Muslims, Jews petition to remove statue of St. Louis’ crusader namesake

St. Louis is named after King Louis IX, the only French King to be canonized by the Catholic Church, who is considered by the church to be a model Christian monarch.

Statue of King Louis IX in St. Louis, Missouri. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Statue of King Louis IX in St. Louis, Missouri.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Amid calls to take down statues of leaders with a history of racism ringing out across the US, Jews and Muslims in St. Louis have launched a petition to take down a monument to their city’s namesake, and even hope to rename the city.
St. Louis is named after King Louis IX, the only French King to be canonized by the Catholic Church, who is considered by the church to be a model Christian monarch.
King Louis IX was also a notorious antisemite. He oversaw one of the infamous medieval disputations, in which rabbis were forced to debate with Christians the merits of Judaism, and the subsequent burning of 12,000 copies of the Talmud in 1243. He required Jews to wear badges so they can be easily identified, and he outlawed banking, which led to the expulsion of many Jews from France and the confiscation of their property.
The funds that Louis IX confiscated went towards his two crusades, in 1248 and 1270, to fight Islamic kingdoms for control over the Land of Israel.
Louis IX is honored with the entire city of St. Louis being named after him, as well as a statue in Forest Park, the city's major park, atop Art Hill overlooking the city. Umar Lee and Moji Sidiqi, of Muslims for a Greater St. Louis, together with Israeli-American restauranteur Ben Poremba want to change that and have launched a petition.
"For those unfamiliar with King Louis IX,” the petition calling to change St. Louis’ name reads, “he was a rabid antisemite who spearheaded many persecutions against the Jewish people. Centuries later, Nazi Germany gained inspiration and ideas from Louis IX as they embarked on a campaign of murderous genocide against the Jewish people. Louis IX was also vehemently Islamophobic and led a murderous crusade against Muslims which ultimately cost him his life.”
The petition calls the city’s name “outright disrespect” to its Jewish and Muslim communities.
Ferguson, Missouri, in St. Louis County, was one of the starting points of the Black Lives Matters movement in 2014, after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer. Lee became a prominent local activist at that time.
The petition points out that since then, St. Louis has removed its Confederate Monument in Forest Park, an effort in which Lee was closely involved, and in recent days, a statue of Christopher Columbus was taken down, as well.
Lee told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that he became aware of the statue’s history when Rabbi Hershey Novack of the Chabad on Campus at St. Louis' Washington University held a Tisha B'Av gathering by the Louis IX statue to remember the atrocities he wrought on Jews of France. Novack is not an official sponsor of the petition, but Lee says he is a supporter.
“I read about it, and began talking to [Novack] and Ben Parembo, and they both said hey, that statue needs to come down,” he said. “Jewish kids going out with their parents to [park’s] art museum don’t need to be looking at this antisemite.
Lee added: “If you look at modern St. Louis and modern America, of course antisemitism still exists and anti-Muslim bias still exists, but that’s not the person you want to have overlooking your city. In the statue, he’s on a horse with a sword. As Rabbi Hershey said, that sword was aimed at people living very far away from France. I don’t think it’s a good symbol for our city.”
Though Lee admitted that renaming the city is less likely than getting the statue taken down, he expressed hope that a “rebrand” of St. Louis can bring its residents together. Lee said Novack suggested the name “Confluence” for St. Louis, because it is at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Parembo suggested the name “Scott,” because it was where Dred Scott first sued for his freedom from slavery, leading to the notorious 1857 US Supreme Court ruling that the US Constitution does not apply to black people.
Catholics in St. Louis and beyond have come out against Lee's efforts, calling it an affront to their religious beliefs. As of 2017, about 23% of the city’s residents were Catholic.
Sohrab Ahmari, the Op-ed Editor of The New York Post who wrote a book about his journey to Catholicism, tweeted that the petition to take down "the statue of a great saint" is an "absolute red line — and a red alert to St. Louis Catholics."
Lee said he respects Catholics, but “there is a clear record of papal-directed antisemititsm. They might want to grapple with that instead of asking why the statue is being taken down.”
Lee is a descendant of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, a frequent target of efforts to bring down statues in the US.
The activist said he learned of his ancestry as an adult, so “it doesn’t have any emotional currency for me.” He also said he has two younger siblings who are half African-American.
“There’s a verse in the Koran: Speak the truth even if it’s against yourself. What’s right and wrong is not what you inherit. You can inherit bad things as well. You can strive to be better in each generation,” Lee said.