Fight against bigotry continues in NYC

October 8, 2010

ACTIVISTS IN New York City are continuing the fight against Islamophobia in all five boroughs.

On the heels of a successful action on September 11 when more than 3,000 people protested the right-wing bigots who mobilized against a proposed Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan, the NYC Coalition to Stop Islamophobia organized a counterprotest in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and held a public panel on fighting Islamophobia.

On September 26, the coalition joined with members of community to protest a rally organized by BayPeople Inc., a group that came together to oppose construction of a proposed mosque on Voorhies Avenue in Sheepshead Bay. Importantly, the protest featured a large turnout from Arab and Muslim families from the area who would benefit most from the mosque.

Overall, about 100 supporters of the project came out to counter the 250 people who were protesting the mosque. The two mobilizations were directly across the street from one another, enabling mosque supporters to chant against the racist rhetoric that was part of the anti-mosque rally.

While opponents of the mosque had tried to couch their opposition to the project in terms of concerns about traffic and noise levels, when confronted, the true anti-Islam nature of their opposition became clear.

One speaker even said, "I'm not a racist. I am just against their religion. This is a war. And we are going to win...People say 'Don't build a mosque here,' or 'Don't build a mosque too close to Ground Zero.' But I am going to say what we all really think: We don't want new mosques built anywhere!"

In addition, the Brooklyn Tea Party mobilized against the mosque, illustrating that the protesters were not all from the neighborhood, and are part of a broader Islamophobic sentiment that has emerged in recent months.

The mosque developers opened the proposed site of the project to supporters who had gathered for the counter-protest. These demonstrators held signs reading, "We say no to racist fear, Muslims are welcome here," and chanted "Liar!" when the other side put out false information and "Shame, shame, shame on you!" in response to their vitriol.

When the Islamophobes finished their protest--which featured a stage and amplified sound--supporters of the mosque conducted a short speakout that featured Rev. Tom Martinez, who has been an outspoken critic of the anti-mosque bigots, as well as a statement from the New York Neighbors for American Values and from the NYC Coalition.

FOUR DAYS later, the NYC Coalition to Stop Islamophobia organized its first educational panel in downtown Manhattan.

The panel featured Louis Cristillo, the principal investigator for the "Muslim Youth in NYC Public Schools Project" at the Teachers College of Columbia University; Nada Khadar, executive director of the WESPAC Foundation, a peace and justice network centered around Middle East issues; and Adam Horowitz, co-editor of Mondoweiss, a news Web site "devoted to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective."

About 40 people attended despite heavy rains.

Cristillo talked about his study of Muslim youth in New York public schools, addressing the impact of Islamophobia on the students, and about the history of culture wars in the U.S. against Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants and others. Cristillo showed how bigoted how discourse can turn into policies, like the Indian reservations, Jim Crow laws, the 1917 Asian Exclusion Law, "don't ask, don't tell" and, most recently, SB 1070 in Arizona.

Khadar linked the current wave of Islamophobia to an attempt to gain support for the U.S. policies toward Israel. She argued that there has been a significant loss of support for Zionism among young Jewish-Americans, leading to this flurry of anti-Islamic messaging.

She also spoke about the book Reel Bad Arabs, which documents 700 Hollywood film portraying Arabs in a negative light with not one film showing an Arab family positively. Khadar said that activists need to challenge and expose policies supporting the white dominant culture leading to institutional racism.

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