By Eboo Patel and Samantha Kirby.
This week, lauded Christian Dior designer John Galliano was fired for anti-Semitic comments he uttered in a private conversation in a Parisian bar. He addressed those at his table with things like: “I love Hitler” ”People like you would be dead” and “Your mothers, your forefathers” would all be ”gassed.”
John Galliano is gone. Christian Dior wasted no time in firing him – it doesn’t matter how talented someone is, it doesn’t neutralize their prejudice.
On February 13, a Southern California branch of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) held a relief dinner to raise money for women’s shelters, homelessness and hunger relief. On the night of the dinner, community members had to walk through a mob of agitated protesters to enter the mosque.
Picture a young girl in a pink headscarf walking hand in hand with her parents, a community gathering to raise money for charity, wide-eyed teens going to a dinner to run around with their friends. Imagine how they felt being bombarded with comments like, “Muhammad was a child molester. Muhammad was a pervert.” “Why don’t you go beat up your wife – it’s what you do every night?” “Get out of here. Go home.”
Galliano was drunk. The only fluid we know for sure that motivated the protesters in Yorba Linda was hate.
The leadership at Christian Dior knew that hate speech about the Holocaust cuts to the deepest level of anti-Semitism. They did what we expect leaders to do in this case – they acted responsibly and put a stop to it.
What is deeply disturbing about the protests in Yorba Linda is that elected community leaders egged on the hate and elevated the rhetoric to a whole new level of violence.
In the words of Villa Park City Councilwoman Deborah Pauly, “I know quite a few Marines who will be very happy to send these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise.” Pauly’s words all but negate one protester’s defense that “This is not about hate. We are not hate mongers.”
But if the idea that the protest was not about hate is laughable, the idea that the protest was American is disgraceful. Congressman Gary Miller applauded the protest: “That’s the reason I’m here today to give you a flag. I’m proud of you and what you’re doing.” The only thing equal to the sadness of watching these children be derided at a fundraiser for a women’s shelter is seeing the American flag be used as a weapon of scorn.
The bottom line is that Galliano lost more than his cool that night in Paris – he lost his job and his reputation. He’s now being put on trial for racial hatred, and has since apologized and promised to seek help.
America, too, lost something that night in Yorba Linda. The forces of prejudice were louder than the forces of pluralism. Our values were twisted, our flag was misused.
But here’s the glimmer of hope: now that we know what the stakes are, let’s make sure we don’t lose the next night.