The article below is disturbing. There seems to be a trend of racial and religious intolerance enjoying resurrection in this country today. A famous radio personality defends her right to use the “N” word. A few years ago, prior to the last administration, that would have been the end of her career and not tolerated. Today, it’s “ok” to use words like that, hate people for their sexual orientation and oppose a religion because a small faction of it is violent. And I might ask, how many millions of people were killed in the name of Christianity? As I remember it, Jesus himself was killed for his beliefs….
And since when is a person’s sexuality any of our business at all? Are we now voyeurs, peering into the bedrooms of our citizens and denying some of them rights because of what they do there? And is “Don’t ask don’t tell” the type of mentality that is acceptable in a county based on democracy and personal freedom?
Democracy is a double edged sword. Sometimes we have to put up with things we don’t want to because we have that right. The right to free speech and freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of others. It seems that democracy is inconvenient right now. It was the first to go when our Twin Towers were attacked. Is the message that democracy and freedom are only viable when it’s convenient?
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
Opposition to the construction of a mosque in Southern California is nothing new, but the tenor and the verbiage associated with the debate has intensified in recent years, according to area Muslim leaders.
When the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley was looking to build a mosque in the mid-1980s, the plans were blocked by the city of Walnut’s Planning Commission.
And in March 2001, months before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco found its mosque plans rejected by Corona’s Planning Commission.
Munira Syeda, Los Angeles-based spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said those struggles were “officially” centered on the mundane issues common to any proposed building: noise and traffic.
Eventually, after some grousing about the traffic concerns in San Gabriel being a “smoke screen” for anti-Muslim bigotry, those issues were resolved and both of the Islamic centers were allowed to build their mosques, gathering places that these days double as houses of worship and community centers for area Muslims.
Today, a group of Southwest County residents is actively working to defeat the local Islamic center’s plans for a mosque in Nicolas Valley, a rural community in the northeast corner of Temecula.
The group staged a rally on July 30, and a petition is circulating that opposes the project because of the traffic problems that could arise at the corner of Calle Medusa and Nicolas Road.
Eventually, supporters of the mosque plans will face off with those opposed at a Temecula Planning Commission hearing that might be held as soon as mid-November.
Par for the course, right?
Not exactly, Syeda said.
During that July 30 rally, people were told to bring dogs, animals that some Muslims consider unclean. A person driving by the Islamic center’s offices yelled obscenities out his window. A Kuwaiti woman with a bullhorn yelled at the members of the local interfaith council who staged a counter rally in support of the mosque, telling them that Muslims want to kill their children.
“It’s a minority, and it’s a vocal minority,” Syeda said during a telephone interview. “And the members of this minority are not ashamed to present their bigotry. You wouldn’t see this kind of opposition to a church or a synagogue.”
According to Syeda, there has been an uptick in what she called “blatant Islamophobia” in the last year, a period that coincides with the rise of the tea party movement and comments by leaders such as Sarah Palin, the former Republican Party vice presidential candidate who came out recently against plans for a mosque near ground zero.
“Our country has Judeo-Christian roots, and that’s fine,” said Syeda, an immigrant from Pakistan. “But our Constitution protects equality.”
Treating the Muslims different from any other group doesn’t make sense, she said, because the Muslims who are in the U.S are just like other immigrants to this country.
“They wanted a better life for their kids. They wanted a better life for their families; they are family-oriented people, hardworking people,” she said.
Opponents of the Temecula center’s mosque plans include a subgroup led by Mano Bakh, a Wildomar man who said he left Islam and Iran behind in 1979. There also are people who are worried about traffic issues the project might cause in the Nicolas Valley.
For Bakh’s group, Muslims are not the problem.
He is urging people to focus on the ideology of Islam instead of the Muslim people, arguing that their ideology is not compatible with U.S. laws.
Syeda said that’s not the case, adding that many American Muslims came to this country because they couldn’t practice their religion in the countries they left.
“I practice my faith and I see myself as an American,” she said. “All we’re asking for is a fair opportunity to explain our religion, the beauty of our faith.”
It took about 10 years for the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco to navigate the city of Corona’s Planning Department and secure approval for its mosque plans.
The process was complicated by the Corona Planning Commission’s vote in March of 2001 to reject the plans, a vote that was appealed to the City Council, which overruled the commission and allowed the project to proceed.
According to a timeline on the center’s website, the commission voted 3-2 to oppose the project even though city planners had recommended approval.
Last year, work was completed on the multipurpose hall and the school building, and the center is hosting a slew of events for Ramadan, the monthlong period of atonement for Muslims that is marked by fasting during the daylight hours.
Kalim Farooki, a member of the center’s board of directors, said no changes were made to the center’s plans between the commission meeting and the council meeting.
“We did everything right,” he said, adding that members of the society were perplexed by the commission’s decision, because city staff members had given the society a checklist that they had completed. “That was a big political mistake, I would say.”
According to archived newspaper articles, people who spoke against the plans during the commission meeting prefaced their comments by saying they weren’t against the Muslim religion or culture. They were opposed, according to one article, because of the possibility of added traffic congestion.
In later articles about the Corona mosque, when the council was set to consider the project, there were whispers that a “hidden reason” might be behind some of the community’s opposition.
Despite those whispers, the council signed off on plans for the mosque and the society’s members are collecting money to build the next phase of the project —- dedicated prayer rooms that will make up the heart of the complex.
Looking back on that time, Farooki said the opposition to the project was misguided, based on fear.
“Our job is to build relationships. We love our neighbors; we value our neighbors,” he said.
The Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley’s mosque was originally going to be in the city of Walnut, but that city’s Planning Commission in 1985 blocked the plans, going against the recommendation of city planners, according to a Los Angeles Times article.
Ashraf Jakvani, secretary of the center’s board of directors, said the debate was centered on traffic concerns, although there was speculation the plans were denied because of “religious prejudice.”
Instead of fighting Walnut, Jakvani said the center decided to move to a different location, a process that eventually ended with the selection of a site in Rowland Heights, an unincorporated community in the southeastern corner of Los Angeles County.
Work started on the mosque in 2009, and Jakvani said recently that the exterior is almost finished. With that phase complete, the center is working on raising money to finish the building’s interior.
Asked to describe how the center worked to overcome opposition, Jakvani said, “I don’t know if we did anything special; we just followed the protocol and the guidelines.”
Jakvani added that the center has a long history in Rowland Heights. It has done a lot of humanitarian work and hosted interfaith dialogue sessions. It also allows the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to use its premises for training.
“We have a great relationship with all of the law enforcement agencies,” he said.
Despite those community ties, a recent article on the center’s construction progress that ran in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune elicited about 64 online comments, Jakvani said.
About 20 were “very derogatory” toward Islam, he said.
“That’s just the time we all live in. We have to ignore it and build a positive relationship with the community,” he said. “Just because we have beards, or our women wear head scarves, that doesn’t make us an alien creature.”
Weighing in on the modern debate about Islam and the controversy about the mosque that is planned for a site near New York City’s ground zero, Jakvani said the leadership of the Republican Party has set a bad example for its rank-and-file members.
“They’re allowing a handful of extremists to define who they are,” he said, adding that he sees parallels to how Osama bin Laden tried to hijack the religion of Islam.
Call staff writer Aaron Claverie at 951-676-4315, ext. 2624.