The Aurora Public Library is facing criticism for displaying and subsequently removing a poem some have labeled as hate speech that condones violence against Muslim women.
The poem, "Hijab Means Jihad," was part of an exhibit called "Placeholders: Photo-Poems" on display at the library starting Friday. Over a background of a Confederate flag, the poem begins "Every kid should be like my kid / And snatch a hijab."
Members of the public quickly denounced the poem as Islamophobic on social media. Poet George Miller, chair of the philosophy department and professor at Lewis University in Romeoville, said the piece was satirical, according to the library.
Miller did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The library posted three Facebook messages addressing the controversy over the course of the weekend.
"There is a lot of discussion about Dr. Miller’s poem titled: 'Hijab Means Jihad,' which is superimposed on a Confederate flag," the library wrote Friday morning. "Some have commented on the satirical nature of the poem…. Others view it as 'hate speech.' We are pleased that people are talking."
But that post did not dispel the backlash. Dozens of people commented on the post, not satisfied by the library’s explanation.
Miller appeared at the library to discuss his exhibit the next day, according to a Facebook post. Hours later, the library made another Facebook post announcing it would remove the poem from the exhibit.
"While the intent was satirical according to the poet, we are aware that this is not the message the panel is sending to our community," the post reads. "We want everyone to feel safe and welcome at Aurora Public Library, and we will remove the panel before we open for business tomorrow."
Library board president John Savage on Sunday wrote an apology on Facebook, saying that once he was aware of the backlash, he made the decision to remove the poem. The library, he said, is committed to inclusivity and providing "a meaningful experience for our patrons."
"When I read the words in that display, my heart ached," Savage wrote. "I was disgusted by the language and saddened by the fact that very person who read it could believe this was condoned by the Aurora Public Library because it was allowed to be on display in our main branch. I am angry that still in 2018 these examples of hate and prejudice are alive and well—and now being shrouded under the banner of 'art.'"
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin wrote in a statement on the official City of Aurora Facebook page that he personally requested that the poem be removed from display. The poem, he wrote, "should never have seen the light of day in our city."
Irvin also criticized the library for its initial post because it "nonchalantly stated" that it was happy with the discussions surrounding the poem.
The Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an Islamic advocacy group, issued a statement criticizing the poem, saying that even if it was satire, there was a lack of context to make that clear.
The library was also flooded with dozens of 1-star reviews on Facebook following the poem controversy. As of Monday afternoon, the rating had sunk to 1.6 stars out of 5.