Aurora library apologizes for display criticized as Islamophobic

Aurora Public Library officials apologized Sunday after a poetry exhibit drew harsh criticism that it included an Islamophobic display encouraging violence against Muslim women.

The display featured the poem "Hijab means Jihad" by Lewis University philosophy professor George Miller superimposed over a Confederate flag. The poem, described as satire by Miller and library officials, opens with the line, "Every kid should be like my kid and snatch a hijab," and later reads, "Hijab to me means jihad / So keep that (expletive) out of the country I love."

Library board President John Savage said he had the exhibit removed Sunday.

"On behalf of the Aurora Public Library Board of Directors and staff, I sincerely apologize to the community for the offensive display in the library's exhibit this weekend," he wrote.

Savage said library leaders will conduct an internal review of the "people and process" that allowed the poem to be placed on public display.

"When I read the words in that display, my heart ached," he added. "I was disgusted by the language and saddened by the fact that every person who read it could believe this was condoned by the Aurora Public Library because it was allowed to be on display in our main branch."

The poem was featured in an exhibit of Miller's work titled "Placeholders: Photo-Poems." Miller said Sunday he wrote the poem after he learned that students of his had hijabs pulled off their heads.

"The piece has been taken out of context and misrepresented on social media because people have failed to see that (it) is part of an exhibition of 50 photo-poems that speak to social justice issues," Miller wrote in an email to the Daily Herald. "This is a satirical piece and absolutely not anti-Muslim, but a call to bring awareness to social attitudes and injustices."

Miller notes that a label on the display reads, "Against the backdrop of a Confederate flag, nativism and Islamophobia are spewed in perfect harmony."

The library at first welcomed criticism of the display on its Facebook page Friday night, stating that, "We are pleased that people are talking."

However, on Saturday officials announced they would remove it by the time the library opened Sunday.

"While the intent was satirical according to the poet, we are aware that this is not the message the panel is sending to our community," the announcement reads.

Among those criticizing the library over the display was Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin.

"The words in this display, which should never have seen the light of day in our city, were offensive, divisive and downright prejudice," Irvin wrote in a statement issued Sunday morning. "The display prejudged a group of people under the banner of art and satire. Furthermore, the title alone promoted assault against women underscored by verses which blatantly disrespected an entire faith community. This shouldn't be tolerated anywhere, and it certainly isn't tolerated in Aurora."

Irvin, who asked library leaders to take down the display, said officials' initial response to the firestorm was "careless and disconnected."

"I and countless others were not pleased about this display and the attempt to justify it as satire," he said.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Chicago office, said the library "did the right thing" by removing the poem.

"While the intent may have been satire, the hate poem is presented to the public without any context - intent or otherwise - and is thus indistinguishable from bare-naked incendiary hate speech that promotes violence against women and children," Rehab said in a statement issued Sunday. "This coupled with the fact that in the current environment Muslim women face actual incidents of assault and Muslim kids face regular incidents of bullying, simply for being Muslim."

Aurora Public Library Board President John Savage
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin
  The Aurora Public Library board president apologized Sunday after an exhibit featuring a poem called "Hijab means Jihad" sparked a firestorm of criticism over the weekend. Mark Black/
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