Khuram Hussain, assistant professor of education at HWS, was featured recently in an article about a sign outside a Harley-Davidson dealership that he says had “religiously-bigoted implications.”
According to the article, the sign was a message to President Obama in response to the President’s recent “comments to a French television reporter in advance of his Middle East trip that, ‘if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. … And so there’s got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.'”
The sign, which Hussain notes is a jumbo electronic scrolling banner that can be seen for great distances from both approaches, apparently seeks to contradict the President’s assertion that the U.S. is largely Muslim and in turn says he is “not Christian.”
Hussain contacted a number of people in an attempt to have the message removed. This includes, according to the article, the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce, the owner of the dealership and the national Harley-Davidson organization.
Hussain has since learned that a number of other people also called or wrote to Harley-Davidson on the subject.
“The concern that I have is that religion is being used disparagingly. It’s fine to criticize the president – it’s our right and it’s the right of the ownership – but I think that disparaging remarks about any religion in order to make any political point is inappropriate and bound to offend,” he says.
A subsequent article noted the national organization was “aggressively pursuing the removal” of the message as it conflicted with the company’s brand and diversity of its customers. Company attorneys gave the dealership a deadline for removal of the message, and the franchise removed the message at exactly the deadline.
The full text of the original article appears below.
Watertown Daily Times
Harley dealership sign strikes up controversy
Joanna Richards • Times Staff Writer • June 10, 2009
ADAMS CENTER – A political sign at the Iron Block Harley-Davidson dealership is drawing controversy after a college professor lodged complaints with Harley-Davidson and the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce over what he called a message with “religiously bigoted implications.”
In his e-mail to the chamber Saturday, Khuram Hussain, Syracuse, said he took offense to a message he saw scrolling across the dealership’s digital sign Friday evening, reading, “Obama is Not a Christian! He is a Muslim!!!”
“I spent my childhood in the north country and have deep roots and fond memories here and own property in Watertown,” Mr. Hussain wrote, “yet I felt unwelcome after reading that banner.” He asked that the chamber intervene with the dealership to have the message removed.
Chamber President and CEO Karen K. Delmonico declined comment, but board Chairman Paul F. Barton said Ms. Delmonico had forwarded Mr. Hussain’s message to other board members requesting feedback.
“I think where we’re at is, we’re not gonna take any action at this point on it,” Mr. Barton said.
“I didn’t even render any opinion one way or the other,” he added. “Karen sent back an e-mail that based on feedback she’s received, she’s going to hold for now. I don’t know what that feedback was.”
Mr. Hussain said Tuesday he also had contacted the national Harley-Davidson company over the sign.
“I don’t want a 10-year-old Muslim kid driving up 81 to see that sign and feel any less American than someone of a different creed,” he said.
On Tuesday, the sign displayed a somewhat different message than the one Mr. Hussain said he saw. It read: “Obama are you kidding? We’re not Muslim. You are not Christian!!”
The message seemingly referred to President Barack Obama’s comment to a French television reporter in advance of his Middle East trip that, “if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. … And so there’s got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.”
Erik J. Dunk, the motorcycle dealership’s owner, said Tuesday that the message had not changed. And, he said, he meant no insult to Muslims by the one displayed Tuesday – although he called Mr. Hussain a “typical weenie liberal” for taking offense. Mr. Hussain is Muslim.
Mr. Dunk said the message was simply one in a string of slogans he has posted on the electronic sign visible by motorists along Interstate 81 that are critical of President Obama, such as “Impeach the dictator,” “Prove that you’re American. Show us your birth certificate,” and a message to the effect that “government does not own private industry.”
“Since November, I’ve probably had a total of six to seven negative phone calls,” he said. “The support, I think, far outweighs the negative.”
He said he received only one complaint about this particular message, via an anonymous telephone caller over the weekend, and that there has been a “tremendous amount more support on this sign than the other ones.”
As for the charge that his sign is an example of religious bigotry, Mr. Dunk said, “There’s nothing derogatory about Muslims.”
Mr. Hussain, an assistant professor of education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, said he called Mr. Dunk over the weekend and called his effort to discuss the matter “unsuccessful.”
Even so, he said, “I don’t think that he’s a person of ill intent. This very well may be an unintentional act of prejudice, so I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. But it simply is not north country or American or even Harley-Davidson to denigrate any religion.”
“The concern that I have is that religion is being used disparagingly. It’s fine to criticize the president – it’s our right and it’s the right of the ownership – but I think that disparaging remarks about any religion in order to make any political point is inappropriate and bound to offend.”
Mr. Hussain said he believed the message displayed Tuesday and the one he saw over the weekend were different, but that his complaint is essentially the same in either case. Regarding the “We’re not Muslim. You are not Christian” message, he said, “Am I in the ‘we’? Are Jewish Americans in the ‘we’? Are there non-Christians in the ‘we’? I feel like I belong here too. We need to talk about this as a conversation – who is the ‘we’?”
Mr. Hussain said he believes Harley-Davidson is “a great company. They still make bikes here – it’s American-made products. That’s all the more reason to try to talk about this. They truly do represent the dignity of the individual, regardless of race or religion or anything else. This is an all-American company for all Americans.”
Mr. Hussain declined to comment further on his discussion with the national motorcycle company.
“I want to respect Harley-Davidson’s process with this incident,” he said. “I do have a very good feeling that this is going to have a positive conclusion.”