In June 2011, the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved sale of the closed Eagle Elementary School to the Islamic Cultural Association (ICA) of Franklin. During this public hearing, however, I witnessed a well-organized campaign of intimidation against school supporters and ad hominem attacks against the Muslim community in general.
School Board Vice President Sheilah Clay even stated at the end of the hearing that “the bigotry was rampant in this room tonight.” The attacks made against the Muslim community that night were reminiscent of the Joe McCarthy and Jim Crow South eras, not what I envisioned Oakland County should look like in the 21st century.
In these times, agenda driven groups and persons can merely hurl accusations against Muslims in which the burden of proof falls on Muslims to disprove the most outlandish and conspiratorial propositions.
Last week, Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield was the latest venue in our area of such anti-Muslim incitement by the far right-wing Thomas More Law Center in its effort to block a zoning board petition by ICA. Thomas More Law Center, which has represented the likes of the infamous Qur’an burning and President Obama effigy lynching Pastor Terry Jones, has become an expert at propagating that Muslims are a fifth column in America fictional frame.
Part of the Thomas More Law Center’s ad hominem attack against ICA was to attack the Council on American Islamic Relations-Michigan’s (CAIR-MI’s) standing up for the religious rights of ICA. No mosque or Islamic school has membership in CAIR; however, CAIR has and will continue to advocate for the First Amendment rights of Muslim institutions and the freedom of religious practice for all Americans in general.
Stating that CAIR was “unindicted,” meaning the government lacked proof to charge CAIR with any crime, much less it being found guilty, in a criminal case typifies the type of scare tactic advocacy that Thomas More continues to be involved in to stoke up fear about Muslims and their community organizations.
The Jewish Community Relations Council and Jewish Voice for Peace also stated their support for ICA. However, Jewish support for ICA’s First Amendment rights does not fit well into Thomas More’s “the Muslims are coming” narrative, so it preferred to single out CAIR’s support for ICA’s constitutional rights instead.
What is most sad about this campaign that seeks to marginalize Muslims is that it stems from Thomas More, a Catholic organization, and people who are Jewish. Given that Catholic and Jewish Americans have a shared history of religious persecution in America and that similar conspiracy theories have been launched against them, we would think that they would remember their own history as it relates to dealing with fellow Americans of the Islamic faith.
Thankfully, the mean spirited attacks by these two groups are being challenged by co-religionists and other Americans of good will.
As we have seen a rise of hate crimes in the past two weeks against Muslims — or those who are perceived to be Muslims — from the tragic shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin to attacks against Islamic institutions in Illinois, we should all recognize that inciting fear against minorities can have painful consequences. With freedom of speech comes a heavy responsibility. I hope that in Oakland County, we renew our resolve to cultivate a harmonious community and shun those who seek to demonize fellow citizens, which includes Michigan Muslims.
Dawud Walid is the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) and board trustee of the Metropolitan Detroit Interfaith Workers Rights Committee.