According to its mission statement,the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations “resolves community conflicts, and promotes equality and understanding" throughout the city. Since its establishment in 1951, the PCHR has investigated numerous people and organizations for purportedly discriminatory acts, including the late Joey Vento for posting a sign at his cheesesteak shop advising customers “This is America. When ordering, please speak English;” Philadelphia Magazine for “recklessly endangering” race relations by publishing an article titled “Being White in Philly,” which discussed the racial attitudes of white Philadelphians; SEPTA for “gender identity discrimination,” based on its “policy of requiring that a person’s gender be specified on their TransPass.”
These are but a few examples of the types of matters that historically have been of concern to the PCHR. As you can see, these are hardly the stuff of Nazi marches or Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, but rather deal with possible hurt feelings or sensitivity to perceived prejudice.
Accordingly, whether the PCHR’s investigations of these and similar cases served a useful civic purpose has been a matter of debate.
But now an incident has occurred that affords the PCHR an opportunity to render a vitally important public service.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, last month the Muslim American Society Islamic Center in Philadelphia uploaded to its Facebook page a video of a “Ummah [Community] Day” celebration in which young children wearing Palestinian scarves sang (my emphasis added in bold): “Glorious steeds call us and lead us [to] the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The blood of martyrs protects us… Take us, oh ships … until we reach our shores and crush the treacherous ones … Flow, oh rivers of martyrs!”
In the video, a young girl reads a poem praising martyrs who sacrificed their lives for Palestine and then asks, “Will [Jerusalem] be a hotbed for cowards?”
Another young girl reads, “We will defend [Palestine] with our bodies… We will chop off their heads… We will lead the army of Allah fulfilling His promise, we will subject them to eternal torture.”
The Philadelphia center that uploaded the video is operated by the Muslim American Society, whose website declares that its mission is to “move people to strive for God-consciousness, liberty, justice, and to convey Islam with utmost clarity” and that it seeks “a virtuous and just American society.”
The Muslim American Society has publicly condemned the words used in the video and stated that its “investigation revealed that the [unnamed] school that organized the event … is a separate entity renting space from MAS Philadelphia. The school board informed us that it has taken immediate actions and dismissed the person in charge of the program.
“This was an unintended mistake and an oversight in which the center and the students are remorseful. MAS will conduct an internal investigation to ensure this does not occur again.”
MAS’ explanation raises many questions.
Is its denunciation of the event sincere or is it simply deflecting blame because it got caught in the act of orchestrating a pint-size hate fest? If MAS is telling the truth, what school organized the event and who is on that school’s board? Is this a publicly funded school? Who does it employ, and who got fired? Has it engaged in similar activities in Philadelphia?
How did it come about that MAS rented its facility to such an organization? Are we to believe that MAS had no idea about the alleged renter’s purpose or what type of event was about to take place at the center? Was this a one-time only “unintended mistake” or have other similar activities taken place at the center? What other activities have MAS and the unnamed school sponsored? Are there other affiliated organizations spreading similar hate in Philadelphia?
These and hundreds of related and equally hard questions need to be answered, and the PCHR is certainly authorized to pose them. But will it do so?
The PCHR has announced that it is investigating the incident and working with interfaith groups to improve cooperation and understanding. But the fact remains that this “celebration” was a call for the shedding of Jewish blood, which warrants neither understanding nor sympathy but outright condemnation. And it requires not mediation but an uncompromising, top-to-bottom investigation.
Is the PCHR up to the task? Investigating and holding public hearings about offensive signage at cheesesteak shops and TransPass gender discrimination is one thing. Probing the Muslim American Society at the risk of being accused of anti-Islamic and anti-Arab prejudice is quite another. So, will the PCHR use its full resources without fear or favor to lay bare all the facts and circumstances underlying this despicable event?
In short, does it have the courage to thoroughly investigate those persons in Philadelphia who are teaching children the joys of butchering, decapitating, and torturing Jews?