A proposal to build a mosque in Sterling Heights, a suburb of Detroit, has attracted a lot of anger and protests from the public including Middle East Christians who were among the most vociferous in their opposition. The protests included complaints about traffic but also addressed issues of racism and stereotypes against Muslims. Mosque issue will be focus on Nov. 2 election, critics vow
By Ray Hanania
Whenever the building of a mosque is proposed in an American community it automatically explodes into a heated public debate characterized by racist, anti-Muslim comments from “Americans” who claim that it will attract terrorism and undermine this country.
But a proposal to build a mosque in Sterling Heights, a suburb of Detroit Michigan, not only drew the same Islamophobia, but also had one unique aspect, a growing number of Middle East and Arabic speaking Christians who joined in protesting and demanding that the mosque plan, for a property located at 4935 15 Mile Road, should be blocked.
The mosque proposal was made by the American Islamic Community Center (AICC) based in the nearby suburb of Madison Heights more than a year ago to the Sterling Heights Planning Commission, but was presented to the public at a Planning Commission meeting on August 13.
Hundreds of people attended the Planning Commission, forcing the commission to delay the vote on the mosque for another month. The Planning Commission will reconsider the Mosque plan at its next meeting on September 10, 2015.
The proposal was raised again during the public comment segment at the end of the August 18, 2015 meeting of the Sterling Heights City Council meeting, where more than 25 people spoke against the mosque and only a few said it was disgraceful that with so many Christian Churches, that Muslims could not have a house of worship, too.
One speaker protesting against the mosque told the Sterling City Council board said when he identified himself at the Planning Commission meeting claimed that he was harassed and bullied after speaking out against the Mosque. Several other speakers said they are afraid to identify themselves and give their home addresses because of alleged retaliation.
Mayor Taylor said he would not require speakers to give their home addresses but they have to identify their names.
Speaker after speaker threatened the board members urging them to step in and take over the mosque proposal, although the mayor, Michael Taylor, said that the City Council has no authority over the plan, or face being thrown out of office int he next election. Taylor was appointed mayor to fill the remaining term of former Mayor Richard Notte, who was serving his 11th two-year term as the city’s mayor when he died on October 2014 at age 76 from pancreatic cancer.
The next election is November 2, 2015.
One Chaldean speaker denounced the Muslims as “killers” and warned that the Muslims will do to America “what they did in Iraq.”
Here is the video recording of the Sterling Heights City Council meeting:
August 18, 2015 City Council meeting (The public discussion on the mosque plan begins at the 1 hour 20 minute meeting mark on the video of the 3 hour and 25 minute meeting.)
These videos are segments of the Planning Commission Meeting:
August 13, 2015 Planning Commission, a candidate for office opposes the mosque
August 13, 2015 Planning Commission, a Muslim asking to build the mosque, explains what he is trying to do as residents in the audience belittle him
August 13, 2015, candidate Planning Commission for mayor challenging Taylor speaks
Speaker after speaker yelled about how Muslims pray five times a day “and will be in our face every single day.” And they complained that they were being described as “racist” for opposing the Mosque.
The tragedy is listening to the critics is that it is so clear that they are motivated by racism, hatred driven in some cases by ignorance or fear.
The animosity was disturbing.
The new factor, though, is the involvement of Chaldeans, Christians from the Middle East who are among the largest of the Middle East population in the Detroit region. But Chaldeans, like Assyrians, do not consider themselves to be “Arab,” even though they speak Arabic.
Middle East Christians are a dying breed in the Middle East. They are oppressed by Islamic extremists, targeted by ISIS and they are often bullied by Muslim activists in the Middle East but also in America. Muslim extremists bully Christians like myself and tragically the majority of mainstream Muslims refuse to defend Christians or to speak out against the extremists in their community.
Many of the Chaldeans who call my radio show, which I host on the 2nd Friday of every month, and also during special broadcasts, call constantly and complain about the Muslim community in Detroit. The anger and resentment is deep seated. It’s not the exception. Many Chaldeans are angry with the Muslims, and Muslims don’t want to address it.
[My next shows are Friday Sept. 4, and Friday Sept. 11, 2015 both at 8 am Eastern time (7 am Chicago time) on WNZK AM 690 Radio and in Washington DC on AM 700 Radio. Click here to listen to the live hour-long broadcast where we will discuss this and other issues. Click here to listen to podcast archives of past shows. Call the studio during the show at 248-557-3300.]
Just writing about this topic will provoke attacks against me from haters, racist and bigots in the Muslim community.
The reality is that there are racists, haters and bigots not just in the mainstream American public, but also in the Christian Arab community and in the Muslim American community. But when we discuss the Middle East, Muslims are recognized as the representatives of the Arab World, where most of the Arab countries have declared Islam as their official religion. In fact, in many Islamic countries, it is prohibited to build a Christian Church there, or even a Synagogue for Jews.
Sadly, many Muslims don’t want to address those topics. They want us to just pretend these issues don’t exist. And when you bring them up, they denounce you as anti-Muslim. Yet, they are silent against Muslim who are anti-Christian.
This failure to defend Christians has resulted in the rise of anti-Muslim racism and hatred, like that displayed at the Sterling Heights Planning Commission and the Sterling Heights City Council meeting.
The opposition to the mosque mostly reflects ignorance driven by hatred. As much as some of the speakers deny that they are racist, their views are clearly driven by racism. Some claimed they were only against having a large building in their “quiet” neighborhood, but one Sterling Heights official noted accurately that had this been about building a large Catholic Church, there would be no controversy.
That was the most accurate statement made.
This was a typical comment from one of the Chaldean protestors:
“My concern is the safety of my children. … The future of the city is going. It is not going in the right direction. I know with the background of the country I came from, I know a little about everything of such people. I am not prejudiced … Iraq was owned by Christians. In the 1800s, Islamic Muslims came to the country seeking health, food and shelter. What happened now?” the Chaldean speaker says. As he speaks, a man in the audience said that Muslims are “cutting heads off now.” The speaker continued, “My cousin lives in Saudi Arabia. The (government) found out they were praying and they were kicked out of the country. Can you put a church in any Muslim country? Think about it.”
Here are some good articles from the Arab American News Newspaper based in Dearborn which is covering the controversy, along with other news. Arab News writer Samir Hijazi does a great job of covering the event in this Op-Ed article. Click here.
Clearly, Muslims and Christians need to start discussing these and more issues. And we need to silence the small loudmouthed fanatics who grab the stage and public attention but who do not represent who we really are.
As long as the extremists are the ones who the American people see, we will continue to see this kind of hatred from mainstream Americans, a racist hatred that continues to grow, not subside.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia as the Special US Correspondent for the Arab News at www.ArabNews.com, the TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appeare in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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