Good morning, and thank you so very, very much for the privilege of speaking to you in peace today away from the painful expression of bigotry taking place on hallowed ground, just a short distance from here. I am Prof. Brian Levin , director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. I come armed only with a sincere heart guided by the wisdom of others.
Before I commence my own statement on American values, and of solidarity and compassion with our Muslim friends and neighbors, I would like to offer the following words of our beloved advisory board member Trenna Meins, who tragically lost her husband Damian, the devoted father of her two beautiful daughters, to violence and hatred during the horrific terrorist attack that struck our community two years ago.
Our Beloved Citizen Speaks
As Americans we are blessed to live in a representative Democracy with a Constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State. “Sharia Law”, as this group (mis)understands it, is not present nor will it be imposed in the United States.
This rally seems to be a thinly veiled, bizarre excuse to spread religious bigotry and racist propaganda. We do not support this and we are deeply disappointed that this site, which is so important to us, was chosen as the location for this misguided and unfortunate event. As a family, we strongly condemn any acts of hatred or intolerance. One horrific act of hatred has already occurred at the IRC [Inland Regional Center] - there is no need for more. We seek peace, not further divisive acts. We will never support any event or action that is not rooted in compassion and love.
Our Exercise of the First Amendment in Peace
I couldn’t agree with her more.
The Inland Regional Center, just down this very street, is indeed hallowed ground to our city, where 14 people, created in G-d’s image, whose only mission was to help others, were struck down in a cacophony of brutality disguised as faith. As the Koran clearly states in chapter 5, verse 32: “…if any one killed a person, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind…”
For those of us who remain, who love our community, in our own peaceful exercise of our First Amendment rights, it is we who will have the last word. And we will, because our city’s values of religious pluralism are at the foundation of what it means to be an American.
The Wisdom of Our Prior Leaders
One need look no further than the dreams of our nation’s founders. In 1790 George Washington wrote this to the Jewish congregation of the Touro Synagogue in Providence, Rhode Island:
For happily the Government of the United States 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.
Thomas Jefferson, wanted only these three achievements on his tombstone:
HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.
And in the law he so vigorously championed, he wrote:
No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief…
Presidents across the political spectrum have shared this value of religious freedom and pluralism. Six days after 9/11 President Bush counseled:
Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war….Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect….
Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America. That’s not the America I know. That’s not the America I value. I’ve been told that some fear to leave; some don’t want to go shopping for their families; some don’t want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they’re afraid they’ll be intimidated. That should not and that will not stand in America. Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.
His successor, President Barack Obama, who like Jefferson was maligned as a “secret” Muslim said,
But I’m also respectful that people of different faiths can practice their religion, even if they don’t subscribe to the exact same notions that I do, and that they are still good people, and they are my neighbors and they are my friends, and they are alongside us in our battles.
In the days after the terror attack on our community, anti-Muslim hate crime skyrocketed across the nation, but there wasn’t a single one in our city. We came together, rejecting the hateful impulses that poisoned others, and we continue to reject that bigotry today. Last year our Center found that hate crimes rose 14% in our state and 6% nationally, marking the first back to back annual increase in California since 1996, as we have become more polarized.
But there is always a peaceful path, if we have the reflection to follow it. When fires swept many of the nation’s cities on the night of Dr. King’s murder, Indianapolis mourned quietly after Bobby Kennedy’s spontaneous address there. He said:
For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times….
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.
Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.
On behalf of this community that I love so much, thank you for coming in peace and solidarity today. May G-d bless you, our diverse city and those whose we loss we mourn, and the United States of America, now and forever.