Just before Thanksgiving, Lorena Neal, a librarian in Evanston, Illinois, shared the news of a disturbing discovery in the stacks. She wrote, “Last night, the Evanston Public Library hosted another of our regular lectures on topics involving the Middle East, cosponsored with Northwestern University’s Middle East and North African Studies program (MENA). As usual, I selected some books related to the evening’s topic (the Qur’an and Islam in America) for the audience to check out. When I opened one of them, I found this. When the other librarians and I checked the section, we found several others that had also been defaced with swastikas and racial slurs. They were not like this a week ago, when one of the other librarians was showing a Muslim gentleman our collection on this subject. A police report has been filed, and we are reporting the incident to the Southern Poverty Law Center for their database on hate crimes. Evanstonians like to think we are safe in a bubble of tolerance, but none of us can afford to pretend that we are not affected by the hatred that surrounds us now. None of us can afford to sit this out, to hope it goes away, and leaves us untouched. Whatever your politics, if this kind of hatred and intolerance disgusts you, speak out today.”
This incident was just the latest example of a wave of Nazi propaganda spread by Republican supporters of Donald Trump. After Election Day, America’s fears about the association of Trump’s campaign with racist extremists were borne out, as swastikas and racist, antisemitic Nazi slogans began to appear across the United States. In public meetings, Republicans began to shout “Sieg Heil”. Emboldened by Trump’s pick of Steve Bannon, a man who has spent years promoting Nazi ideology, to be the top White House strategist, students began sharing the Nazi salute with each other in the halls of American high schools.
Republican publications are now trying to justify the outbreak of American Nazism within their political party. Frontpage Magazine, for example, accuses the Democratic Party of playing the “Nazi Card”, and claims that having swastikas appear across America really isn’t such a big deal. The horror that American politics could have become so off balance that a standard Democratic complaint about Nazi ideology in the Republican Party could even exist doesn’t seem to have occurred to the publishers of Frontpage. If the Republican Party hadn’t become so extreme as to be consumed by racist, anti-Jewish, xenophobic, totalitarian conspiracy theory, there couldn’t be a “Nazi Card” to play.
One of the messages found by Lorena Neal defaced a book called “Opening the Qur’an”, by Walter H. Wagner. The message declared that the book was, “bullshit hate cover to cover”. The book defacer had drawn a swastika at the end of this statement, like a punctuation mark.
The destruction of books was an infamous obsession in Nazi Germany, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that books have become a target of the American Nazis who have taken over the Republican Party. It remains shocking, nonetheless, that we are living among people who can accuse a book that begins with a statement of tolerance on its opening cover (“My aim here is to engage the Qur’an’s spiritual depths and recognize its impetus to foster a devout interethnic community so as to foster an understanding of Islam and, with Muslims, create equitable social orders”) of hate, and then immediately celebrate the Nazi Party, the organization in all of human history that has become most emblematic of hate.