Guest post by Women Against War
From “Waging Peace“, Albany Times Union
I’m thinking of the dark conclusion of those who despair, in these equally dark times, of making any direct political difference in the country: that since there’s no longer a way to influence anything in state government, even more impossible to knock at the door of the federal level––the only venue left is local government, because at least they listen. And they listen because they’re us, or at least those we elected from the ‘hood to speak for us.
Here in the state capital, a cluster of three local governments passed, in one week, nearly identical resolutions against Islamophobia and in support of Muslim residents and neighbors. The Schenectady City Council came first, member Leesa Perazzo organizing a meeting and introducing the resolution, which passed unanimously, all in a day, December 28.
The Albany County Legislature followed with a proclamation on January 1 at a non-public meeting. After initially getting 6 co-sponsors, legislator Douglas Bullock hand-carried the proclamation around for signatures, the final tally of which was 26, a majority of the legislature’s 39-member body that included 5 Republicans (another milestone that seems to be possible only on the local level: reaching across the aisle). Only a few names were conspicuously absent, which had more to do with an internecine Democratic Party spat than any opposition or indifference to Muslims.
Finally, on January 4, the 16-member Albany Common Council unanimously passed its resolution, which was introduced by member Leah Golby with 10 co-sponsors, supported by the council president, and backed by an hour’s worth of speakers, some quite eloquent, during the public comment period. When the voice vote was finally taken, the gallery as well as council members spontaneously stood and applauded. You can read the text of the resolution here.
Only three other cities in the country have passed such resolutions since the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks: Seattle and Spokane, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. A stronger resolution, modeled on HR 569 currently in the U.S. House of Representatives, will be introduced in the New York State Assembly by Hon. Phillip Steck in a month or so.
So what transpired here to cause this governmental burst of support? Was it a case of parallel evolution, those in positions of some power and those who try and speak truth to power having the same idea at the same time? Was it an effort by activists and interfaith, religious, and Muslim leaders, working in coalition with those they’d elected, to set aright our daily lives in a dangerous time and to push for a statement of civic principles? Was it a response to the realization that Islamophobia is like arson, a fire deliberately set to spread from presidential debates to school classrooms, the equivalent of a religious lynch mob operating with impunity? The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says it has received “more reports about acts of Islamophobic violence, threats, intimidation, and discrimination targeting American Muslims…and Islamic institutions since the Paris attacks than during any other limited period of time since the 9/11 terror attacks.”
Or maybe it was that this community, especially the sizable Muslim community, remains scarred by the Yassin Aref-Mohammed Hossain case of 2004–2006, whereby two respected Muslim men––one the imam of Albany’s only mosque, the other a Central Avenue small businessman––were framed, entrapped, and convicted of terrorism in an outlandish informant-created plot. The mosque was raided, area Muslims were detained and questioned, the trial got international publicity, the newspapers were aghast, and the bewildered men (“We didn’t have the evidence that they were terrorists,” said the U.S. Attorney after the trial, “but they had the ideology,” though the trial proved they didn’t even have that.) Each got 15 years––all so that a major Broadway production, directed by the FBI on McCarty Avenue and played out across town, could be presented in New York State’s capital to let the rest of the country know that all Muslims were potential terrorists, by dint of their religion. Sound like an early example of federal Islamophobia to you?
A cynic might say: sure, all of the above. But Albany is overwhelmingly Democratic and progressive, and these are resolutions and proclamations, not laws, and nobody made Islamophobia illegal. The really nasty stuff doesn’t happen here, Not In My Back Yard, so why the need for these symbolic governmental declarations of support?
Listen to some local Muslims:
Living in America has been a beautiful struggle. As a Muslim American, I grew a lot from the hardships I was dealt. It was Islamophobia that made me become more outspoken, and more aware of my faith. Nevertheless, despite hardship refining one’s character, despite words not being able to break one’s bones—hate is nothing to take lightly…Mosques have been burnt, names have been slandered, families have been threatened—words are not just words, sometimes.
Khalafalla Osman, recent UAlbany graduate, former president of UAlbany Muslim Students Association, on Facebook
This time she asked, ‘Can we go meet the man with the funny hair on TV?’ She’s six years old, keep that in mind. When I asked why, she replied, ‘Because I want to tell him and his friends that we are not bad people.’ Can you imagine how it felt to hear my daughter say something like that?
Tasneem Ali, speaker at the Albany Common Council meeting (more here)
…American Muslims feel sad, depressed and frightened about this trend. Fascism takes a long path, but it starts this way.
Dr. Shamshad Ahmad, president, Masjid As-Salam, Albany (more here)
Things feel so sad and scary right now, but we’re all in this together.
Dr. Khalid Bhatti, president, Al-Hidaya mosque, Latham (interview here)
Now consider the website Dailyrollcall.com, run by self-proclaimed native Albanian Cathy Hinners, who states, apparently as justification, that she “personally know[s] some members of this Common Council.” Hinners serves Muslim hysteria straight up, with a twist:
The city of Albany NY, has decided to propose a resolution to stand with Muslims against Islamophobia. Wake up Albany, this is a slippery slope your elected officials are about to slide down. [The] resolution…is a veiled attempt to eventually suppress your freedom of speech, all under the guise of a “religion”[…]
Putting aside [that] your elected officials are lending an ear to a terrorist organization [CAIR], the resolution itself is nothing more than a commercial for Islam, and most likely drafted by a member of the Muslim community selling the idea that “anyone in disagreement with, speaks out against or is intolerant of the doctrine of Islam, is a hater, or Islamophobe.” (her’ bolding)
Note: I wrote the draft of the three resolutions, I’m not Muslim, and I’ve never received a better compliment. After your nausea, if you’d rather laugh, go here.
Tripe like this––which conveniently ignores the rest of the 1st Amendment, the parts about not prohibiting free exercise of religion and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances––relegates Muslims to constitutional solitary confinement, insuring they’re both separate and unequal. History tells us we’ve done this several times before: to African and Native Americans, Jews, Japanese. How much regression are we willing to allow before our dream of e pluribus unum goes up in flames?
Thus the need for an on-the-record declaration that not only has Islamophobia become the new normal in America, polluting our body politic from the national to the neighborhood, but also that it’s our responsibility to clean it up, from the bottom up. Fear, born of ignorance and unfamiliarity and morphed into anger, is a powerful motivation for bigotry. But an equally powerful force prevails when people come together and refuse to be afraid. The Danish did it during World War II, spontaneously organizing a national effort to save its Jewish citizens. Instead of holding millions of innocent Muslims responsible for the terrible crimes of a few, a responsible community -–- a community responsible for each other ––- is the antidote to the fire that’s been set upon Muslims, so it won’t one day come to consume us all. “Fear will not divide us,” says the resolution, from our pen to government’s ear, and now we can say to anyone who inquires about our collective backyard and our week’s resolve: Happy New Year. This one’s for you.
Jeanne Finley is a writer, editor, photographer, and community activist; a member of the Muslim Solidarity Committee and Project SALAM; and Capital District chapter president of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms.