A Planned Mosque Inches Along, but Critics Remain

A cluster of young Muslims in matching yellow T-shirts and broad smiles handed out free school supplies to a line of needy families in front of a gated construction site in the waning days of summer. Across the quiet residential street, two men glared at them, holding up protest signs.

The narrow avenue divided the two views of a three-story mosque and Islamic community center that is slowly being built on Voorheis Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, capturing the lingering tensions over a project that has split this multiethnic, but mostly Russian-Jewish, residential neighborhood that hugs the Atlantic shoreline.

The mosque’s backers say 150 to 200 Muslim families who live within walking distance are in need of a local place to pray. The mosque, they want to reassure neighbors, will be an asset, providing afterschool activities to children, a Boy Scout troop open to all and charity events, like the school supply giveaway.

But a determined group of opponents see in the half-built concrete and brick frame a provocation. To them, it is a blight, a source of future traffic congestion and worse: a beachhead for Muslim expansion in Brooklyn and a beacon for anti-Semitism.

“Yes, they are smiling, but you know what’s behind their smiles?” said Leonid Krupnik, 62, one of the two protesters late last month. Like many of the mosque’s opponents, he has strong memories of anti-Semitism as a Jew from the former Soviet Union. “Hatred. They want to create a caliphate. They want to push people out of this neighborhood.”

Mr. Krupnik and other opponents say they are being unfairly typecast as xenophobes and racists. They do nevertheless worry that the neighborhood will change so much that non-Muslims will want to leave and they fear that the mosque will be used to promote radical thinking.

“If the area, suddenly, is like a suburb of some Muslim country, it’s not very pleasant,” said Alexandr Tenenbaum, who lives several blocks away. “I am always scared because you see these kind of people, but we can’t say it.”

Mr. Ahmed and the Muslim American Society, which bought the property from him, say the suspicion is unfounded. They also say the statements by the politicians engender hate.

Mr. Ahmed, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1997, said that because of the tolerance he found in Brooklyn over the years, he had not expected such determined opposition.

Muslim American summer camp blends faith and fun

Camp Izza in Pasadena and Irvine aims to help Muslim children take pride in their culture and faith. The summer includes prayers and Koran recitation as well as water balloons and scavenger hunts.

 

Camp Izza, believed to be the only Muslim summer camp in the U.S. that is accredited by the American Camp Assn. Located on school campuses in Irvine and Pasadena, Camp Izza is run by husband and wife Omar and Munira Ezzeldine as a means of instilling izza — the Arabic word for “pride” — in Muslim youths.

“We want the kids to be proud of who they are as Muslims,” said Omar Ezzeldine, 36, who was born in Los Angeles to Egyptian parents.  The children at Camp Izza face a challenge their parents did not: establishing their identities in a culture where anti-Islamic rhetoric can be found in political campaigns, cable news punditry and Hollywood films.

“It’s important for [my son] to be somewhere where a positive attitude toward his faith is reinforced,” said Samar Ghannoum, 46, who sent her 8-year-old Kareem to the camp this summer. “He is the future, in a lot of ways. He is American and Muslim.”

And it’s likely that the Camp Izza model will be duplicated because the U.S. Muslim population is growing at a relatively fast pace.

Andre Carson: Speech to Islamic Circle praised success of all faith-based schools

U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, an Indianapolis Democrat who is one of only two Muslims in Congress, is coming under attack for a speech he gave to the Islamic Circle of North America.

André Carson, created controversy when he told an Islamic Circle of North America convention that; American schools should be modeled after Madrassas, or Islamic schools that are built on the foundations of the Quran, WND reports.

The headline on one blog read: “Rep. Andre Carson: American schools won’t excel until the foundation is the Koran.”

Really? Well, no, Carson didn’t say that. What Carson did say was that schools could learn something about innovation from madrassas, the Islamic religious schools. It is about four sentences in a 19-minute speech, given May 26 in Hartford, Conn., as the group held its annual gathering.

The full speech is about being proud to be a Muslim-American and notes that Muslims have been part of the nation from its inception and have much to offer. The conference’s theme was on addressing Islamophobia.

He said he believed faith-based schools, with smaller class sizes, are able to be more experimental and address different kinds of learners.

“They’re given a different kind of freedom to tap into these young American minds,” Carson said.

Asked if he was saying that the Koran should be in the public school classroom, Carson said: “No, no, no.”

Carson said that whether a religious school teaches the Bible, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita or the Koran, “there’s something to be said about the success rates of faith-based learning institutions that we might be able to extract some principles or some methodology from.”

Pool of American imams too small to meet the demand

SHARON, Mass. — The Islamic Center of New England has always been led by imams born outside America. The two-campus mosque would like to change that, but it’s proving harder than leaders had thought.

The ICNE’s mosque here on the South Shore of Boston has been without an imam since 2006, when the last imam was arrested for immigration fraud. A rotating cast of lay and trained imams have led congregational Friday prayers and other mosque functions since then.

As this suburban mosque has discovered, American-born imams are nearly impossible to find. Ads from mosques seeking imams who are fluent in English are readily found in Muslim-American magazines and newspapers. The North American Imams Federation, an advocacy group founded in 2002, gets more than 100 requests for help every year from mosques seeking religious leaders.

Hossam AlJabri, a former executive director of the Muslim American Society, estimated that about 80 percent of America’s 2,200 mosques were led by immigrant imams, although the majority have been in America for at least 10 years, many much longer.

According to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of America’s estimated 2.75 million Muslims are immigrants — with as many as 90,000 new Muslim immigrants arriving each year. Experts say it will be years before the pool of American imams becomes large enough to meet demand from mosques.

While a few Islamic chaplaincy programs and educational institutes have been established in the last few years in the United States, there are no similar programs to help newly arrived imams acclimate to America.

American mosques continue to rely on foreign-born imams for their religious knowledge and fluency in Arabic. But they also want Americanized imams who can speak English and serve as competent communicators with an ear for interfaith events, civic engagement and engaging the media.

Brown Appoints California’s First Muslim Superior Court Judge

Halim Dhanidina, who spent 14 years as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, was appointed to a California Superior Court judgeship May 18 by Governor Jerry Brown.

Dhanidina, a founding member of the Association of South Asian Prosecutors, will be the first Muslim American on a California bench, said Brown, announcing the appointments of 17 judges. Dhanidina will take up his new role June 20, although he has not yet been assigned to a court.

“I hope that my appointment serves as an example to others in the Muslim American community, particularly the youth, that our faith and identity need not be an obstacle to our full participation in California’s civic institutions,” Dhanidina told India-West. “Similarly, I hope to perform my new responsibilities in a way that demonstrates to society at large that Muslim Americans can serve the community in the pursuit of justice with dignity and honor,” he said.

The Chicago-born, Evanston, Ill.,-raised Dhanidina, whose Gujarati parents Lutaf and Mali emigrated from Tanzania to the U.S., in 1960, said that his 14 years as a deputy district attorney and being in court nearly every day have made him intimately familiar with how a courtroom works, including the rules that govern a trial.

The Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council said it had advocated for Dhanidina’s appointment for more than a year. “Dhanidina’s appointment is an important step in ensuring that California’s leaders accurately reflect the communities present in our great state,” said Aziza Hasan, MPAC’s Southern California Government Relations director, in a press statement.

Dhanidina earned his law degree at UCLA, where he served as the co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Law Students Association. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Pomona College, where he founded the first Muslim Students’ Association, and currently sits on the Board of Governors of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Los Angeles.

Muslim-American Terrorism in the Decade Since 9/11

Muslim-American Terrorism Down in 2011

 

Twenty Muslim-Americans were indicted for violent terrorist plots in 2011, down from 26

the year before, bringing the total since 9/11 to 193, or just under 20 per year (see Figure

1). This number is not negligible – small numbers of Muslim-Americans continue to

radicalize each year and plot violence.  However, the rate of radicalization is far less

than many feared in the aftermath of 9/11. In early 2003, for example, Robert Mueller,

director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told Congress that “FBI investigations have

revealed militant Islamics [sic] in the US. We strongly suspect that several hundred of these

extremists are linked to al-Qaeda.”1 Fortunately, we have not seen violence on this

scale.  The scale of homegrown Muslim-American terrorism in 2011 does not appear to have

corroborated the warnings issued by government officials early in the year. In March 2011, Mueller testified to Congress that this threat had become even more complex and difficult to combat, as “we are seeing an increase in the sources of terrorism, a wider array of terrorist targets, and an evolution in terrorist tactics and means of communication.”2 Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, echoed Mueller’s concern in her 2011 “State

of America’s Homeland Security Address”: “the terrorist threat facing our country has evolved significantly in the last ten years –and continues to evolve – so that, in some ways, the threat facing us is at its most heightened state since those attacks.”3 Congressman Peter King, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security in the U.S. House of Representatives, held four earings

in 2011 to alert Americans to the “the extent of Muslim-American radicalization by al-Qaeda

in their communities today and how terrible it is, the impact it has on families, how extensive

it is, and also that the main victims of this are Muslim-Americans themselves.”4

Study: Homegrown terrorism down for second year in a row

A new study released by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security documents that concerns of counterterrorism officials about a potential wave of homegrown violent extremism have not materialized over the past two years. The study, “Muslim-American Terrorism in the Decade Since 9/11,” reports that 20 Muslim-Americans committed or were arrested for terrorist crimes in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and 49 in 2009.

Since 9/11, 193 Muslim-Americans have been arrested or convicted of violent terrorism offenses, making 2011 about an average year for such offenses.

“Muslim-American terrorism continued to be a miniscule threat to public safety last year. None of America’s 14,000 murders in 2011 were due to Islamic extremism,” said Charles Kurzman, author of the study and professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC. “The challenge is for Americans to be vigilant about potential violence while keeping these threats in perspective.”

“Those who predicted an inevitable, rapid increase of homegrown violent extremism among Muslim-Americans were wrong,” said David Schanzer, director of the center and professor of public policy at Duke. “While homegrown radicalization is still a problem, the offenders from 2011 were less skilled and less connected with international terrorist organizations than the offenders in the prior two years. Hopefully, the seriousness of this threat will continue to decline in the future.”

The study also reported that 462 Muslim-Americans have been arrested for nonviolent support of terrorism since 9/11. The number of offenders has declined dramatically since 9/11, with 343 offenders in the first five years after 9/11 and 119 since then. Eight Muslim-Americans were charged with nonviolent support for terrorism in 2011, down from 27 in 2010.

The amount of funds at issue in these cases also declined over time. The four cases in 2011 all involved less than $100,000. Thirteen of 23 cases since 2008 also involved less than $100,000. Before 2008, 24 out of 34 of the cases involved more than $100,000, and 11 cases involved more than $1 million.

Tolerance for Intolerance Bruises Lowe’s

Poor Lowe’s. The do-it-yourself chain made room in their budget for TLC’s “All-American Muslim,” a reality show about life in the Muslim American community in Dearborn, Mich., but the company ended up catching some focus for supporting a show that depicted Muslims as something besides terrorists. As it turned out, the protest was hardly broad based, with most of it coming from one guy. Still, the Florida Family Association, as David Caton’s Web site is called, claimed 65 companies agreed to stop advertising on “All-America Muslim.” That didn’t turn out to be precisely true.

But Lowe’s pulled back and jumped directly from the frying pan and into the fire. This weekend, Muslims and many non-Muslims in Dearborn showed up in force to protest the decision, according to The Detroit Free Press.

‘About 100 people of various faiths gathered at the Allen-Born Shopping Center on Outer Drive to chastise the hardware giant for what they described as caving to the demands of a right-wing Christian group who said TLC’s “All-American Muslim” does not include depictions of beliefs that appear to promote an anti-American agenda.’

The Florida Family Association ended up with a hacked Web site and the chief executive of Lowe’s is now in receipt of a letter from Congress asking the company to stand up to religious intolerance. And, perhaps worst of all for Lowe’s, a few people came to its defense at protests over the weekend: Armed members of the Michigan Militia.

NY Times Op Ed: An All-American Misstep

It is incredibly sad that one person with his own one-man hate group can tap into anti-Muslim sentiment and lead reputable companies to make foolish judgment calls.

At least two advertisers — Lowe’s, the home-improvement retailer, and Kayak.com, the online travel firm — have pulled commercials from “All-American Muslim,” a new reality series on the TLC cable channel, since the show was condemned by David Caton, an anti-Muslim and anti-gay activist, and the shell organization he founded and runs, the Florida Family Association.

Businesses have a perfect right to decide how to spend their advertising dollars. But, in pulling out as they did, Lowe’s and Kayak sent a distasteful message to their customers, their employees, and to the larger public.

“All-American Muslim” tracks the lives of five Muslim-American families in Dearborn, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. Mr. Caton has called on companies to end their sponsorships, arguing that the show is dangerous and misleading “propaganda” because it portrays Muslims as “ordinary folks” just like other law-abiding Americans, not as extremists and terrorists.

Both Lowes and Kayak deny that they were moved to act by Mr. Caton’s campaign, citing instead the show’s controversial nature and, in Kayak’s case, reservations about its quality. “All-American Muslim” may not be the best TV show, but the controversy was manufactured by one man. By appearing to bow to bigotry, the companies earned a self-inflicted black eye.

Massachusetts man charged with plotting to fly explosives into Pentagon ordered held on bail

WORCESTER, Mass. — A federal judge has denied bail for a Massachusetts man accused of plotting to fly remote-controlled model planes packed with explosives into the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol.

The judge said in the decision issued Monday that 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus is a “danger to the community” with a “dedication to his cause.”

Ferdaus, a Muslim American with a physics degree from Northeastern University, was arrested in Framingham in September after federal employees posing as al-Qaida members delivered what he believed was 24 pounds of C-4 explosives.

Lawyers for the Ashland man said Ferdaus has mental health issues and had a “completely unrealistic fantasy.”