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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick

HATRED & BOOK BANNING IN DEARBORN

There is no American phenomenon that I find more disheartening than when formerly (or currently!) persecuted and slandered people join the ranks of the persecutors and slanderers. Sadly, as the whole nation looks on, this is what’s been happening in Dearborn.


Early last week, at a meeting of the Dearborn Public Schools Board, hundreds of protestors showed up to demonstrate the availability of certain LGBTQ-positive books in school libraries. Parading around with hateful homophobic signs (including horrifying language that I will not repeat here) a huge crowd disrupted the meeting, chanting “Vote them out!” along with a variety of repulsive smears. Before the meeting even got underway, Police Chief Issa Shahin urged the Board to shut it down. They subsequently moved it to last Thursday in a larger venue. They also banned signs.


At the re-scheduled meeting, both supporters and opponents of the book bans were provided with fixed times to speak. Teachers, school counselors, and LGBTQ individuals and their allies addressed the fear-mongering over these books and how it’s spread to other parts of the school system and the entire community. As reported in the Detroit Free Press, the crowd jeered as opponents of a ban described vandalism to school gay-straight alliance materials and other types of personal and collective abuse they have experienced.


One gay speaker, Dearborn resident Brian Stone, faced a “hail of boos and shouting … as he spoke about the importance of having diverse characters in the books that children read so they can feel accepted. ‘You're not trying to ban a book,’ Stone said. ‘You're trying to ban gay people. That's what this is all about.’”


Unsurprisingly, behind all of this are MAGA activists who showed up or otherwise shared their support for banning the books. Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis got into the act when his spokesman tweeted support for the ban. It seems like just yesterday that these same folks were lending their support to anti-Muslim activists. Yet now, having found a topic with which they can rile up the heavily Muslim Dearborn community, they are no longer warning about a Sharia takeover. All they can see are fellow-travelers and their votes.


The Free Press provided this glimpse at one of the most heart-rending moments of the meeting:


Jackson Wagner, a lifelong resident who is gay, was booed after giving a heartfelt speech about his struggles facing discrimination because of his sexual orientation. He called for unity between gays and Muslims, but the Muslims in the crowd did not appear to agree with him.


“I've lived here my entire life,” he said to the board. “And I'm a gay man. It saddens me to see our community torn asunder, to see friends turn on one another. Diversity has always been Dearborn's strength. Let's never forget that. ... I want everyone here to imagine a time when you felt like everyone around you hated your for who you are. I'm not Muslim, and most of you aren't gay. But all of us know what it is like to be mistreated by people who know little about you. ... The far right in this country despises us all. What I'm asking for is that everyone have compassion and consider the harm you do to the most vulnerable among us when you stigmatize their very existence.”


In an entirely different context, I wrote about this in the "Birmingham Temple Haggadah" (I kept the name). After recounting the history of Jewish suffering throughout the ages, I noted:


Sadly, we do not find that adversity leads inevitably to an elevated ethic of compassion. Sometimes pain creates so much bitterness that those who were once oppressed now become the oppressors. We must make every effort to overcome this tendency.


This has always been my message to members of the Jewish community who fail to learn the lessons of Jewish history. I offer the same advice to American Muslims.


Joining the ranks of the book banners in this country is not a good look for a community that has been mistreated for decades. May saner and more compassionate voices prevail in Dearborn and throughout the nation.

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