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OP-ED | No H8 In My Backyard

by Sarah Darer Littman | Aug 23, 2012 6:28pm
(3) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Civil Liberties, Opinion, Greenwich

One of my more vivid memories of childhood was my first encounter with blatant anti-Semitism. A previously mild-mannered friend came into school and said to me and a friend, “YOU KILLED JESUS!” I still remember the anger and hatred on her face, and the utter and complete confusion I felt after her sudden, inexplicable transformation from friend to accuser.

“But I couldn’t have,” I protested, confused and deeply hurt by her words. “I wasn’t even born then!”

Even at the age of eight, in all my innocence and naiveté, I was trying to combat irrational hatred and bigotry with logic and facts.

Growing up, my father often spoke of the fear he and his parents felt in the thirties because of Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-Semitic radio shows. At a 1938 rally in the Bronx (where Dad grew up) Coughlin, an avid supporter of Mussolini and Hitler, gave a Nazi salute and declared, “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.”

Perhaps it’s because of my family’s history and many more similar experiences that that I reacted so strongly when I drove into station in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich to pick up my niece and saw this billboard:

Sarah Darer Littman

Billboard at the Metro North station in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich

The ads are being paid for by the patriotic sounding American Freedom Defense Initiative, led by Pamela Geller (seen here with House Majority leader Eric Cantor) and Robert Spenser of JihadWatch.org.

Geller, Spenser and the perpetrators of such hate speech are 21st Century versions of Father Coughlin, and their extremist rhetoric has reaped the inevitable violent consequences. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 8 people in the bombing of a government building in Oslo and a further 69 people (mostly teenagers) at a Labor Party youth camp on the island of Utoya, quoted both Geller and Spenser in his 1,500 page manifesto. The Guardian has an interactive web of links to a web of “counter jihadists,” of whom Geller and Spenser are some of the more noted American contributors.

Yet Geller vehemently denies any link between her words and any violence. On July 27, 2011, although she told listeners that “Breivik had no direct contact,” a post from 2007, to which Geller responded sympathetically, is thought to have been from Breivik.

Still, she blames it all on the news media. It has nothing to do with her.

Yet just a few days later, on July 31, 2011, Geller writes:

“The camp was run by the Youth Movement of the Labour Party and used to indoctrinate teens and young adults.

Breivik was targeting the future leaders of the party responsible for flooding Norway with Muslims who refuse to assimilate, who commit major violence against Norwegian natives, including violent gang rapes, with impunity, and who live on the dole . . . all done without the consent of the Norwegians.”

So wait . . . we’re supposed to believe that makes shooting those poor teenagers okay then?

Is it any wonder that both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have listed Stop the Islamization of America, another organization run by Ms. Geller and Mr. Spencer, as a hate group?

Oh, but they’re wrong, Ms. Geller told Ken Borsuk of the Greenwich Post in a recent interview, accusing the Southern Poverty Law Center of being “the real hate group . . . intent on demonizing and destroying legitimate conservative voices by lumping them in with the likes of the KKK.”

Highly debatable. But what about the Anti-Defamation League? The ADL was set up in 1913 “to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.” (ADL Charter)

For most reasonable Jewish supporters of Israel, having the ADL deem your organization as a hate group would give one pause and be a reason to take a good hard look in the mirror. Not the case with zealots like Pamela Geller. The Anti Defamation League “. . . should stop attacking Jews and redirect their barbs at the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people,” she told Mr. Borsuk. Like the jihadist extremists she opposes, Geller’s counter-jihad extremism allows for no self-reflection. It’s people like members of the news media and even spiritual leaders like Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz of Temple Sholom who are wrong, according to Geller, who suggests we “should be more thoughtful and less silly.”

I’m Jewish, but the first words that came to me when I saw Geller’s billboard were those of a Catholic, St. Francis of Assis: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

It wasn’t long after I’d been accused of killing Jesus that my parents took us to visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and I read Anne’s diary for the first of countless times. In 2003, I was fortunate to be a docent for an exhibition called
Anne Frank - A History for Today at Greenwich High School. One of the most important themes we tried to convey to students who came through the exhibition was how important it is not to be a bystander.

After seeing the sign at Cos Cob station, I emailed Peter Tesei, the Greenwich First Selectman, our other two selectmen, Fred Camillo, my state Rep in the 151st, L. Scott Frantz, my state Senator, my Congressman Jim Himes, and all the Cos Cob delegates to our Representative Town Meeting. I filed a complaint with Metro North and with the CT Rail Commuter Council. I also wrote to the President of Metro North and the Commissioner of the CT DOT and copied those letters to my state and federal representatives and senators.

I’m pleased that everyone who has responded thus far has denounced the signs. My one concern was the response I got from state Sen. Frantz, who agreed that there is no room for hate speech in this country. But he followed up with this: “the most intelligent thing you and I can do is not respond to this specific campaign to avoid giving it more visibility than it has to date (absolutely no one else has brought this to my attention, nor have I noticed them at the train station I use in Cos Cob).”

Here’s the thing, Sen. Frantz: while I understand your rationale that ignoring people like Pam Geller denies them the publicity oxygen they crave, silence has been going on for too long in the GOP, and it’s when public figures such as yourself fail to take a public stand against it that it regenerates and becomes even more poisonous like the heads of the Hydra.

What’s more, Geller’s anti-Muslim crusade has been given a platform at CPAC. It’s not often you hear me agreeing with Grover Norquist, but he’s spot on here:

“Sometimes when you hear snide comments about Jews in the ’50s or Muslims today — we’ve been through this. The Republican party chased away the Catholic vote for over a hundred years,” said Grover Norquist, an ACU board member and a tax activist who has tried to bring Muslim voters in to the GOP for more than a decade. “You chase away people politically. The thing about the political effects of bigotry — it can last generations. It’s tough to fix.”

The American Freedom Defense Fund isn’t defending American values at all with these ads. In fact, it is claiming First Amendment protections to contravene the values elaborated by George Washington in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

We must stand up loudly and clearly to those who would stir up hatred, so George Washington’s words remain true: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” Only then are can we consider ourselves patriotic Americans.

EDITOR’S NOTE: CTNewsJunkie will not be publishing any anonymous comments or comments linked to pseudonyms on this story. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so, but include your full name, address, and a verifiable phone number that goes with the address, and we’ll be in touch to verify your identity. Phone numbers and addresses will not be published.

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(3) Comments

posted by: Tessa Marquis | August 26, 2012  9:48am

Excellent piece.
The editors addendum regarding anonymous comments is so sadly indicative of what to expect from our neighborhood bigots.

Peace in the 21st Century is as elusive as it was in the 20th.

posted by: Joe Eversole | August 26, 2012  12:46pm

I am sorry, this article is confusing.  Concern over the very real spread of Islamic sponsored violence is the same as anti-semitism against the jews of the 1930s?  But at what point did the Jewish people wage a campaign of terror in the name of their religion against any one?  When did Rabbinical authority grant automatic absolution and entrance to Heaven upon the killing of oneself and “infidels” with them?  To compare the two is ludicrous.  Not all Muslims are terrorists, nor were all Nazi’s killers of Jews.  Yet if someone was a Nazi out of self preservation, we condemn them for failure to stand up for the Jews.  Why then should the Muslims who fail to speak out against the radical members of their religion not be condemned as well?  Fearing a group that has perpetrated acts of violence repeatedly in the name of their religion isn’t hate, it’s preparedness.

posted by: David Streever | August 27, 2012  6:05am

Joe, your question is at best misleading, and appears to be a clear logical fallacy.

You state two cases and dictate an and/or situation, and over-generalize about members of a religion.

You dictate a situation in which followers of Islam are part of a system that commits generally agreed-upon violence out of a bizarre insanity.

This is not the case, however, and there is no evidence to even suggest that your proposition is correct.

If you want to compare violence done by members of a religion, why not compare Muslims to Americans?

Americans have killed over 1 million people in Afghanistan/Iraq.

We have long-ago killed the original leadership that may or may not have orchestrated any attacks—we have long ago killed anyone who had any real part in the attacks at the organizational level—and we have completely disbanded the organizations.

Yet, we keep finding new people to kill.

Maybe Afghan and Iraqi citizens are rising up to fight us because we’ve invaded their country, killed their children, and decimated villages and towns with remote missiles?

In response to a single terrorist event, we massacred almost 1 million people.

Who is more blood thirsty, more focused on vengeance and murder, than any other group of people on earth?

Not Muslims—Americans.