Tag Archives: Islam

New York City Withdraws Approval, Then Re-approves, Sheepshead Bay Mosque Proposal

After approving a proposed mosque and Islamic community center on October 13 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn that has faced vitriolic opposition from the Brooklyn Tea Party and a group of residents called Bay People, the New York City Department of Buildings withdrew their approval last week. And then they re-approved it October 23, according to news reports.

When the department reneged on their approval for the three-story project at 2812 Voorhies Ave, Allowey Ahmed, the owner of the property, attributed it to pressure from anti-Muslim activists, according to a report in the Brooklyn Paper.  A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings told the paper that after the department withdrew their approval, backers of the mosque “came in to address our questions and the hold has been lifted.”

The battle, though, doesn’t seem to be over.  Bay People has reportedly raised $30,000 for “fund a legal strategy to block the mosque by arguing it violates zoning laws and will create noise and traffic problems on the quiet block,” according to a June 30 Daily News article.

The opposition to this mosque comes as a general anti-Muslim climate is spreading across the United States, exemplified by the hysteria over the Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan.

I recently reported on the battle over the proposed mosque in Sheepshead Bay in the Indypendent:

Bay People, Inc., as well as other opponents, also have an agenda aligned with anti-Muslim groups and individuals that have been stoking opposition to mosques around the city and country.  On its website, Bay People states that, “the neighborhood residents are mostly of Italian/Russian/Jewish/Irish descent and will not benefit from having a mosque and a Muslim community center.”  In addition, the group is opposed to the Muslim American Society’s (MAS) affiliation with the project, claiming that MAS is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and has links to radical Islam and terrorism.  (Rep. Michael McMahon, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a probe into MAS, which concluded that there was “no indication whatsoever that the Muslim American Society is affiliated with any organization that threatens our national security,” according to the Staten Island Advance.)

MAS has partnered with the local Muslim community to back the center, which in addition to having a prayer space will also have English as a second language classes, computer classes and workforce development programs.  Those closely involved with the proposed project say the focus will be on providing youth in the community with a positive place to go, but that it will be open to anyone.

“What they’re trying to do is put up all these smoke-screens to propagate fear in that community to not allow the [Muslim] community to build, and it’s absolutely unjust…for them to basically try to monopolize Sheepshead Bay and make it a Muslim free-zone,” said Debbie Almontaser, a prominent Muslim interfaith activist.  Almontaser is the board chair for the Muslim Consultative Network, which has been working with the local Muslim community in Sheepshead Bay to combat the opposition.  “If you look at the history of this community, there are churches, there are synagogues, and now it’s time to have a mosque…”

John Press, the head of the Brooklyn Tea Party, which protested alongside Bay People at a September 26 rally against the proposed mosque, didn’t shy away from opposing the mosque based on anti-Muslim sentiment, calling Islam a “hostile political doctrine.”

“We recognize the importance of the ‘clash of civilizations,’ and the Muslim American Society is a proponent of sharia law.  We believe that sharia law is antithetical to Western freedoms,” said Press, who doesn’t live in Sheepshead Bay and said that “a few” Brooklyn Tea Party members do.

The claims about “sharia” law and Islam as a “political doctrine” echo similar claims from anti-Muslim activists actively working to oppose the construction of new mosques around the country from lower Manhattan to Tennessee to California.

“The opponents against the proposed mosque in Sheepshead Bay erroneously brushstroke the entire Muslim community as ‘the other’ based on misinformation and at times outright bigotry,” Aliya Latif, the civil rights director for the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, wrote in an email to the Indypendent.

Anti-Muslim accusations have been leveled by opponents of the mosque at a series of heated protests in the community, including a June 27 anti-mosque rally where one Sheepshead Bay resident threatened to “bomb the mosque” if it’s built, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

There have also been counter-protests to combat the opposition and to support the proposed project, like the one at a Sept. 26 rally that saw the dueling sides on two sides of Voorhies Ave.

“The day we were there, [Sept. 26], we arrived and we thought we went back to the 50’s.  There were signs all over people’s houses [reading] ‘Muslims go home,’” said Elaine Brower, an activist who lives in Staten Island and a member of the New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia, which has been organizing in support of the proposed mosque.  “If people don’t stand up against it in unity and show support for Muslims and Arabs in this country, it’s only going to get worse.”

Brower was also involved in supporting a proposed mosque in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island.  After a reverend initially entered into an agreement with MAS to sell a former parish convent to them so a mosque could be built, the board of St. Margaret Mary R.C. Church, which the reverend is a part of, withdrew support for the sale after about two months of harsh condemnation from local residents.  Like the Sheepshead Bay mosque controversy, residents cited concerns about parking and traffic as well as MAS’ alleged affiliation with links to terrorism.

Still, despite the vitriolic opposition to the Sheepshead Bay center, Allowey Ahmed, the owner of the property at 2812 Voorhies Ave., is moving forward with his plans.  Ahmed, a Yemeni-American and long-time Brooklyn resident, estimated that over $1 million in funds will need to be raised for the community center, and that he hopes construction will begin in the next few months.

“What is right is going to prevail,” said Ahmed.  “We believe we are on the right track, because we believe we are sending a good and positive message.”

 

Koch Brothers Also Funding Islamophobia

The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer made waves with her piece on the Koch brothers, which described how Charles and David Koch, the owners of the multi-billion dollar Koch Industries, were “giving money to ‘educate,’ fund, and organize Tea Party protesters” in an effort to “turn their private agenda into a mass movement.”

Now, more has emerged about the Koch brothers’ agenda, and it’s not just limited to advocating for “drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation.”  An investigation by CounterPunch‘s Pam Martens has revealed that “a secretive libertarian nonprofit with ties to Charles Koch bankrolled what was widely perceived to be a fear mongering effort to throw the Presidential election to Senator John McCain in 2008.”

The “fear mongering effort” in question was the documentary “Obsession:  Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” which was distributed to millions of people in “swing states” around the country in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election through corporate newspapers.  The documentary has been condemned as anti-Muslim, and features interviews with notorious Islamophobes such as Steven Emerson, Daniel Pipes and Caroline Glick.

The CounterPunch investigation adds a whole new layer to the overlap between anti-Muslim activists and the Tea Party, which I wrote about yesterday.

Martens writes:

CounterPunch can now report what this race-baiting, fear-mongering campaign cost and where the money, at least nominally, came from.  The 28 million DVDs were produced at a cost of $15,676,181 by Artist Direct Media which does mass manufacturing of CDs and DVDs with volume discounts.  The big media buy for Sunday newspaper insertions ran up the tidy tab of $719,436 and was conducted by NSA Media, a unit of the global ad giant, Interpublic Group, parent of McCann-Erikson. That figure seems decidedly on the light side so there may be other funding sources involved that have not yet surfaced. (NSA Media is a powerful ad buyer, representing some of the biggest print buyers and consumer brands in the country, which might help explain why so few questions were asked by the largest newspapers about this unseemly project.) The full tab, and then some, was paid by the super secretive libertarian nonprofit, Donors Capital Fund.  In 2008, Clarion Fund became Donors Capital Fund’s largest grantee by a large margin, receiving $17,778,600.  That sum constituted 96 per cent of all funds received by Clarion in 2008 and 9 times its revenue in 2007.

Donor’s Capital Fund is a “supporting organization” to Donors Trust, a sister nonprofit.  Both promise the pursuit of taking over social welfare needs with private funds rather than government solutions; they want small government.  (With 43 million Americans now living below the poverty level, it’s fascinating to know that these folks earmarked $17 million not to hunger relief but to DVD packaging.  Let them eat plastic, perhaps.)

There are shades of Charles Koch all over Donors Capital and Donors Trust.  Two grantees receiving repeat and sizeable grants from Donors Capital are favorites of the Koch foundations: George Mason University Foundation and Institute for Humane Studies.  Another tie is Claire Kittle.  A project of Donor’s Trust is Talent Market.org, a headhunter for staffing nonprofits with the “right” people.  Ms. Kittle serves as Talent Market’s Executive Director and was the former Program Officer for Leadership and Talent Development at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.  Then there is Whitney Ball, President of both Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust.  Ms. Ball was one of the elite guests at the invitation-only secret Aspen bash thrown by Charles Koch in June of this year, as reported by ThinkProgress.org.  Also on the guest list for the Koch bash was Stephen Moore, a member of the Editorial Board at the Wall Street Journal.  Mr. Moore is a Director at Donors Capital Fund.  Rounding out the ties that bind is Lauren Vander Heyden, who serves as Client Services Coordinator at Donors Trust.  Ms. Vander Heyden previously worked as grants coordinator and policy analyst at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

Richard Silverstein has more over at his blog.

Anti-Muslim Sentiment Not Limited to Europe

The Washington Post reports on how “anti-Muslim feelings” are “propel[ling] [the] right wing in Europe.”  When will we see similar stories coming out about the U.S.?  The Tea Party is a right-wing movement that has come into prominence, in part, by stoking fear of Muslims and the non-existent “creeping sharia” law that is about to be imposed on the United States.

A recently released report by the NAACP, Devin Burghart, Leonard Zeskind and the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights notes:

The term “Islamophobia” was defined in a 1997 Runnymede Trust Report as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.”[254] Among the characteristic elements of Islamophobia highlighted in the report: Islam is monolithic and cannot adapt to new realities; Islam does not share common values with other major faiths; Islam as a religion is inferior to the West; It is archaic, barbaric, and irrational; Islam is a religion of violence and supports terrorism; and Islam is a violent political ideology.

In fact, alongside racism, anti-Semitism, and nativism, the elements of Islamophobia have found their way into the Tea Party Movement. Tea Party leaders and members have employed anti-Muslim language.   With strong Tea Party ties, Pamela Geller stands out in this regard.

As noted earlier, Geller was a featured speaker at a Tea Party Patriots-sponsored convention in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in May.[255] Despite weeks of pressure from community groups who raised concerns about Geller’s history of Islamophobia, the convention organizers refused to reconsider their invitation to Geller.[256]

As the report notes, Islamophobia is a key element of the Tea Party movement.  There are a lot of examples demonstrating this.

The English Defense League, a far-right anti-Muslim group who has chanted “We hate Muslims” at rallies, is reportedly forging links with Tea Party groups in the United States. 

And last weekend, as Justin Elliott of Salon reports, “the leader of one of the three biggest Tea Party groups has called for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) to be defeated this election explicitly because he is Muslim.”

I’m waiting for that expose on Islamophobia in the Tea Party.

A Mosque Grows in Brooklyn

The following article originally appeared in the latest issue of the Indypendent:

PHOTO: Sakura Kelley Elaine Brower (left) a member of the New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia, has been organizing support from the proposed mosque and the Muslim and Arab communities. John Press (right), the head of the Brooklyn Tea Party, has been protesting the proposed mosque, calling Islam a 'hostile doctrine.'

When a mosque and Islamic community center in Sheepshead Bay were formally proposed in the summer of 2009, the estimated 200 Muslim families living in the south Brooklyn neighborhood greeted the news happily. For many years, they’ve had to travel to mosques in Bensonhurst, Canarsie and Bay Ridge.

But the proposed three-story project at 2812 Voorhies Ave., which was approved Oct. 13 by the Department of Buildings, is now facing a storm of opposition, some of it from outside the community.  The main opposition group, a group of local residents called Bay People Inc., has mobilized since the beginning of this year to oppose the mosque for a number of reasons, including concerns over increased traffic, parking problems, noise and property values.

But Bay People, Inc., as well as other opponents, also have an agenda aligned with anti-Muslim groups and individuals that have been stoking opposition to mosques around the city and country.  On its website, Bay People states that, “the neighborhood residents are mostly of Italian/Russian/Jewish/Irish descent and will not benefit from having a mosque and a Muslim community center.”  In addition, the group is opposed to the Muslim American Society’s (MAS) affiliation with the project, claiming that MAS is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and has links to radical Islam and terrorism.  (Rep. Michael McMahon, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a probe into MAS, which concluded that there was “no indication whatsoever that the Muslim American Society is affiliated with any organization that threatens our national security,” according to the Staten Island Advance.)

MAS has partnered with the local Muslim community to back the center, which in addition to having a prayer space will also have English as a second language classes, computer classes and workforce development programs.  Those closely involved with the proposed project say the focus will be on providing youth in the community with a positive place to go, but that it will be open to anyone.

“What they’re trying to do is put up all these smoke-screens to propagate fear in that community to not allow the [Muslim] community to build, and it’s absolutely unjust…for them to basically try to monopolize Sheepshead Bay and make it a Muslim free-zone,” said Debbie Almontaser, a prominent Muslim interfaith activist.  Almontaser is the board chair for the Muslim Consultative Network, which has been working with the local Muslim community in Sheepshead Bay to combat the opposition.  “If you look at the history of this community, there are churches, there are synagogues, and now it’s time to have a mosque.”

Bay People claims to have raised $30,000 to “fund a legal strategy to block the mosque by arguing it violates zoning laws and will create noise and traffic problems on the quiet block,” according to a June 30 Daily News article.

Backers of the mosque say that concerns over logistical issues have been addressed and that the opposition stems from anti-Muslim bigotry.  Parking problems will not increase because most families live in walking distance and the early morning call-to-prayer for Muslims won’t be broadcast outside, they say.  Theresa Scavo, the chairperson of Community Board 15, which serves Sheepshead Bay, dismissed concerns over traffic problems, saying that in New York City, “traffic is everywhere.”

The local community board has no formal say over the project, although they have held hearings about it.  “They have every right to build it,” said Scavo.

John Press, the head of the Brooklyn Tea Party, which protested alongside Bay People at a September 26 rally against the proposed mosque, didn’t shy away from opposing the mosque based on anti-Muslim sentiment, calling Islam a “hostile political doctrine.”

“We recognize the importance of the ‘clash of civilizations,’ and the Muslim American Society is a proponent of sharia law.  We believe that sharia law is antithetical to Western freedoms,” said Press, who doesn’t live in Sheepshead Bay and said that “a few” Brooklyn Tea Party members do.

The claims about “sharia” law and Islam as a “political doctrine” echo similar claims from anti-Muslim activists actively working to oppose the construction of new mosques around the country from lower Manhattan to Tennessee to California.

“The opponents against the proposed mosque in Sheepshead Bay erroneously brushstroke the entire Muslim community as ‘the other’ based on misinformation and at times outright bigotry,” Aliya Latif, the civil rights director for the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, wrote in an email to the Indypendent.

Anti-Muslim accusations have been leveled by opponents of the mosque at a series of heated protests in the community, including a June 27 anti-mosque rally where one Sheepshead Bay resident threatened to “bomb the mosque” if it’s built, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

There have also been counter-protests to combat the opposition and to support the proposed project, like the one at a Sept. 26 rally that saw the dueling sides on two sides of Voorhies Ave.

“The day we were there, [Sept. 26], we arrived and we thought we went back to the 50’s.  There were signs all over people’s houses [reading] ‘Muslims go home,’” said Elaine Brower, an activist who lives in Staten Island and a member of the New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia, which has been organizing in support of the proposed mosque.  “If people don’t stand up against it in unity and show support for Muslims and Arabs in this country, it’s only going to get worse.”

Brower was also involved in supporting a proposed mosque in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island.  After a reverend initially entered into an agreement with MAS to sell a former parish convent to them so a mosque could be built, the board of St. Margaret Mary R.C. Church, which the reverend is a part of, withdrew support for the sale after about two months of harsh condemnation from local residents.  Like the Sheepshead Bay mosque controversy, residents cited concerns about parking and traffic as well as MAS’ alleged affiliation with links to terrorism.

Still, despite the vitriolic opposition to the Sheepshead Bay center, Allowey Ahmed, the owner of the property at 2812 Voorhies Ave., is moving forward with his plans.  Ahmed, a Yemeni-American and long-time Brooklyn resident, estimated that over $1 million in funds will need to be raised for the community center, and that he hopes construction will begin in the next few months.

“What is right is going to prevail,” said Ahmed.  “We believe we are on the right track, because we believe we are sending a good and positive message.”

The Media’s Construction of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’: How Islamophobic blogs manufactured a controversy

This article, by Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and myself, originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of FAIR’s Extra! magazine.

How did a local story about a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan turn into a national controversy about whether a “Ground Zero Mosque” would be a slap in the face to 9/11 victims?

It started with a small group of anti-Muslim activists who suggested the proposal was a scheme by anti-American Muslims to “conquer” the hallowed site of the September 11 attacks (Big Government, 5/18/10). Some even suggested that the Imam behind the proposal was an Al-Qaeda supporter (Fox News, 5/13/10). The project was named “Cordoba House,” opponents argued, in honor of the Islamic conquest of Spain, where Muslim victors built a mosque on the ruins of a sacked church (Newt.org, 6/21/10). How could anyone miss the parallels?

Created on small anti-Muslim blogs, the “Ground Zero Mosque” framing was eventually adopted by bigger right-wing outlets before making extensive inroads into broader corporate media.

Every key point in the opponents’ storyline was false. The location of the proposed 13-story community center and mosque, at 51 Park Place (known as Park51), is not part of Ground Zero, and isn’t even visible from the former site of the World Trade Center. The three-block radius around the WTC site that would need to be drawn to make Park51 part of some “hallowed ground” includes strip clubs, porn shops and liquor stores (Daily News, 8/16/10). The key figure behind the proposal, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is an American Muslim who works in fields of interfaith outreach and tolerance, with an emphasis on improved relations between the Arab/Muslim world and the West. Cordoba House is a project of Rauf’s organization, the Cordoba Initiative, whose name honors the tolerance among Muslims, Christians and Jews that flourished in the Spanish city a thousand years ago (New York Times, 7/14/10).

But the facts didn’t seem to matter. The people who ought to have been on the defensive for misrepresenting facts and fomenting religious bigotry continued to be on the offensive, driving the coverage with their dubious claims, while their progressive Muslim targets remained on the defensive, smeared and chided for “intolerantly” pushing forward with their proposal.

A useful timeline produced by Salon (8/16/10) traced the controversy’s birth to posts by Pamela Geller on her Atlas Shrugs blog (e.g., 12/8/09), a key outlet for anti-Muslim bigotry. Geller (12/21/09) charged that the Muslim community center was about “Islamic domination and expansionism…. Clearly a more appropriate ‘Islamic center’ would be one devoted to expunging the Quran of its violent texts.” In April 2010, Geller joined with Robert Spencer of the “notoriously Islamophobic” Jihad Watch website (Guardian, 2/7/06) to form a group called Stop Islamization of America, which began to organize against the proposed center.

Another of Geller and Spencer’s anti–Cordoba House groups, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, is represented by attorney David Yerushalmi, who has written that Islam is an “evil religion,” “blacks are the most murderous of peoples (at least in New York City)” and “there is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote” (Little Green Footballs, 8/10/10).

Beginning in May, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post picked up the story; columnist Andrea Peyser (5/13/10) propagated the falsehood that the center would open on September 11, 2011, and the Post repeatedly used the phrase “Ground Zero mosque” (5/16/10, 5/20/10). It quickly exploded in right-wing media, which is no stranger to anti-Muslim sentiment (nor to late-summer, pre-election wedge issues.)

The usual suspects got on the case with their usual disregard for the facts. Fox News’ Sean Hannity (5/20/10) claimed that Imam Rauf “may be much more radical than most Americans know,” despite the fact that Rauf worked extensively with the Bush administration on improving America’s standing in the Muslim world (Talking Points Memo, 8/12/10). Fox pundit Newt Gingrich (Yglesias, 7/22/10) made the bizarre proposal that “there should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia,” and later (Fox News, 8/16/10) compared the building of a Muslim community center near Ground Zero to Nazis putting “up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

As Talking Points Memo pointed out (5/18/10), Tea Party leader and radio host Mark Williams wrote on his blog (5/14/10) that “the animals of Allah…are drooling over the positive response that they are getting from New York City officials over a proposal to build a 13-story monument to the 9/11 Muslim hijackers.” Houston-based radio host Michael Berry called for the “mosque” to be “blown up” (Think Progress, 5/28/10).

The story soon migrated to the establishment press. While challenging some of the “facts” that opponents put forward and refraining from calling for a ban on the community center, the more centrist corporate media entertained the lies and bigotry of anti-Muslim forces to an alarming degree.

CNN featured virulent Islamophobes on a number of occasions. Geller—who has called for the destruction of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest sites, and whose website depicted Muhammad with the face of a pig (FAIR Blog, 8/18/10)—appeared on the network twice (5/26/10, 8/17/10) to talk about her opposition to the project.

Bryan Fischer of the right-wing American Family Association called for “no more mosques” in the United States in a August 10 blog post (Talking Points Memo, 8/11/10); the next week, Anderson Cooper 360 (8/16/10) gave Fischer a platform to claim that Islam is a “totalitarian ideology that is anti-Christian [and] anti-Semitic,” and seeks “the extermination of Western civilization.” Another 360 segment (8/11/10) featured Flip Benham of the pro-life, anti-Islam group Operation Save America, where Benham called Islam “a lie from the pit of hell.”

Other outlets adopted the false framing the Islamophobic right was pushing. In big, bold letters, Newsweek’s August 16 cover asked, “A Mosque at Ground Zero?” NPR also adopted the “Ground Zero mosque” language (8/3/10, 8/18/10).

A front-page New York Times (8/10/10) report seemed to blame the victims of the bigotry, as reporter Anne Barnard described the “combustible debate” as coming about through “a combination of arguable naïveté, public-relations missteps and a national political climate in which perhaps no preparation could have headed off controversy.” Missing from her list was the organized campaign of misinformation and bigotry that launched and fed the controversy.

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (8/13/10) raised an absurd hypothetical to justify his opposition to the Islamic community center: “Who is to say that the mosque won’t one day hire an Anwar al-Aulaqi—spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber, and onetime imam at the Virginia mosque attended by two of the 9/11 terrorists?” And who’s to say that Krauthammer won’t decide to become a cannibal, like fellow psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter?

Krauthammer also questioned the “goodwill” of Imam Rauf for saying, on CBS’s 60 Minutes (9/30/01), in reference to September 11: “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” As the Daily Show pointed out (8/16/10), Glenn Beck has made a similar point (Fox News, 4/15/10), saying: “When people said they hate us, well, did we deserve 9/11? No. But were we minding our business? No. Were we in bed with dictators that abandoned our values and principles? Yes. That causes problems.” Nobody questioned whether Beck sympathized with terrorism then, though.

Philadelphia Inquirer culture writer Stephan Salisbury (Tom Dispatch, 8/10/10) placed this story in the context of elevated anti-Muslim sentiment in the country since September 11, and the coinciding Islamo-phobic activism, which includes anti-mosque movements in Tennessee, California, Connecticut and elsewhere, as well as in New York. Calling the opposition to Cordoba House part of a larger movement that seeks to ban Islam in the U.S., Salisbury told Extra! he blamed media for failing to adequately confront the New York project’s opponents: “The role of journalists is to challenge narratives, not sit on the sidelines. This is especially true when a bigoted narrative like this one comes along.”

If some journalists challenged the anti-Muslim smears and defended Rauf and his associates (e.g., Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, 8/6/10; New York Times editorial, 8/16/10), the coverage never fully reversed direction to frame the saga for what it was: a story of monumental lying and bigotry.

While much opposition to Park51 can be attributed to Islamophobia and a media culture that is often receptive to it, there’s also a partisan political aspect to the story that hasn’t been sufficiently examined. In December 2009, when the proposal was first unveiled, it generated little controversy (New York Times, 12/9/09) outside of the small number of anti-Muslim websites. But moving into the summer, it was seized upon by prominent conservative pundits and politicians like Newt Gingrich, who showed up on Fox’s Hannity (8/5/10) denouncing “elite politicians” for “turning a blind eye” to the views of most Americans. (After weeks of distortion, some produced by Gingrich himself, polls showed U.S. public opinion had turned against the center.)

Hannity’s response to Gingrich provided an even clearer look into how the right viewed the story as a handy political wedge in advance of November’s congressional elections:

Isn’t that where we are, though, in terms of American society? The American people support Arizona’s immigration law, but it doesn’t matter to liberal Democrats. The American people don’t want this mosque built. It doesn’t matter to liberal Democrats.

Perhaps the most revealing glimpse into the entire cynical campaign was provided by right-wing radio firebrand Laura Ingraham. Guest hosting Fox’s O’Reilly Factor (12/21/09) last year, Ingraham told Daisy Kahn, one of the center’s developers and Imam Rauf’s wife, “I like what you’re trying to do,” referring to the project’s spirit of tolerance and outreach. By August, however, Ingraham had changed her tune. Again substituting for O’Reilly (8/25/10), she denounced the center, demanding: “So why is Barack Obama letting this go on? Why is the president of the United States at his already low approval numbers, why is he letting this continue as it is?”

American Neocons and Zionists Embrace Far-right Dutch Pol Geert Wilders

Match made in heaven: Far-right blogger Pam Geller and Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Photo: atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com

Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician, wants to bring his noxious brand of Islamophobia into mainstream American politics.  It looks like he’s succeeding, and prominent figures on the American right are actively courting him.

He has already had his voice heard and amplified by anti-Muslim blogs like Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch.  And on September 11, Wilders told a crowd gathered to protest the Muslim community center near Ground Zero that “New York, rooted in Dutch tolerance, will never become New Mecca…In the name of freedom: No mosque here!”

Ferry Biedermann, a correspondent for Dutch and international media in the Middle East, provides details (emphasis mine) on some of the American allies Wilders has in a piece in Foreign Policy titled “Mainstreaming Hate”:

Not that long ago, both American Democrats and Republicans were considered rightwing by Dutch, and indeed European, standards. No longer. Wilders sometimes makes the likes of Fox News host Glenn Beck, anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, and even the most extreme fringes of the Tea Party crowd look like moderates — and the comparison is not a random one. Several Dutch media outlets have delved into ideological and financial ties between Wilders and American archconservatives such as David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, and Jim DeMint. In an article this May, the respected Dutch NRC newspaper reported that Horowitz had brought Wilders over for a “conservative conference in California” at the end of 2009, attended by DeMint and Liz Cheney, among others. It also quotes Pipes as saying that he had gathered a “six-figure sum” to support Wilders…

Some Dutch analysts warn that it is a mistake to “blacken” Wilders’s name too much or lump him with fascism or Nazism. “For one, he’s not anti-Semitic,” says Alfred Pijpers of the Clingendael Institute of International Relations in The Hague. Israeli officials have indeed privately commended him as “a friend of Israel.” Pijpers says that Wilders has more in common with the Tea Party activists in the United States than with any old-style European right-wing party

Here are some of Wilders’ political positions concerning Muslims and Islam:

He has called for a “head rag tax” on women wearing headscarves. He favors banning the Quran, wants to close Muslim schools but not equivalent Christian or Jewish ones, wants to force immigrants to sign “assimilation contracts,” and wants to include the “Judeo-Christian character” of the state in the constitution.

This should be a scandal in American politics, especially because people who have political power, such as Jim DeMint, a senator from South Carolina, are tied to Wilders.  This Foreign Policy piece further underscores the troubling ties that bind together Zionism, American neoconservatism and Islamophobia.

UPDATE:  I should have added in links to these excellent pieces by Ali Gharib, a blogger at the Inter Press Service’s LobeLog: Dutch MP Geert Wilders and U.S. Allies Tied to European Far Right and Frum Whitewashes Dutch Islamophobe.

Explaining Shariah Law, From One Neocon to Another

Paul Woodward of War in Context posts this video of an interview that Glenn Beck conducted at the end of August with neoconservative Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy, the organization that authored a recent report titled, “Shariah: The Threat to America:”


Gaffney, who has said that President Obama “may be” a Muslim and who fancies himself as an expert on Islam apparently, defines shariah as “a political program that the authorities of Islam have long believed, a millennium or so, must be imposed over the entire world, to be ruled by a theocracy, a caliph and to impose Shariah as the rules.”

Well, not really.  Lee Smith, who himself is an ardent supporter of Israel and a fellow at the neo-conservative Hudson Institute, had an surprisingly informative piece in Tablet magazine in mid-August, responding to the right’s fulminations over the creeping “threat” of shariah coming to America (if anyone can recommend a better explanation from a non-neocon source, please do so in the comments section) :

Sharia is not a concrete legal code; it is the idealized notion of God’s law. Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word “sharia” necessarily means many things to many people. Even though Islam is very simple in its basics, including conversion—you are a Muslim if you testify there is no God but God and Muhummad is the messenger of God—the faith comes with a fabulously esoteric scholarly tradition…

If to Gingrich sharia stands for everything wrong with Islam, Muslims associate it with all that is best about Islam—justice, accountability, the rule of law, and even democracy. That is to say, it’s a highly idealized version of reality that has little basis in fact. For most Muslims (moderate and non-moderate alike), sharia is a catchall phrase for legal principles that have rarely, if ever, existed in actual Muslim societies, where the law of the land is not God’s but the ruler’s. It is not abstract notions of “sharia” but the actual application of the ahkam al-sultaniyya, or laws of the ruler, that have shaped the reality of most Muslim societies over the last millennium.

Jewish Groups Denounce ‘Museum of Tolerance’ Builder Simon Wiesenthal Center for Support of Islamophobia

On Friday, September 16, a coalition of groups protested outside the New York “Museum of Tolerance,” denouncing the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s support of Islamophobia.  This report originally appeared in the Indypendent:

PHOTO: Ellen Davidson

A coalition of four Jewish groups, backed by a wide array of peace and justice organizations, held a demonstration Sept. 16 outside the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in New York, denouncing the organization’s opposition to the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan.

Organized by Jews Say No!, American Jews for a Just Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, about 100 demonstrators walked in front of the museum on East 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan, chanting “Islamophobia isn’t pretty, it has no place in New York City” and “Islamophobia is a shame, New Yorkers say not in our name.”

“If you’re going to put tolerance in your name, you got to put it in your game, and the Museum of Tolerance has not done that,” Jon Moscow, an activist with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, told members of the press.  “Statements that its leaders have been making have been feeding this frenzy of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.”

As the Cordoba House controversy, manufactured and fueled by far-right blogs and the right-wing press, heated up, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, appeared on Fox News in early August and criticized the proposed Muslim community center.


“Having a 15-story mosque within 1600 feet of the site is at the very least insensitive,” Hier said.

The Park 51 Muslim community center, of which the Cordoba House interfaith center will be a part, has sparked an acrimonious national debate over Islam and religious freedom, setting the stage for an upsurge in anti-Muslim sentiment across the United States.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center describes itself as an “international Jewish human rights organization” that promotes “human rights and dignity.”

The Wiesenthal Center’s executive director, Rabbi Meyer May, told Crain’s New York that “religious freedom does not mean being insensitive … or an idiot.”

“The museum says its aim is ‘to challenge people of all backgrounds to confront their most closely held assumptions and assume responsibility for change.’ That’s a beautiful vision. But it’s one that is wholly inconsistent with the actions of the museum’s leadership,” said Hannah Schwarzschild of American Jews for a Just Peace.

Center for Constitutional Right's Richard Levy: Simon Wiesenthal Center has given us 'a new definition of chutzpah.' Photo: ELLEN DAVIDSON

Demonstrators also harshly criticized the center’s decision to build a Jerusalem branch of the Museum of Tolerance on top of a centuries-old Muslim cemetery, known as the Mamilla cemetery.  They said that the center’s project, which has resulted in the “disinterment of hundreds of graves,” according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, is another example of the center disregarding the rights of Muslims.

“I’m just going to take a minute to tell you a new definition of a Yiddish word called ‘chutzpah.’ … It refers to brazen nerve,” said Richard Levy, a lawyer working with the Center for Constitutional Rights on a petition filed with several international bodies to halt the construction of the museum in Jerusalem. “This cemetery, which stands in West Jerusalem for a thousand years, is now subject to the bulldozer of this organization. So that’s the meaning of the word chutzpah: to say you stand for tolerance, and perform that kind of an act, is the most despicable kind of hypocrisy.”

Also speaking at the demonstration was Debbie Almontaser, herself the victim of a anti-Muslim, anti-Arab smear campaign reminiscent of the controversy over the Park 51 project that ultimately forced her to resign as the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a dual-language Arabic public school in Brooklyn.

“Why are the museum and Simon Wiesenthal leaders not taking a principled stand against the hatred of Islam and Muslims?” Almontaser asked.  “I say to them: Be just. Speak to your mission.”

House Republicans Pal Around with anti-Muslim, anti-Black racist David Yerushalmi

It should come as no surprise that elected officials are aiding and
abetting anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S., especially with mid-term elections nearby.  But it was still a little shocking to read Think Progress national security blogger Matt Duss’ post on a newly released report titled “Sharia: The Threat to America.”

Duss writes that the report, authored by the neoconservative Center for Security Policy, was presented to Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI).  Here’s the slightly shocking part:  also attending the event Duss reported on was David Yerushalmi, the general counsel for the Center for Security Policy.

So just who is this Yerushalmi fellow that Republican politicians were palling around with?

Yerushalmi has been aptly described as a “Jewish fascist” by blogger Richard Silverstein.  As Silverstein highlighted in August 2007, Yerushalmi has said:

One must admit readily that the radical liberal Jew is a fact of the West and a destructive one…Indeed, Jews in the main have turned their backs on the belief in G-d and His commandments as a book of laws for a particular and chosen people…What interest does America have in a strong Israel? If your answer is democracy in a liberal or western sense, know you have sided with the Palestinians of Hamas.

Yerushalmi was a member of the Stop the Madrassa Coalition, which was instrumental in the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim smear campaign that brought down Debbie Almontaser, the founding principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a dual-language Arabic school in Brooklyn.  He has followed his Islamophobic buddies Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer in joining in their war against the Muslim community center near Ground Zero, and is an attorney with the so-called American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is run by Geller and Spencer.

That’s not even the worst part.  Charles Johnson, the blogger at the formerly right-wing, hawkish website Little Green Footballs who “parted ways with the right” for, in part, its “Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.),” has the rundown on Yerushalmi:

This is a good time for some background information on Pamela Geller’s associate David Yerushalmi, who is an advocate for criminalizing Islam itself and imposing 20-year sentences on practicing Muslims. Yes, really.

He’s not simply anti-Muslim, though; Yerushalmi also wrote a now-infamous article titled “On Race: A Tentative Discussion, Part II,” in which he advocated a return to a pre-Bill of Rights Constitution, and the restriction of voting rights to white male land-owners. Again … yes, really.

Here’s a lengthy article at Talk To Action on the bizarre views and causes of David Yerushalmi: Anti-Semitic White-Supremacist Orthodox Jew Tries To Ban Islam In US.

Yerushalmi has deleted as much evidence of the “On Race” article as he could; he removed it from the Internet Archive and the Google cache, and put his entire website behind a registration wall. But here’s a PDF that contains the full article, and it’s as ugly and twisted a piece of racism as anything I’ve ever seen. Yerushalmi opens by calling Islam “an evil religion,” and “blacks … the most murderous of peoples.”

A quote:

“There is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote. You might not agree or like the idea but this country’s founders, otherwise held in the highest esteem for their understanding of human nature and its affect on political society, certainly took it seriously. Why is that? Were they so flawed in their political reckonings that they manhandled the most important aspect of a free society – the vote? If the vote counts for so much in a free and liberal democracy as we ‘know’ it today, why did they limit the vote so dramatically?”

So there you have it: House Republicans are openly associating themselves with a “Jewish fascist” who has called “blacks…the most murderous of peoples” and advocates for the criminalization of Islam.

9/11 anniversary weekend brings out spirited demonstrations

The following two pieces, one from last Friday night and the next from Saturday, originally appeared in the Indypendent:

On Night Before 9/11, New Yorkers Voice Strong Support for Muslim Community Center:

As the anniversary of 9/11 and the Islamophobic rally led by far-right blogger Pamela Geller converge today, over 1,000 New Yorkers gathered Sept. 10 at Park Place in lower Manhattan for a candlelight vigil in support of the proposed Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero that has ignited a national firestorm over Islam in America.

Organized by New York Neighbors for American Values, a new coalition of over 100 groups formed in response to the opposition to the Cordoba House project, faith leaders, elected officials, musicians and activists voiced strong support for the proposed Islamic community center, which will also include a September 11 memorial, a restaurant and culinary school and more.

“This is not just an issue I should support silently,” said Frank Fredericks, the co-director of Religious Freedom USA.  “This is a core, essential issue that Americans should stand up for.”

The supporters of the center, holding candles, filled more than two blocks, and some had to stand on a sidewalk across the street from the vigil.  The music of Bob Marley, John Lennon and a live rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” filled the air.

“There’s enough for all of us.  Nobody has to be thrown away.  We can do this thing if we hang together.  There’s enough room in this neighborhood for an Islamic center,” the keynote speaker of the event, Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, said.  “We don’t have to say they gotta go…They are our fellow Americans.”

The action came the night before the 9th anniversary of the September 11 attacks and a planned rally in lower Manhattan organized by the right-wing Stop Islamization of America group.  A counter-protest against Islamophobia and in support of Muslims backed by a broad left-wing coalition is also being held on September 11.

“No neighborhood should be off-limits for any particular group,” said Aliya Latif, the civil rights director for the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Stop Islamization of America, led by Geller and Robert Spencer of the anti-Muslim blog Jihad Watch, is protesting the planned Muslim community center two blocks away from Ground Zero, claiming that it is “an effort to insult the victims of 9/11 and to establish a beachhead for political Islam and Islamic supremacism in New York.”  Geller is a leading Islamophobic voice who has called for the removal of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, one of the most holy sites for Muslims, and has posted on her website a picture that replaced the Prophet Muhammad’s face with that of a pig. Spencer has compared the Islamic holy book, the Quran, to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and thinks that Islam is “innately extremist and violent.”

“I think we all know that nobody would object to a community center on Park Place unless it was sponsored by Muslims.  And no one can say with a straight face that that’s not based on religious discrimination,” said Richard Gottfried, a New York State Assemblyman.  “People who share American values do not do that.”

The vigil came in the midst of an increase of anti-Muslim sentiment across the country, stoked by the right-wing press.  There has been a spate of anti-Muslim actions over the past couple of weeks as the debate over the Muslim community center in New York has heated up.  While two-thirds of New York City residents want the proposed center to be moved farther away from the site of Ground Zero, a majority of Manhattan residents support the project, according to a recent New York Times poll.

“We have every right to worship wherever we want.  This country was founded on the basis of religious freedom,” said Rabyaah Althaibani, a Muslim Arab-American.

***

On 9/11 Anniversary, Park 51 Islamic Center Sparks Rallies, For and Against

(with Ellen Davidson)

Thousands rallied in Manhattan’s City Hall Park, near the site of Ground Zero, on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to denounce anti-Muslim bigotry, while blocks away an equal number demonstrated against the proposed Cordoba House Islamic community center at 51 Park Place in lower Manhattan.

At the Unity and Solidarity Rally, speakers denounced racism, urging protesters to fight growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Israel/Palestine conflict.  The multiracial crowd heard antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, former U.S. Rep. and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Attorney Ramsey Clark, the Raging Grannies and representatives of peace, religious, labor, and community organizations including the Albany Central Labor Federation, the Bail Out the People Movement, Riverside Church, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, the Islamic Society of North America, United for Peace and Justice, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Veterans for Peace. The anti-Islamophobia protest was organized by the International Action Center and backed by a broad coalition of leftist, Muslim, Arab and Palestine solidarity groups.  Demonstrators marched to Foley Square, chanting and holding signs against anti-Muslim bigotry.

At the anti-Cordoba House rally, the mostly white participants waved U.S. flags and chanted “No mosque here.”  Speakers at the anti-community center rally included Pamela Geller, a leading voice on the Islamophobic right, and the notorious Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has stated that he “hates Islam.”

View a slide show that features pictures from both actions here.