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Commissioners Condemn Bigoted E-mail

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday May 15, 2007

A few weeks ago members of the southeast Berkeley community found newspapers and hate-filled flyers on their sidewalks and front porches targeting Jews, blacks, Hispanics and immigrants. 

Last week, members of the Peace and Justice Commission received in their e-mail in boxes another sample of what many are calling “hate speech.” The e-mail links to a five-minute video that condemns Islam as a religion of war and its prophet Mohammad as “some rambling ancient desert nomad with a psychological disorder.”  

The e-mail was not sent by a right-wing fanatical group as the newspaper drop apparently was, but by fellow Peace and Justice Commissioner Jonathan Wornick.  

Wornick told the Planet he didn’t agree with everything on the tape, but sent it to fellow commissioners “in an honest attempt to bring dialogue.” 

Among the tape’s assertions are general statements claiming Muslim misogyny. Specifically it says: “Muslim women in Britain who cover their faces are mentally ill. If God had intended for you to cover your face then in His wisdom He would have provided you with a flap of skin for the purpose.” 

Wornick’s link to the video was prefaced only by the comment, “An interesting commentary from Britain.” (The video commentator is Englishman Pat Condell, an actor.)  

The video “tries to expose intolerance in the [Muslim] world,” Wornick told the Daily Planet, underscoring that he is referring to “the intolerance of radical Islamists who say if you insult Allah, you should have your head cut off.” 

Underscoring that he has “no problem with the Muslim faith,” Wornick went on to say that the real issue for him is how “radical Islamists” are against women and gay people, “threatening the real values this country stands for.”  

Wornick said that the point he was trying to make is that the commission spends so much time vilifying the Bush administration that commissioners are “blinding people to the real threat of radical Islam in the real world.” 

Fellow commissioners, however, told the Planet that this video isn’t the way to open the door to dialogue. 

“It was stunning,” commented Commissioner Michael Sherman, noting the “stereotyping and bigotry of the tone and the language” of the tape. “It comes from so far out in right field,” he said. 

When he was told that that Wornick said his point was not to attack Islam in general, but only “radical Islam,” Sherman responded that the term is used in many ways and hard to define. The al Qaeda vision of Islam is shared among very few Muslims, Sherman said.  

Khalil Bendib, Berkeley resident, cartoonist and Middle East commentator for KPFA, further described radical Islam as a “grab bag.” In fundamentalist Islam, there are many schools of thought, he said. Only a few on the fringe justify violence by the religion. 

It would also be a mistake to identify Christianity by its worst representatives, such as the Inquisition or the genocide of native peoples in Latin America, Bendib said, adding that distributing such a video does not promote dialogue. Rather, “it fans the flames of hatred,” he said. 

Sherman said he did not understand why someone who consistently votes against proposals to promote peace is sitting on the commission, and Commissioner Mark MacDonald said he thought Wornick “crossed the line on this one” and should resign.  

Wornick was appointed to the commission by Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who, when reached by the Planet, said he had not seen the video. However, he defended his appointee, saying, “There should be diversity on the commission. Jonathan brings a viewpoint different from the other commissioners.”  

Wozniak added that Wornick’s e-mail message should not turn into an issue about whether he should sit on the commission, and noted that at least one commissioner who had publicly insulted fellow commissioners in the past was allowed to maintain her commission seat. 

Further, he said he had just returned from a trip to Indonesia where he visited a number of mosques and found them very beautiful. He said he had traveled with a Muslim woman who is a friend.  

“I don’t condone people making statements disparaging any religion,” he said, adding that he intends to watch the video. 

MacDonald had responded to Wornick on the commission e-mail list, and along with other commissioners was asked by Peace and Justice Chair Steve Freedkin not to respond, because if a majority of the commissioners took part in the discussion, it would constitute a violation of open meeting laws. 

Commissioner Elliot Cohen, who called the tape “insulting, degenerating and racist,” said that the proper place for such a discussion would be to agenda it at the commission level, where commissioners could question Wornick on his intention in presenting this.  

“People should not be allowed to spew racist propaganda” without others being able to respond, Cohen said. “It’s not about free speech—it’s hate speech.” 

Directing her comments to the content of the video and its claims that Islam is a religion of war, Lily Haskell, program director at San Francisco’s Arab Resource and Organizing Center, said “there is no legitimate claim that Islam is not a religion of peace.” 

Bendib addressed the accusations of sexism in the tape. “He makes it sound like it’s the norm,” he said. “He makes it sound like it’s prescribed in the Holy Book.”  

And Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Planet there are many such tapes available on the web. “Some are even more hate-filled,” he said, adding, “The significance is that someone on the Peace and Justice Commission would distribute it.”  

He added, however, that individuals are within their rights to circulate such material. “I value the First Amendment,” he said.  

Were there a similar attack on Jews or African Americans, Hooper said he thought there would be a greater outcry. “We’ve grown to accept anti-Muslim bigotry in our society,” he said. 

Education and personal contact between Muslims and non-Muslims will help to break down such stereotypes, Hooper added. 


The video can be viewed at 


or on YouTube at


CAIR’s website with educational materials on Islam is at