A poster was put up near a Somali-owned store in Lewiston, Maine. It says a dog named Mohammed has been lost, and that the dog is not good with children and cannot be trusted. The Somali community in Lewiston is upset (thanks to Weasel Zippers for the heads-up), and now the rest of the community is swinging into action too, against this possible hate crime.
A mildly obnoxious teasing poster is a possible hate crime? Well, remember that Lewiston, Maine is the home of the notorious Ham Steak of Hate: the placement of a bag containing a ham steak on a table in a middle school where a group of Muslim students was sitting was investigated as a hate crime. So if there is any place in the United States where a poster of a dog can get traction as a hate crime, it’s Lewiston.
But the reaction to this poster is really over the top, with Jewish and Christian leaders leading the charge:
“City leaders decry slander,” by Bonnie Washuk in the Sun Journal (thanks to Peggy):
LEWISTON – City and religious leaders gathered Friday to condemn what some are calling an act of hate targeting the Somali community.
On Thursday several copies of an anti-Muslim poster appeared outside a downtown Somali-owned store. The poster showed an angry Rottweiler beneath the words “Lost Dog” and “Mohammed.” It said, “Mohammed is NOT GOOD with people or kids. Do not trust him.” It included a phony phone number.
The posters were affixed to a tree and a utility pole outside the Barwaqo Halal Store at the corner of Chestnut and Lisbon streets. They were discovered by store owner Hussein Ahmed.
The Lewiston Police Department and the Maine Attorney General’s Office are investigating. Police said at the very least the posters are harassment, and could be a hate crime.
Friday’s show of support for Muslims was organized by Rabbi Hillel Katzir of the Temple Shalom of Auburn. Katzir also represents the Lewiston-Auburn Interfaith Clergy.
Officials representing churches, the city, Sisters of Charity Health Care and the Maine People’s Alliance stood in front of Ahmed’s store Friday. They “turned out to say these posters that were left, this kind of hate, this is not us. This is not Lewiston,” Katzir said. “We wanted to be out here to make sure the general public knows that, that we represent the greater Lewiston and not these crazies who do this kind of thing.”
Words can hurt, the rabbi said. “The words on this poster have hurt members of our community. We’re here to offer our support and our healing to them.”
When any religion is attacked, all religions are attacked, Katzir said. He added that Mainers need to understand that their human rights “depend on safeguarding the rights of all Mainers.”
Sister Claire Lepage of Lewiston said she laments the harassment “of our local Muslim community. These are peaceful religious members that have earned our respect.” People need to remember “these people come from war-torn countries. We have a responsibility to welcome them in our city.”
Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert agreed that the “cowardly” posters are not reflective of the community. The incident is being investigated by police and will be prosecuted fully, Gilbert said. “The city supports people of all faiths, of all nationalities.”
Father Michael Seavey of St. Joseph’s and St. Patrick’s churches read a statement from Maine Catholic Bishop Joseph Malone, who said it’s discouraging “to see harassing displays of hatred aimed at peaceful people who are part of our own communities.”…
And in this story, Katzir says:
“Attacking or making fun of any religion,” said Katzir, “is the same as attacking and making fun of all religions. If we don’t stop it here, who’s next? Someboy will be next. That’s guaranteed. We know that from history.”
“Attacking or making fun of any religion is the same as attacking and making fun of all religions.” Really? So where was Katzir when Piss Christ was being defended as art? Where was Katzir when Chris Ofili’s dung-encrusted portrait of the Virgin Mary was being shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Art? Has Katzir written an angry letter to Bill Maher?
The point is that there is a glaring double standard at work here. And I am sure that Katzir and Seavey and the Mayor of Lewiston aren’t even aware of it, and would indignantly deny it. They are so conditioned to seeing Muslims as victims, that when they heard about this poster they jumped into action, and I would expect they did so without considering the larger implications of what they’re doing.
But what are those larger implications? Katzir goes on to say, “If we don’t stop it here, who’s next?” So in other words, if we don’t make it a crime to post an obnoxious poster making fun of Muhammad, next thing you know people will be posting obnoxious posters making fun of Moses and Jesus. This sounds like an ominous “First they came for the Jews, but because I was not a Jew, I said nothing” argument, but it falters for several reasons.
1. People are already poking fun at Judaism and Christianity, in major forums, without consequences. See Maher for the latest of many, many examples. For other examples consult Abe Foxman and Bill Donohue.
2. Katzir seems to be calling for the classification of poking fun at religious figures as a hate crime. This would in practice be primarily aimed at shielding Muslims from such ridicule, since Jews and Christians already put up with it on a more or less daily basis (see #1). But the placing of Muslims and Islam beyond criticism as a semi-protected class would only fuel the resentment that leads to this sort of thing, not calm it.
3. Many, many Muslim spokesmen since 9/11 (and before that also) classify any honest discussion of the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify violence and supremacism as “hateful.” It is therefore likely that if Katzir got his way and ridicule or fun-poking at a religious figure were classified as “hate,” jihadists and their allies would use such laws to stifle any investigation into jihadist motives and goals, and thus put us all at greater risk.