On June 25, 1978 Nazis marched in Skokie, Illinois. It wasn’t much of a march only about twenty Aryans showed up in fascist uniforms. In the end they didn’t march; they just milled around for about ten minutes, got in their cars and left. Skokie was the chosen site for these hate mongers due to the fact that one in six Skokie residents was a Holocaust survivor. At the time Skokie had the highest concentration of Holocaust survivors in the United States. Even though Jewish residents of Skokie were outraged by the prospect of Nazis marching in their streets the ACLU accompanied by a number of Jewish attorneys insisted that the hate mongers were legally protected by the American Constitution. America is a nation that protects “free speech,” no matter whether the speech is loving or hateful.
Not so long ago, that is before Roy Feldman became the Executive Director of SEABA, the Burlington Art Hop was frequently used as a venue for anti-Jewish art and hate speech, dollar bills fashioned in the shape of a Jewish star, a Holocaust mural depicting Jews dying in Poland that transforms into a scene of Palestinians dying by the hand of Israelis and guest speakers that were vehemently anti-Zionist. Many in the Jewish community protested, myself included. We asked not for censorship; we simply asked for balance. We handed out leaflets, we challenged the speakers and we approached many of the financial sponsors of the event asking them to reconsider their sponsorship, given the hate, in coming years. It worked!
This past Sunday in Garland, Texas, a community just outside Dallas, Pamela Geller, a self-confessed crusader against global Islamic fundamentalism, organized a Draw Muhammad Cartoon Contest. Knowing Muslims find it religiously offensive to depict their prophet in this manner was Ms. Geller’s primary motivation. So it wasn’t surprising to anyone that two young men, believed to be associated with global terror, arrived to the event in order to kill as many as possible. Fortunately the two were killed by law enforcement before they carried out their plan.
In America Nazis have the right to march, Anti-Semites can display their hideous art and people can hold art contests that prove to be an affront to some people’s religious sensibilities. It doesn’t mean I have to like it and it doesn’t mean I can’t do something about it. However what it does mean is that violence and murder are never reasonable responses to hate. If we were to kill everyone with whom we disagree in the end we would be living all alone.