LA Observed contributor Bruce Feirstein's Diary in this week's New York Observer reports on the odd bits of political street theater that accompanied jack-of-all-trades activist Ted Hayes as he hung Osama bin Laden in effigy outside the big mosque in Culver City.
Last month, a political group called the United American Committee (“Keeping America Safe, and Working for a Better Tomorrow,”) challenged the mosque to issue a fatwa repudiating Osama bin Laden and other terrorists by name. When the mosque refused, the committee decided to press the issue and commemorate 9/11 by hanging bin Laden in effigy outside.
At 4 p.m., there were slightly fewer than 100 protesters from the U.A.C. on the west side of Huron Street (the mosque is located at the corner of Huron and Washington,) carrying American flags and chanting, “Remember 9/11! Remember 9/11!” It was a predominantly white, middle-aged crowd—a few blacks, a couple of Hell’s Angels, a handful of college kids (protesting for women’s rights in Islamic countries) and a smattering of paramilitary types. Occasionally, the chant would change to “No more jihad!” or a communal singing of “God Bless America.”
On the east side of the street, directly in front of the mosque, there were two distinct groups: First, 70 or so racially mixed counter-protesters of both sexes, many of whom identified themselves as being with the International Socialist Organization—in other words, old lefties in spirit if not age. Through a bullhorn, this group taunted the American flag-carriers with counter-chants, alternating between “Racists go home!” and “You are Nazis—can’t you see? Muslims aren’t the enemy!” Their banner du jour declared “U.S./U.K./Israel—The Real Axis of Evil.”
And separated from this group—again, on the mosque side of the street—was a scrum of clergymen, primarily from the United Methodist Church of Southern California, giving interviews to the press.
Curiously, there were no police in sight: not a single cruiser blocking the street, no cops standing around just in case. The only protection (in the loosest sense of the word) seemed to be that both sides had dozens of video cameras and were intent on scanning every face in the crowd for use later on, if need be.
After 20 minutes, a silver-haired minister stepped into the street to confront the protesters. He was wearing a long white robe that revealed a pair of blue jeans sticking out above his sandaled feet. “We need understanding,” he pleaded. “We need to be able to talk to each other.” At which point, a fortysomething man in olive combat boots and a Mossad T-shirt (though not Jewish) got directly in his face: “You’re a dupe!” he said, all but snorting. “Do you think they’d let you preach in Mecca? Tell me: How many churches, how many temples, how many Methodists are there in Saudi Arabia?” Rather than answer directly, the Reverend just repeated himself. “We need to be able to talk to each other.”
Nearby, a spokesman for the mosque, Usman Madha, watched with an unreadable smile. “Osama is a criminal,” he said. “We have absolutely nothing to do with him. We were the first mosque to condemn 9/11 and kicked out a few people who didn’t agree with us.”
At 4:45 p.m., a white U-Haul pick-up truck appeared with an improvised gallows and a Halloween-masked effigy of Mr. bin Laden. Standing in the back was Ted Hayes, a dreadlocked black Republican, an advocate for the homeless and former leftist who now preaches the Bill Cosby gospel of personal responsibility. “My fellow believers in God—Muslims, Christians and Jews—we bring you the terrorist who hijacked Islam,” he said. “Bin Laden betrayed the people—my people, your people. Come join us.”