Many religions have certain attire associated with them. Nun habits are worn in Roman Catholicism, yarmulkes in the Jewish faith and hijabs are worn within the Muslim faith. For Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, she wears her hijab to visually represent her faith. In an interview for “Through her Eyes” with Zainab Zalbi, Omar explains that she wanted to be a visible Muslim woman in all aspects of society so people could start making positive associations to people who wear hijabs, and people following the Muslim faith overall. She chooses to wear the hijab as a means of showing up for her community. All forms of religious attire hold a lot of significance, and to attack that attire is an attack on all people who identify with that faith.
Bill Leudeke, owner of B&L Jewelers, seems to disagree with these sentiments. B&L Jewelers posted a sign on their front door publicly stating a negative opinion about people who wear the hijab. The photo features Omar wearing the garment, and the text surrounding the photo states, “It’s not a hijab, it’s a diaper for people with sh*t for brains.” This photo not only attacks the politician, but the entirety of people who wear hijabs as well. This attack on an important aspect of their religion cannot go unnoticed or ignored.
We at The New Paltz Oracle condemn B&L Jewelers for posting hateful messages on their storefront. Racism cannot and will not be tolerated in the town of New Paltz, and we urge B&L Jewelers to remove the sign from their door.
Congresswoman Omar (D-MN) is a Somali-American politician and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress in history, along with Rashida Tlaib. Her politics, however, were not the direct target of this racist photo—her Muslim identity was. This, in turn, shows the beliefs B&L Jewelers holds about Muslims as a whole. To share a hateful ideology publicly and comfortably has increased in recent years, where time and again racists feel safe coming out of the woodwork to support and spread racist ideas.
Leudeke is not the only one to blame for the posting of this photo. The staff that allowed this photo to go up and remain on the door means they support its message as well. The photo still has not been taken down, but B&L Jewelers edited the photo to cover the words “sh*t for brains.” Using a local business to promote hate speech is inappropriate and incongruous to the views of the town as a whole.
The owner of B&L Jewelers is an ex-cop of the New Paltz area. His public opinion significantly declined upon posting this meme on his storefront door, but he’s managed to garner plenty of dislike within the community on his own volition outside of this. Accusations against him allegedly destroying people’s cars by gluing signs on their windows for parking in the wrong space have flown at him on social media, in addition to people calling him a racist long before this meme went up.
Yelp user Sarah M. said, “the owner of B&L Jewelers is nasty and damaged my car window by gluing an ‘I will tow your car’ sign to my window.”
The Mid-Hudson Islamic Association estimates there are approximately 5,000 Muslims in the Mid-Hudson area, as measured by the number of people attending mosques in 2010, according to Recordonline.com. In light of recent events targeting Muslims, such as the Christchurch shootings of New Zealand only a little over a month ago, it is now increasingly important to stand with Muslim community members here in the Hudson Valley and promote their safety and security.
Intolerant speech has grown in normalcy since the election of our current president, as he himself promotes hateful, xenophobic speech. On April 12, POTUS shared a highly edited and propagandic film geared toward discrediting Congresswoman Omar, implying she belittled the events of 9/11 when in reality she emphasized the problems of blaming an entire religion for the radical crimes of a few extremists. This is one of numerous examples of Trump denigrating Muslim people, which in turn has allowed xenophobic Americans to follow suit. While the multitude of forms xenophobia takes may seem far away from our town of New Paltz, we must recognize when these comments arise in our own communities.
We at The Oracle will not remain silent in the face of racism or intolerance and we urge members of this community to stand up against intolerance, call out those who promote hate and talk openly and loudly in order to stop it from spreading. This cannot continue to become the new normal.
Free speech stands as a pillar of strength and pride to the American people, and in many cases this freedom is extended to businesses as well as people. The intolerant act of this business is an exhibition of that right, and despite their racist undertones, that right cannot be taken from them. This use of free speech did not incite violence, and does not classify as a hate crime, but it did open eyes to the true feelings of this business and made clear their biases. With that knowledge, we can come together to denounce that behavior and create a better, more inclusive culture for the future. We can stand with our Muslim community members, college students and others to let them know we side with them, and will stand up for them in the face of injustice.