In case you missed the first episode – check it out here:
This will be an exciting new format to explore moving forward – as there are so many personalities out there who are contributing positively to fighting racism, hate and Islamophobia in the U.S & abroad. This type of format gives us a chance to tell their stories, what paths they took & highlighting their great works.
Even though Islamophobia hasn’t been dominating the headlines nationally in the past few months – it doesn’t mean that the hate has died down…one…bit.
Just check out headlines from today in Tennessee – they’re so afraid of “creeping sharia” over there, that lawmakers mistook a mop-sink for a Muslim “foot-bath” for making wud’u (ablution before prayers.)
In NYC, SF and Chicago – Islamophobes are ramping up their anti-Islam bus and subway ad campaigns; the amount of money pouring into this industry is astonishing. How is the community standing up to this hate? We plan to highlight these type of stories moving forward – so stay tuned!
by Imraan Siddiqi
On Tuesday night, the stormy skies that many Muslims faced in the political spectrum started to clear up a bit. We saw the defeat of two well-known sitting members of Congress – Allen West (R-FL) and Joe Walsh (R-IL), while a third – Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was taken down to the wire, and eventually prevailed. All three politicians were purveyors of far-flung conspiracy theories involving a purported “Muslim takeover of America” – and all three were huge beneficiaries of Islamophobic money. Along with the more-established candidates, we saw the defeat of a litany of Islamophobic challengers in many congressional races.
One of the most respected Progressive members of congress – Raul Grijalva was being challenged tooth-and-nail by right-wing foe Gabriela Saucedo-Mercer. The challenger was renowned for being an immigrant from Mexico herself – yet harboring what could only be described as shocking set of views toward immigration. In an interview last year, Mercer stated that Middle-Easterners should not be able to migrate to the U.S. – “Either legally, or illegally.” In the same interview, she alluded to the fact that “prayer rugs and Qurans” were found in the Sonoran desert, along with headless bodies – which she seemingly attributed to Middle Easterners or Muslims sneaking through the border. Thankfully for Arizonans – Grijalva was able to retain his seat with ease, defeating Mercer by a wide margin.
The positive trend continued in races across the nation – as Minnesota’s Chip Cravaack and Florida challenger Adam Hasner were all sent packing in their races. So the question is: Is there hope that we will see the level of Islamophobia subside within the American political sphere, specifically in the Republican Party? The reality is, that for years the GOP has given this bigotry sanction, and that the party’s more established members have done almost nothing to speak out against it. On Tuesday, America spoke out against it at the polls.
Since the 2010 mid-term elections – Islam has been used as a wedge issue. Newcomers into the fray – namely among the Tea Party movement made it a specific part of their platform to essentially drum up and create a national panic on Shari’ah Law. Within this theater of the absurd, we saw 78 bills or amendments introduced across 31 states that aimed to thwart the “looming Shari’ah threat.” The well-documented Islamophobia industry now had a foothold in our national and state legislatures – and was only growing in influence.
Within this new overtly Islamophobic set of legislators – Allen West, Joe Walsh and Michele Bachmann stood out as its most unhinged and high profile members. Along with TX Rep Louie Gohmert (who remains in Congress,) the group has focused less upon bring the country forward – and more upon sound bytes (“terror-babies,” anyone?) and divisive rhetoric (Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to take over America.)
This poisonous rhetoric has unfortunately progressed from the dark corners of the GOP, to becoming an actual part of the Party Platform for the Presidential election of 2012. In the past few months, we saw Muslim-Americans who have dedicated their lives to civic duty – such as Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, targeted as being part of a Muslim conspiracy to infiltrate politics – their names smeared, and their careers being put on the line – just for being a Muslim American in the political realm. The echo-chamber of hate in the Islamophobic blogosphere and right-wing media has perpetuated these absurdist conspiracies, questioning the “loyalty” and “patriotism” of American Muslims. What we saw on Tuesday – a rejection of many of those candidates and principles shows a great deal of hope for civically engaged Muslims moving forward.
Applying this same framework to the Presidential election – in some ways I was happier that Obama got re-elected in 2012, than I was in 2008. Policy-wise, I – along with many in the Muslim community have many unresolved issues with how he governed in his first term – namely in the area of drone warfare, civilian casualties caused by said drones, the failure to close Guantanamo, the failure to prosecute torturers and the passage of the NDAA. As we move forward into his second term, Americans will be charged with holding him accountable and scrutinizing him on his promises. These issues will persist forward, but at the very least – the election of Obama speaks well to the fact that America was able to withstand some of the nastiest and most divisive racially charged rhetoric since the Civil Rights Movement.
Obama’s legitimacy as the President has been challenged by many bigots and Islamophobes since his inauguration in 2009. He has been labeled as a “un-American,” a Muslim, a Kenyan, a Socialist – and this was all before he stepped foot inside the White House. The epithets that were lobbied at him prior to governing were merely thinly veiled resistance to having an African-American govern this country. As I have said many times before – they call him ‘Muslim’ because the ‘n-word’ is not socially acceptable anymore. Or is it???
And although the Romney campaign thankfully did not engage in the birtherism and delegitimization of the President’s patriotism – nearly all of the GOP candidates vying for the nominee walked that line. Although Obama hasn’t visited a single mosque – yes a single mosque in his first term – at the very least, he knows what it is like to live under the murky cloud of Islamophobia. And in spite of the upswing in racism, xenophobia, and hate that has engulfed the national conversation – he was still re-elected. From that standpoint, it looks like minorities have a lot to look forward to in our country’s future.
There is a great deal of hope in seeing other traditionally non-represented minorities continue to break through into national politics. The first Hindu was elected into Congress – Tulsi Gabbard, from Hawaii. Mazie Hirono became the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate. Many other minorities are finally seeing their communities find their voice in this election cycle.
The Muslim community has seen its two Congressmen – Keith Ellison and Andre Carson re-elected in landslide victories this past Tuesday – all in spite of the fact that there was a concerted effort by the Islamophobia industry to unseat them. A 3rd potential Muslim – Syed Taj was defeated in his Michigan district, however we see that there is definitely hope for our community’s future in holding and retaining elected office.
As we move on from this contentious election cycle – the hope is that the specter of Islamophobia will slowly dissipate once and for all. Is it gone, with the defeat of West, Walsh and the rest of the crew? Definitely not- however we do see that the amount of money and resources spent on fanning the flames of Islamophobia do not translate into success on the political scale. The hope is that the Bachmann’s and Gohmert’s of the world will move away from their divisive rhetoric (not likely) and focus on the real issues. There are still a great deal of elected officials who harbor anti-Islam sentiment – too many to even name in this article. With that being the case, our community has to replicate its effort from this last election – speak up in condemnation of hate, and remain steadfast and unafraid to speak to truth and justice within the political realm.
Hate’s Busy Week
by Imraan Siddiqi
For the Muslim community – as the song goes: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Almost everyone now knows that we are in the midst of the holy month of Ramadan. Within this blessed month, the last 10 nights are the most blessed nights of the entire year –and this is the time where you find Muslims locking down even further: Praying more in the night, reading more of the Quran, spending more time in reflection. Muslims pray in the hope of receiving the blessings of Layl-at-ul-Qadr, or The Night of Decree, which is outlined in the 97th Surah in the Quran:
Indeed, We sent the Qur’an down during the Night of Decree.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree?
The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months.
The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter.
Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.
Narrated through the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we are told that this blessed night occurs within the last 10 nights, likely to be one of the odd nights, i.e. 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th. As the surah above tells us, worshipping on this night carries more credit than worshipping continuously for 1000 months – almost 84 years. To put it simply – the last 10 days of Ramadan are like the Olympics of worship in Islam.
With that being said, the lead-up to this last portion of our holy month has been riddled with a sharp upswing in hate, violence and intolerance – which for many, is putting a damper on such a blessed time of year. Within the last few days alone, mosques across the American landscape have been hit with bullets, paintballs, lemons, pigs’ legs, and acid, along with being the subject of vandalism:
A Rhode Island mosque is vandalized when an assailant damages the center’s sign.
The lone mosque in Joplin, MO was burned to the ground in an apparent arson
Ontario, California – pigs legs were thrown out on the driveway of a future Islamic Center – where worshippers gathered to observe prayers at the mosque site. Witnesses say two women in a pickup truck were the perpetrators of the crime.
Shots were fired outside a Morton Grove, IL mosque – luckily nobody was injured. Authorities have arrested a 51 year old white male named David Conrad – who allegedly fired his high-powered air-rifle at the house of worship.
An Oklahoma City mosque was shot by an assailant with a paintball gun in the late night hours.
*All these attacks come in the aftermath of the devastating attacks in Wisconsin, where half a dozen Sikh worshippers were killed in cold blood by white-supremacist, Wade Michael Page.
*This also comes in the aftermath of the Hayward, CA Mosque attack, where teens were arrested for throwing lemons at the Muslim center: http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_21266516
A Spike in Rhetoric, a Spike in Attacks
Within the last 2 years, we have seen the level of Islamophobia spike to unprecedented grounds. Starting with the Park 51 controversy in 2010, the level of vitriol and anti-Muslim rhetoric has risen to levels unseen even in the aftermath of 9/11. Additionally, the amount of money put into feeding the Islamophobia industry has grown into the tens of millions of dollars. As we have seen from comments made by elected officials such as Reps Michele Bachmann and Joe Walsh, Islamophobia is not a tactic for those on the fringe anymore – it is now mainstream.
Candidates and politicians utilize this tactic in order to stir up their base, in order to get a short-term bump in the polls – and to increase fundraising. And this tactic seems to work – as seen by Michele Bachmann’s $1 Million fundraising spike, in the aftermath of her Muslim Brotherhood government infiltration comments last month. As we can see by the actions of the last week alone – these irresponsible comments have a larger, more negative impact on society.
It is a sad truth that Islamic centers in the U.S have become accustomed to vandalism in some way, shape or form within the last few years. Any disrespect to a house of worship should be considered a threat to religious freedom in this nation – but there is a demarcation point between acts like teens throwing lemons – as in the Hayward case, and the gun violence that has now rocked the faith community for the last week. The Oak Creek case, along with Joplin and Morton Grove are key examples of how the rhetoric is allowing some deranged segments of society to justify lethal tactics as a manifestation of their hate.
It remains to be seen whether the same right-wing leadership that stokes fear of Islam in America will come out in defense of our community in the wake of this ever-growing cluster of attacks – but we’re not holding our breath. There is no doubt that there is some sort of correlation between the elected officials’ comments and the upswing in violence – but rather than taking a step back from this dangerous rhetoric, the lunatic fringe is doubling down.
Reviving the Spirit of the Last Ten Days
One can’t help think morbid thoughts when faced with a cluster of such hateful actions within such a short timeframe. Thankfully within this seemingly endless string of bad news – arose some good news – in the hardest hit of all the mosques – Joplin, Missouri. If there was any community that desperately needed some good news – this would be the one. The town entered the nation’s conscience last year when it was hit by a deadly tornado, killing nearly 200 residents. As they continue to rebuild the city, the community has now been struck with a new plague: Hate. The Muslim community was targeted just over a month ago, when an individual was caught on surveillance throwing an incendiary device on the roof of the mosque, causing damage to the building. The perpetrator was never caught, and the community seemingly would put this scary event behind them. Last Monday, the mosque was once again targeted – this time burnt to its foundations. Even though this looks to be a time of despair and grief for Joplin’s Muslims – we have seen the true spirit of community arise from all over America to help rebuild this house of worship.
Within a few days of the attack, a donation site was put up in order to help raise funds to rebuild Joplin’s mosque. The fundraising goal for the project serving this small community was ambitious – raise $250,000 within 45 days. In the old days, it took more along the lines of 45 months for small communities to raise such a large amount of money. However this cause has struck a chord within the American landscape – and the fundraising goal was met in a mere 60 hours – 2.5 days. You can view the donation site here – as you can see the great outpouring of love and generosity has helped push their project forward and up to now has nearly raised $350k. Joplin churches have come together to host the Muslim community for an iftar (breaking the fast at sundown) – in a sign of solidarity.
As the American Sikh community still recovers from the Wisconsin shooting, there has also been an outpouring of compassion from Americans of all faiths in order to show unity. Candlelight vigils and interfaith memorial services have been held in many major cities throughout the nation. As we can see, the spirit of love and shared humanity can overcome the most unthinkable acts.
But the question is, how do we stop this endless cycle of hate and disrespect for our houses of worship? The true American spirit is one of tolerance, religious freedom and embracing of differences. However, throughout this nation’s history there have always been those forces that have rebelled against this concept – whether that is with rhetoric or violence. Those previous dark chapters were thought to have been put to bed – but as we can see, hatred does not sleep easily. In these most blessed nights of the year, it is worth our prayers to put an end to all these senseless attacks for good.
Imraan Siddiqi is a CAIR-Arizona Board Member, Editor of StopIslamophobiaNow.com, & an Entrepreneur. He writes on the experiences of Muslim Americans as well as the subject of Islamophobia. He has been published in outlets such as The Dallas Morning News, The Oregonian, Huffington Post, CounterPunch, SuhaibWebb.com, altMuslim, among many other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @imraansiddiqi.
By Imraan Siddiqi Part Two of “When Interfaith Goes Sideways”
That’s right, if you are taken prisoner in a war and you fear that you will be killed – then you can lie, and it won’t count as a sin on your behalf. And by the way, I believe lying in this case is acceptable in Christianity, Judaism – and is encouraged in the military as well. To their defense – I can only give my Sunni viewpoint of this concept – which only represents 85% of the Muslims these guys hate. Although the concept is thought to be more prevalent among Shi’a, it also refers to extreme duress situations. Historically, the example of the Prophet’s companion – Ammar bin Yasir has been used – where as a young convert to Islam, he found himself in a life or death situation. Both his parents (also converts) were captured, tortured and eventually killed. His mother, Summaya is considered to be the first martyr in Islam. This brave teenager was now faced with a decision by his captures: renounce Islam – and give allegiance to their deity – or die. Under duress, Ammar renounced Islam – and his life was eventually spared. When he returned back to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) he was told that this was not considered any wrongdoing on his part, because Islam was still in his heart. That – my friends is the extreme case that we are talking about.
Originally Posted here:
Interfaith events have always represented a paradox to me – yet, I find myself attending more and more of them. On one hand – these events do give an opportunity to bridge religious gaps. Conversely, the tenor of the events sometimes tend to be too sugary sweet – and representatives from all faiths have been guilty of toning out the other side while smiling, only to tune in when their religious group weighs in. Even though you enter the events with the best of intentions, only to walk away asking yourself – “Have I really accomplished anything today”?
Last Tuesday, I was one of two Muslim representatives at an event hosted by the Arizona Interfaith Movement – entitled “Texts of Terror”. The purpose of the event was to highlight verses within the 3 major monotheistic scriptures (Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Quran) that contain violent imagery and have possibly been used to justify violent acts. The title was a red flag to me – when I received the invitation to attend, I knew this was going to be a lightning rod event.
A few days before the event took place – we received word that the already controversial subject matter had just added a new wrinkle – an infamous local pseudo scholar named Carl Goldberg would be attending the event with the hopes of stirring up the crowd and turning the dialog into the debate. This just added to my hesitance, but I knew I would have to pull through.
Imam Anas Hlayhel and I both sit on the board of CAIR-AZ, and we have attended multiple events held by the Arizona Interfaith Movement as representatives for the Muslim community. Usually, the attendance is relatively sparse – but on this day, we were told we would be walking into a capacity crowd at the Arizona Jewish Heritage Center. As we walk toward the entrance, a familiar face greets us – the director of the Heritage Center. “Hey guys, I just want to let you know that we have a weird crowd today, so I apologize in advance for anyone who may say offensive things to you.” As the two Muslims walk into the room – I felt like the scene in Gladiator when Russell Crowe and Djimon Honsou were first thrown into the arena, waiting for the carnage to begin. At first glance, it was hard to tell who was friendly and who was there in the hopes of seeing the Emperor give the “thumbs down” signal to us. I have never seen the Goldberg figure before, I have just read his hateful, manipulative and inaccurate discourses on my religion – Which one was he? I scanned the room looking for someone who looked like they were coming with an agenda – but it was hard to tell who was who.
Looks like we would have to wait until the lions were released…and then the Tea Party Patriots walk in. How did I know that these people were with the AZ Tea Party Patriots movement? Well one of them was wearing a pin that said “AZ Tea Party Patriots,” so that sorta gave it away. You see Dr. Goldberg along with other virulently Islamophobic speakers such as Pamela Geller are extremely popular among Tea Party groups – especially here in Arizona. These groups like to get worked up and amplify violence conducted by Muslims – assigning guilt by association to the religion and all its adherents due to the acts of a few. Here are just a few links to the events they put on:
As the event commenced, it became clear that the organizers wanted nothing to do with the Tea-Partiers and their self-described “expert on Islam.” The organizer (Dr. Paul Eppinger) set the ground rules from the beginning – this event was for our selected clergy to cover the topic of violence in holy scriptures. This was not going to turn into a debate or an opportunity to bash a religion – basically an Islam-bashing fest. He also stated that each audience member was only allowed to ask one question – and no speeches or diatribes were going to be accepted. It is then, we saw Goldberg and the other Tea-Partiers look at each other, scrambling for a backup plan.
When it came to the program itself – each clergy member did a great job of covering and giving an explanation of so-called “violent” verses in their scriptures, while providing the historical and social context. For example, the rabbi read from the book of Deuteronomy – where the believers are instructed to wipe out the 7 nations: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
Next, the Methodist pastor/scholar covered material from the Book of Revelations – where many of the verses that appeal to fighting refer to “The Beast” – which in historical context represented the Romans. Finally, the imam read from Surah 9 (al-Tawbah) which many extremists misuse to justify acts of violence – and which many Islamophobes misuse to label Islam as inherently violent. All three clergy presented great cases as to why their faiths’ respective verses should not be taken out of context, while highlighting recent cases of violence done in the name of almost every faith – and some in the crowd seemed to agree. But what were Goldberg and the Tea Party doing while the actual program was taking place?
After their wings got clipped with the one-question limit, the provocateurs in the crowd were scrambling for a solution. This was going to be Dr. Goldberg’s big moment – he brought a binder full of material, and had a list of questions that he was ready to shout out. What was he going to do next? He started coaching the people sitting next to him and the Tea Partiers on what questions to ask during the Q&A portion. As the Q&A started, the “expert on Islam” jumped out of his seat in anticipation to be the first questioner. This is where the wheels started to fall off – as Goldberg accused the imam of being apologetic and obscuring information, while praising the pastor and the rabbi for being so honest. “I now have a comment if you will allow me” said Goldberg
The moderator of the session shut him down -and Goldberg’s time was up. He now went to other audience members to try and coach them on what questions to ask. There was a poor old guy sitting next to Goldberg – (I sat directly behind them) and Dr. Carl was kept pointing to the piece of paper in his hand on what question to ask. The elderly man wasn’t very quick on the uptake, so it took about 5 minutes for him to get properly coached by the anti-Islam polemicist. In the meantime, our Tea Partiers shouted out questions on how all Muslims want “Sharia Law,” and screaming out cases of where Muslims have done bad things.
The interfaith event was officially sideways.
In the dozen inter-religious events I have attended in the last few years, this was the first time we have encountered hostility – and boy did it come strong. Thankfully, we only had to endure about 10 minutes of wild-eyed, out-of-context, unhinged questions – although it seemed like it lasted an hour. The members of the clergy did a great job of extending their answers – sort of like the 4-corners offense in basketball lingo. The event came to a close and the Dr. Eppinger thanked everything for coming.
At this point, I didn’t know if I would have to play the role of secret service agent, and exit – stage left. Would this be the moment where the crowd joins up with Goldberg’s crew and starts screaming “Go back to where you came from”? But a funny thing happened – instead of being taunted with jeers, chants and madness – we were greeted by hugs, handshakes and gestures of goodwill streamed from the majority of the crowd. The Tea Party reps were still looking for a confrontation after the event was over, but their hostility was completely overshadowed by the warmth and compassion from the rest of the attendees. As the angry Tea Party lady peered in the distance, the rabbi asked us – “You have time to go to lunch?” We obliged the rabbi on his offer, much to the chagrin of our counterparts.
For the hour and a half that we sat in the auditorium, the question “what are we doing here?” kept resonating in my mind. It was impossible to shake the feeling that we were on the road to accomplishing nothing but increasing our anxiety levels. But as we are taught in our faith, if you approach a potentially negative situation with the best of intentions – there is always a positive that will arise from it. Thankfully, the ensuing lunch with the rabbi opened up such positive avenues. After leaving the tension of the previous environment, it was great to just sit down and have meaningful dialogue with another member of the faith-based community. In this brief but meaningful conversation, we were able to discuss myths and misconceptions about our respective faiths along with the organizations that we represent.
More importantly, we all reached the conclusion that while interfaith events are great and have their place, the more important work will be “hands-on” and educating our communities on a grassroots level. As many activists and clergy who have participated in interfaith events have said before, we shouldn’t be trained to just “tolerate” each other. Its time to transcend those lines and advance the conversation past the uncomfortable smiles, selective hearing, and simply going back to business as usual after the event is over. Thankfully, with the relationships we forged on this day, there is definitely hope for a greater and more meaningful level of participation in the future. And while the detractors attempted to steer this event off the tracks, they actually helped strengthen the bond between faith leaders, and ensure that we will work together to defeat the forces of hate and intolerance.