Thursday, March 09, 2006

Behind Blue Eyes

In the past few weeks, the Hate Crimes Commission has seen an exodus of almost Biblical proportions. The once little-known state agency has turned up in headlines across the world. A commissioner who likes to call herself Sister Claudette Mohammed is the latest thorn in the Governor's side. With no other qualifications than being Minister of Protocol for the Nation of Islam, she should never have been on it in the first place. In the primary, black voters and Jewish voters and voters of every color and creed will decide how much this means to them. But, this debate will not end until the people of Illinois respect and understand each other.

Sister Claudette Mohammed has done a less than convincing job of distancing herself from the hate-spewing Louis Farrakhan. The new Hate Crimes commissioner said only that she respected those who followed the "true tenets" of a religion and that those who "perceived" anti-Semitism in his comments were being "ridiculous." (See here.) But, the fact that reporters and others called on her to explain her views is not entirely fair. Would a Catholic person be forced to answer to the dictates of the Pope? It is intolerant to assume that every member shares all of Farrakhan's views. Malcolm X once compared the plight of German Jews to that of American blacks, praising the Zionists and calling Israel "something that every race...respects."

Equally shameless is how some have come to her defense. Rev. Willie Barrow, chairwoman of the commission, responded to the five resignations with recrimination. She said that Mohammed should "continue to serve" and that those who resigned should have done more to "bring about agreement." (See here.) Sorry, Rev. Barrow, but from what Mohammed has said, it looks like that ain't gonna happen.

Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Chicago Democrat, joined the chorus by acknowledging that "people are hurt," but saying that some are "using the situation." Exactly, Senator. People like Lou Lang, who offered himself up as a sacrifice to the Governor, before resigning himself, are "using" it. People like Carol Ronen, who can sponsor an amendment to the Human Rights Act, but who is too far in the Governor's hip pocket to stand up in the wake of Farrakhan's comments that "Hollywood Jews" are responsible for "lesbianism" are "using" it But, people who are legitimately offended by the hateful discourse of both sides? No.

No one has this right. Not the three candidates(Oberweis, Gidwitz, and Brady) who said the HCC should be abolished. (Gidwitz called the HCC "dysfunctional" and Brady said Blago's leadership was "pathetic.") Not the commissioners like Howard Kaplan and Lonnie Nasatir who were tripping over themselves to resign. If there's one thing that can be learned from this it is that, despite the Governor's ill intentions, is that hate and misjudgment are terrible things. Ms. Claudette deserves a shot. And that's exactly what we should give her.

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