Is Sheepshead Bites Pro-Mosque? Well, It’s Complicated

Below is an e-mail exchange I had with a reader today regarding the controversial plans to build a mosque at 2812/2814 Voorhies Avenue (and here). The reader believed I reported on the issue with a preconceived opinion that supported the plans to build. In reality, the situation is more complicated, and I caution against any knee-jerk responses in any direction. I’m publishing these letters because in my conversations, people who were against the mosque couldn’t believe that I’d defend it, while people who were for it couldn’t believe that we thought the opposition was anything more than racist. I believe the letters below explain, at least in part, the thought process guiding our coverage. I welcome your input.

Letter from reader:

For a person who wasn’t present at the Community Board meeting you seem to have a very “preformed” opinion, very much like the board members.  I happened to attend it and there were definitely more than 25% attendees who opposed building of the mosque than what you try to portray in this article.  Lots of people wanted to let their voice be heard (including myself) but they weren’t allowed to speak (since they had to put their names on a list) which they failed to do.  However, what’s the point to have an open discussion if people can’t raise their hand and be heard.  Personally, I think that there are much more people who oppose building the mosque than who are for it.  I also think that the board is just too afraid to be called racist so they chose a position of an “ostrich”.

My response:

Hi [name withheld],

I admit that these sorts of reports have their flaws. As noted, I constructed the report based on what I had been told by people in attendance, including members of the board. I know there’s no way that can ever create a comprehensive portrayal of what happened. That is one of the ways the site’s technology provides a certain advantage – it gives you a space to fill in the blanks. I welcome you to include your opinion in the comments section.

On the note about my “preformed” opinion, I will say that I think you’re right, a majority of the residents of the area agree with you in opposing the construction of the mosque (for a variety of reasons). That being said, I don’t agree that the board is “afraid” to be called racist. On this issue, the law is very clear, and in keeping with the spirit of constitutional law and the pillars of American ideology, those laws were created to protect the minority, not empower the majority in cases like this.

On a related note, I do think there are kneejerk reactions on both sides. On the side of the opposition, it’s “Oh, a mosque/muslims/arabs/etc, this is a potential haven for terrorism and we must oppose it”. On the other side there’s, “Oh, all those people opposing the mosque/muslims/arabs/etc are racist.”

Both of those positions, in my humble opinion, are wrong. There are good reasons to oppose this mosque – parking, traffic, etc – none of which are really strong enough to prevent it from being built. And for the other side to dismiss all opposition as racist is equally wrong.

On the last concern – security – well, this is a complex issue. I have no doubt some people are veiling racism when claiming “security concerns,” putting all Muslims in the same group as all Islamic terrorists. The flaws in this aren’t even worth addressing here.

But, and this is a key “but,” there is the issue that they are attempting to connect (or have connected) with the Muslim American Society, whose positions in the past have arguably been… unseemly. The mosque supporters should acknowledge this, I agree, but the acknowledgement only goes so far as to warrant a due diligence. An affiliation with this very large, diverse group is not enough to legitimize opposition, but both supporters and opponents ought to examine the goals of this particular mosque and it’s board of directors. Only then will you gain some insight into whether or not this will truly be a threat. Given that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of local community groups affiliated with MAS, and only a few have any questionable intentions, it’s wrong to jump to conclusions and oppose them. Instead, try to be good neighbors, give the benefit of the doubt, and scrutinize until you can learn more.

As for us at Sheepshead Bites, we hope to have an interview with members of the mosque’s board that will help give us stronger insight into their intentions, and we have been advised by Islamic experts on issues to touch upon that will hopefully reveal their degree radicalism (if any at all). We hope to find nothing, but when we sit down for those interviews, I assure you we are going in with no “preformed” opinions.

Thanks for writing, and I hope this addresses some of your concerns.

Kind regards,
Ned Berke