“Bruised and ashamed” after Islamophobic display, Aurora Public Library board vows to “do better”
Days after a poetry exhibit drew harsh criticism that it included an Islamophobic display encouraging violence against Muslim women, Aurora Public Library officials have vowed to “do better” and change how exhibits are vetted.
The controversial exhibit, which was on display from April 2 through Saturday, 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, 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 at Wednesday night's board meeting that he ordered the exhibit removed before the library opened on Sunday.
“When I read the poem in question, the first thing that came to my mind was that this was a encouragement of an act of violence toward women and toward a religion. And it really disturbed me that that type of language was in our library. It was hateful. I heard descriptions that it was satire and I don't buy that,” Savage said as he opened the board meeting. “All of us here are bruised and ashamed of how this happened. We can look back but unfortunately the damage is done. How do we improve moving forward?”
Executive Director Daisy Porter-Reynolds also offered her apologies that the exhibit was displayed “on (her) watch.”
She said, moving forward, all exhibits will be approved by a panel consisting of herself and at least one other staff member. Up until this point, exhibits were approved by a single person.
“That person saw the poem in context and heard the artist's explanation and decided to give it the go-ahead, not realizing how in appeared on the face,” Porter-Reynolds said. “That person had good intentions and that person made a mistake.”
She said the library staff will also undergo pre-scheduled diversity training in the coming months.
Dr. Gina Santori, whose foundation donated $3 million to the library, and whose name is on the library, said she is “Sick over this” and also offered her apologies.
“Someone slipped. Someone made a careless error,” Santori said, fighting back tears. “Please accept my apology and know that we will do better.”
Members of Metro IAF rose in support of Aliya Husain, the civic engagement committees chair of The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago as she offered the organizations' pledge to work together with the library to avoid issues like this in the future.
“I'd like to express my gratitude for the removal and condemnation of the satirical poem,” Husain said. “Even though it is stated that the poet's intent was satirical, we believes such art, which included an image of a confederate flag, the reference to scalping and the demonization of the hijab promoted intolerance and incited violence, particularly since no context was provided as to what the intent of the poet was.”
Miller has maintained that the piece has been taken out of context and misrepresented.
“This is a satirical piece and absolutely not anti-Muslim, but a call to bring awareness to social attitudes and injustices,” Miller wrote in a previous email to the Daily Herald.
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.