Gainesville confronts the anti-Muslim bigots

September 9, 2010

Joe Cenker reports from Florida on the sick plans of Christian right fanatics to mark September 11--and what activists are doing to confront them.

IN A period of rising Islamophobia fueled by the inflammatory rhetoric of right-wing political leaders and media celebrities, the city of Gainesville is finding itself on the front lines of a national issue.

On September 11, the horribly misnamed Dove World Outreach Center (DWOC)--a small group of hardcore Christian conservatives with a reputation in the Gainesville community for outrageous hate-mongering--are planning their first "International Burn a Koran Day."

This highly publicized event has, in the words of the Washington Post, been covered by international media from "Mumbai to Melbourne," and the whole world will be watching between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m.--when Pastor Terry Jones and his followers say they will feed copies of the most sacred book of Islam into a bonfire.

Thankfully, there will be more for the international press to cover than book-burning alone. Several activist organizations are working to mobilize hundreds of people--to send the DWOC the message that their bigotry will not be tolerated in our community since the event was announced.

Anti-Muslim bigot Terry Jones
Anti-Muslim bigot Terry Jones

THE PLANNED Koran-burning in Gainesville is only one example of a wave of anti-Islam racism.

The most prominent outburst of bigotry is in New York City, where Tea Partiers and other right-wing organizations have attacked plans for an Islamic community center to be built in Lower Manhattan, near the site of the World Trade Center. Right-wingers are planning another in a series of rallies on September 11--and anti-racists will hold a counterprotest.

In other cities, Christian Right-aligned groups are likewise protesting proposals to build mosques, and Islamic groups and facilities have been targets of a wave of vandalism and violence. Construction equipment at the site of a planned Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was set on fire in late August, and days later, a gang of white teens was arrested for firing weapons at a mosque in the upstate New York town of Waterport.

In Gainesville, the DWOC bigots, who have published such insidious books as Islam Is of the Devil, are well known in Gainesville for projecting a message of hate toward any segment of society other than conservative white Protestants. Last year, activists from the Gainesville branch of the International Socialist Organization and Queer Activist Coalition organized a protest against the right-wingers' message of hate toward the LGBTQ community.

Some DWOC adherents--a typical Sunday service at DWOC draws around 30 people--have gained notoriety for sending their children to school wearing "Islam Is of the Devil" T-shirts and holding picket signs outside City Hall to smear Craig Lowe, Gainesville's first openly gay mayor.

Originally, the self-proclaimed "armed Christian conservative" group Right Wing Extreme had promised to "protect" the center against the threat posed by anti-racist protesters. But Right Wing Extreme backed out with the explanation that DWOC's plans to burn the Koran don't "glorify God."

This has placed the DWOC in the peculiar position of being more extreme than Right Wing Extreme--and it leaves Terry Jones and his small following isolated, though Jones has made a big deal to the press that center adherents have weapons permits and will be armed that day. An ISO organizer has received an anonymous death threat in connection with the protest--which shows that in the face of widespread community opposition, DWOC supporters have little left to fall back on but the threat of violence.

The DWOC will find itself alone on September 11. But anti-racists won't. Among the organizations mobilizing to ensure a large, safe and effective protest are the Gainesville ISO, Students for Justice in Palestine, Gainesville SDS and Stand Up Florida.

The DWOC will be breaking a local burn ordinance with their event, and would lose their insurance as a consequence. Without insurance, the center's mortgage is threatened, and if DWOC followers aren't able to raise $140,000 in a couple of months, they will lose their space. Gainesville is excited to tell the right-wingers just what we think of them on their way out.

On September 11, the world will see that not everyone in U.S. is falling for Islamophobic rhetoric--and that our community won't stand aside and do nothing in the face of such hate.

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