At the end of July, following a tumultuous week, Imam Shahin had a chance to put this all behind him. He issued what I still believe was a very heartfelt apology. Maybe it wasn’t perfect and it could have gone further.
However, he had support from the leadership of the Jewish community, the progressive faith community, and he had Mayor Robb Davis, Councilmember Lucas Frerichs, Supervisor Don Saylor and others on his side.
At the same time, as I have pointed out, Robb Davis warned that an apology was not enough and Rabbi Seth Castleman, even as he accepted the apology, warned him that the apology was only as good as the actions that followed.
There are those critics who will argue that the Imam’s apology was not a repudiation of his comments and therefore not a sincere apology. Most of them were not there at the press conference to see the man’s body language.
In my view, however, the big problem here is that the Imam’s public actions stopped there and he did not take the next step. Neither did the Islamic Center of Davis. Had the ICD, in the days or even weeks that followed, issued a statement declaring that the views expressed in the sermon do not reflect the views of the Islamic Center, and repudiating the words, we would probably not be where we are today.
Instead, I can say after watching the comments from Tuesday night and the perhaps two dozen people who spoke – there is a problem and it is a problem that has been allowed to fester due to lack of leadership.
After having a few conversations on Tuesday and Wednesday about this, I am concerned that there is a leadership void at the top of the Islamic Center of Davis and that void is contributing to this problem.
Critics following the public comment demonstration are correct to point out several things. First, there is clearly a divide in the local Jewish community itself. At the press conference you saw Rabbi Seth Castleman take the lead. Rabbi Greg Wolfe from Bet Haverim is a strong supporter of the interfaith community – you did not see any one from that wing of the Jewish community come out on Tuesday night.
That is important to understand, because there is clearly a divide within the community itself.
Second, I have been criticized for pointing this out before, but, while there was a contingent of longtime local residents who attended and spoke, a large number of the speakers were actually from outside of the area (I’ll return to this point shortly).
Third, while there were clearly some legitimate concerns aired about the content of the speech, there was a complaint about Islamophobia. Jonathan Zachariou made the argument that the Imam “knows the Quran. He knows what he’s talking about. So when he expresses the things he expressed, he’s talking about what the Quran is talking about. He did not make a mistake in his message. His message is true.”
Matthew Finklestein in his rant kept yelling about Jihadism and Wahhabism.
Last night was more of a mix of folks, but clearly there were more radical and militant pro-Israeli Jews and people representing that part of the spectrum.
On the other hand, you had a representative from the well-respected Simon Wiesenthal Center and Professor Emeritus Alex Groth.
Probably the most unfortunate moment was when Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee, in his first meeting chairing the council, ended up cutting off the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor rather than giving him an extra minute or two. I’m sure the mayor pro tem feels badly about that decision and he probably would reconsider if he could. As a speaker later pointed, we don’t have a lot of people left who can personally attest to the Holocaust. The day is coming when the last survivor will be no more.
The bottom line here is that it is easy for me to dismiss the rants of Matthew Finklestein, and David Kadosh from the Zionist Organization of America – I have a lot more trouble dismissing a Rabbi from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Professor Groth.
While it is very clear that the Jewish community itself is divided and that Tuesday represented only one side of the room, that voice should not be dismissed.
There is legitimate blame here that must be owned by the Islamic community. The comments made by the Imam were not merely offensive, they were, as one put it, dangerous and destructive.
I do believe that the Imam was sincere in his apology. I do understand from several sources that he has continued to try to work behind the scenes to rectify things. I am told that on Tuesday he met with the Board of Rabbis in Sacramento to do that very thing – however, what he has not done is make public statements following the apology.
If we go back to the press conference in July, we see that both Mayor Robb Davis and Rabbi Seth Castleman laid out what he needed to do.
“Today, we’re going to hear an apology,” Robb Davis said. “But this is not about today, this about a long journey within our city to make today possible. This about people telling truth to the Imam about the truth about his words. Those people are from the Islamic community and those people are from the Jewish community.”
“The question has to be, ‘is it enough?’” he continued. “The answer must surely be no, it is not enough. The hurts are deep. Words were spoken that are harmful and hurtful. One statement cannot be enough.”
Seth Castleman stated at the time, “I deeply appreciate and accept your words of apology.” But the Rabbi added, “As you know as well as I, apologies are only as worthy as the actions that follow. So I call upon you, I implore you to follow up those words with actions.”
Where I fault the Islamic Center and the Imam is that those words were not heeded.
The hurts are deep. The words spoken were harmful and hurtful. And one statement cannot be enough.
What the Imam needed to do was make follow-up statements to make it clear that he was not just sorry for hurting people, but rather that he did not mean what he said. And the Islamic Center needed to make it clear that the words spoken do not reflect the values and views of the Islamic Center of Davis and do not reflect the values and views of the Davis Islamic community.
Davis Muslim Hands, a long-standing and separate group, said that. They said “we strongly repudiate the hurtful and inexcusable anti-Semitic words that were delivered July 21 in the sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis.”
The leadership at the Islamic Center of Davis needed to do more and, by failing to do that, they have allowed this issue to continue to fester and if anything gain steam.
Is it too late now to fix this? I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s ever too late to do the right thing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting