AURORA, Illinois – Despite the American Library Association's strong anti-censorship stand, a poem on display at the Aurora Public library caused such an uproar over the weekend that the library took it down Sunday morning.
With the background of a Confederate flag, the poem title "Hijab means jihad," begins with "Every kid should be like my kid, and snatch a hijab." It went on to mock southerners with more anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The poem was satire -the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices – the author George Miller says. He's the chair of Lewis University's Philosophy Department.
"It wasn't meant to be incendiary," Miller told ABC7 News.
That's not how Aurora resident Zee Abdulla saw it, she wrote on the library's Facebook page. She said she drove to the library to see it for herself. There it was, she said.
"This piece, a poor attempt at satire, advocates criminal battery and the continued abuse of Muslim women. I spoke to the library staff about this and while polite, they told me there was nothing they could do," Abdulla wrote.
The library's comment posted Saturday night began to veer away from the American Library Association's (ALA) anti-censorship official position after hearing so many complaints.
"A specific panel in our current art exhibit has been the topic of discussion on social media as well as within the library. The panel features a poem that some have construed as condoning violence against Muslim women," the statement said.
"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. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome at Aurora Public Library, and we will remove the panel before we open for business tomorrow. Thank you for sharing your concerns with us and for the thoughtful discussion that has taken place."
The ALA's website defines censorship as "the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, 'Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it!'
"Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone."
The library's reaction was a surprise to traditional values activists, who throughout the years, have fought to get what they considered offensive sexual materials off the library shelves. Libraries have defended their patrons' rights to access sexual images on taxpayer-funded computer libraries. It wasn't until public indecency incidents were reported that some libraries chose to filter their computers.
All the time, the ALA stood firm against using the "power of the state" to censor library resources.
But Aurora Mayor Richard Irwin found the display so offensive, that he called on the library director to remove it.
"Without question, I understand the importance of freedom of speech and the liberties we are afforded in the United States of America. I proudly served in the United States Army and fought to protect those liberties," Irwin wrote on his Facebook page. "What I will not fight to protect is someone’s right to display whatever he or she chooses to describe as 'art' at the expense of the respect and safety of members of our community.
"The words in this display, which should never have seen the light of day in our city, were offensive, divisive and downright prejudice. 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."