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Rejecting bigotry and targeting of Muslims

By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Sep 6, 2010 - 4:04:57 PM

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Faiza N. Ali, community affairs director for CAIR-NY speaks to reporters. Photos: Lem Peterkin
NEW YORK ( - Two events took place in New York City in August that may change the core debate over tolerance and religious freedom here.

The first event was a noon press conference outside of the Municipal Building in downtown Manhattan, where organizations and individuals gathered in a show of support for “American values,” in particular religious freedom.

The second event happened later in the evening Aug. 26, when activists from across the city and New Jersey gathered in the Manhattan headquarters of the International Action Center to plan for a Sept. 11 rally at Ground Zero to counter the anti-Islam Tea Party rally also scheduled for the World Trade Center site.

Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director.
The debate against a proposed Islamic center and mosque some four blocks away from the World Trade Center site is rooted in city streets and has captured international attention.

The fears of harsh words fueling violent actions surfaced when a cab driver was allegedly stabbed Aug. 25 after a passenger learned he was a Muslim.

Police arrested a 21-year-old suspect and charged him with attempted murder in the second degree as a hate crime, assault in the second degree as a hate crime, and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.

The cab driver, Ahmed Sharif, told the media “public sentiment is very serious because of the Ground Zero mosque debate.” The man's throat was nearly cut and he suffered other injuries.

“Religious freedom is one of America's most fundamental liberties, and a crucial principle upon which our nation was founded,” said N.Y. Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman at the Aug. 26 press conference. “We New Yorkers must vigilantly uphold our core values, including a faith community's right to build a house of worship,” Ms. Lieberman said.

“To oppose any house of worship without evidence of wrongdoing makes a mockery of the first amendment,” added Faiza N. Ali, of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Marcia Kannry, founder of the Dialogue Project, said, “I am a Jewish Israeli-American who has created dialogue between Jewish people, Muslims and people of many backgrounds here in New York; and I support the freedom of religion and right to property guaranteed by the Constitution which New Yorkers cherish.”

The rhetoric at the International Action Center was more robust with Larry Holmes, of the Bail Out the People Movement, opening the meeting by telling the standing-room crowd, “It is essential to be there to confront this racist Islamophobia in New York City—right here under our noses.”

“I was struck by the fact that the racists were able to mobilize hundreds for their rally on Sunday (Aug. 22), this is a challenge to all people to confront this mentality,” Mr. Holmes said.

Many at the International Action Center meeting felt media attention given to the “anti-Muslim bigots” is a diversion from the suffering of working people and a still painful economic crisis.

“They want to divert popular anger away from the banks and corporations who have robbed millions of jobs and homes,” Mr. Holmes said. “You will not divide us, we will stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” he said.

Related news:

Coalition of African-American Muslims respond to Park 51 Project controversy (FCN Web Video, 09-02-2010)

Anti-mosque groups push campaign in New York (FCN, 09-06-2010)

Anti-Islam lies and the loss of rights in America (FCN, 08-24-2010)

Is Islam a Religion of Violence? (FCN Webcast, Min. Farrakhan, Press Conf. 05-25-2005)