firing of that cleric, but no, he is still there… He has apologized, hasn’t he? He let his ’emotions get the best of me,’ didn’t he? And what are those emotions? Kill the Jews!”
- “My huge family was murdered in the Holocaust. I found sanctuary in Davis for almost 50 years until Imam Shahin called for the destruction of all Jews everywhere. He apologized for ‘offending’ but not for calling for my ‘destruction,’ and of every Jew I know and every Jew on the planet. He should be prosecuted for incitement to violence and terrorism.”
- “We must demand more — dismissal of the imam and real accountability by the mosque board for its failure to act timely and forcefully. Anything less does not represent the Davis community and stands in the way of real healing.”
We could go into a legal analysis here – but there is no crime that was committed. As we have pointed out in other cases, there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. If you commit an actual crime that is motivated by hatred, then you could be prosecuted for a hate crime enhancement, but in this case, as distasteful as the speech was, it is still protected First Amendment speech.
There is no Penal Code section in California for incitement to violence and terrorism. The closest you come is PC section 404.6 which is inciting a riot. One can be guilty of inciting a riot even where a riot does not actually occur, but it requires that the individual actually and unequivocally urge others to commit violence, and at a time and place under reasonable circumstances such that there was a clear and present and IMMEDIATE danger a riot would occur.
I don’t see it and frankly, even if it did, I don’t think that’s a reasonable solution.
On the other hand, I have heard from people I would consider to be reasonable calling for a firing of the Imam and accountability for the Islamic Center of Davis.
My concern at this point is with the Islamic Center itself. We have what I consider a heartfelt apology from the Imam and a statement of apology from Davis Muslim Hands – but we have not heard much from the Islamic Center of Davis itself.
As one person points out, “Did any of the worshippers attending the July 14 and 21 sermons at the Islamic Center of Davis walk out in protest or publicly denounce the imam’s call for genocide? Not that I’ve read.”
But there are some areas of concern outside of the immediate reaction.
First, the President of the Islamic Center, Amr Zedan, made a statement last week and he focused that statement on disavowing anti-Semitism in general. That’s a good thing, but he did not address the content of the sermon directly nor offer an apology or repudiation.
My more immediate concern was that the immediate reaction of the Islamic Center was to deny the magnitude of the offense. In their statement they write, “It was clear to all those who listened to the entire sermon that Imam Shahin was not calling towards anti-Semitism nor towards violence against any religion.”
And then they blame the messenger, MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), for misinterpretation.
It was not until Hamza El-Nakhal articulated his dismay and shock at the statements that the Davis Islamic community started to accept responsibility. It remains telling that the public statements from members and the board of the Islamic Center of Davis, with the exception of Hamza, have avoided addressing this issue.
It is my understanding that many of the members were in fact angered and embarrassed by the comments by the Imam, but their silence is in my view leaving doubt here. That doubt is coming to the surface in letters as anger. Some of that is inevitable. But it puts people like me – people who believe we should accept the apology and work together as a community to overcome our differences – in a difficult spot.
I am grateful for the letter by the Davis Muslim Hands. It is a good and strong letter. First they “repudiate” the “hurtful and inexcusable anti-Semitic words that were delivered July 21…” They don’t apologize for offending people, they repudiate the words, they acknowledge they were “hurtful,” “inexcusable” and “anti-Semitic.”
That is how you apologize and MEAN IT.
But they actually even go further, saying “when anti-Semitic or other violent words or actions occur, we do not stay silent, but rather speak up and stand for what is right, correct what is wrong, and reach out to each other to heal and strengthen the solid unity of our beloved Davis and its beautiful citizens.”
I think this is where some people are still concerned – the natural reaction was silence by many until Hamza spoke out. This is a very strong statement but there needs to be a similar statement coming from the Islamic Center of Davis itself. Hopefully that is in the plans – but from where I sit, clearly that is needed.
Will that put this to rest? Probably not, but for many reasonable people it will ease concerns.
—David M. Greenwald reporting