Monday, February 14, 2011

Phobias In Yorba Linda

Brooklyn Imam Siraj Wahhaj is a former member of the Nation of Islam who later became a Sunni Muslim. In 1991, he was the first Muslim to offer an opening prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives. A U.S. attorney identified him as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, though he denies any involvement. Amir Abdel Malik Ali (shown below) is an Oakland imam who also cut his teeth in the Nation of Islam and appears regularly on college campuses to denounce Israel and profess his admiration for Hamas and Hezbollah.

Not guys you'd expect to find giving speeches at an event in Richard Nixon's birthplace town. Yet both were guests this evening at the Yorba Linda Community Center at a meeting organized by the Islamic Circle of of North America (more information here). The $25 per person event was advertised as a fundraiser for ICNA's charitable work, but several hundred protesters who came to Yorba Linda from around southern California weren't buying. A conservative activist interviewed on the local ABC affiliate said that while she thought a few guests might have been under the impression that the event had innocent purposes, she didn't think it was a coincidence that the Muslims had come "to conservative Yorba Linda on a quiet Sunday night to make trouble." Said another protester, "It's not right for terrorism to come to Yorba Linda."

Five years ago, protesters would've been looking back to Sept. 11. But there's something more going on. Trolling various web sites, you get the impression that a significant number of people have come to believe that Islam is waging a secret war to establish Sharia in the United States. If it were, then Wahhaji and especially Malik Ali, with his noxious views, wouldn't be doing the conspiracy much good. Nor is the puny rate of population growth among American Muslims. Anyone who promotes violence deserves to be spurned and scorned. But it seems to me that imagining, fearing, and actually devoting energy to preventing a Muslim takeover of the U.S. are historic wastes of time -- or worse, if they result in policies, legislation, and messages that target or scapegoat Muslims.

Egyptian-American journalist and filmmaker Jehan Harney has a good blog on Islamophobia in the media and politics. On Feb. 10, the ICNA issued a press release saying its Yorba Linda event was being targeted by Islamophobes, which brings the name-calling full circle, since Malik Ali is accused of antisemitism thanks to his bloodcurdling criticisms of Israel. The Middle East is enough of a muddle without the dimension of angry stateside pontification from either side of the equation. Yet the ICNA charge of Islamophobia in Yorba Linda would seem to have some merit based on signs I saw at the demonstration along Imperial Highway, though they went unmentioned by both ABC and this Orange County Register report: "Jesus Is The Only Way To Salvation" and "Send Islam To Hell." These messages were aimed not at two radicals but the heart of a whole faith.

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