Mosque Op-Eds Show Only Part Of The Debate

At their June 27 rally, Bay People made their case against zoning issues. But attendees had a different message.

In a pair of Brooklyn Paper Op-Eds opponents to the Sheepshead Bay mosque reassert their criticism of zoning issues, while advocates fight for their right to religious freedom.

But the bigots, with their sensational quotes, still provide the focus for the mainstream media’s reports, and no legitimate conversation can emerge until they’ve been addressed.

“The Muslims have been a part and parcel of various New York communities — including the one in Sheepshead Bay — for a very long time,” writes Ibrahim Anse, the architect for the proposed mosque, in the Brooklyn Paper Op-Ed.

Anse defends the right of local Muslims to build a religious institution, pointing out that this is to serve residents and business owners – not some imagined outside constituency. He also discusses the community’s affiliation with the Muslim American Society, the target of many opponents who say the organization has ties to terrorism:

The Muslim American Society of New York, as an organization, has been around for over a decade, working with local elected officials, interfaith groups and other organizations and agencies. The Muslim American Society worked for more than a decade in the city to make a positive change in the lives of families and youth. It is an incorporated, not-for-profit organization which promotes youth development, charitable work, community service, and that is why Sheepshead Bay decided to affiliate with such an organization.
From the Muslim American Society Youth Center in Bensonhurst, to the mosques in Astoria and the Bronx, to a full-time school in Yonkers, we have been active participants in our communities. The Muslim American Society — along with the other Muslim organizations — raised funds for the Katrina disaster victims, and contributed, on the national level, $1 million for the victims of the Haiti earthquake. The society supports its projects through charitable donations from the local Muslims. Muslims in Sheepshead Bay will be part of those productive actions for the good of the community.

On the other side, Bay People member Alex Tenenbaum explains his personal opposition to any large community center on a residential street. He opposes the construction based on parking, traffic and noise concerns.

This is my home we are talking about! Can you honestly say that you wouldn’t oppose this particular construction? I beg every reader to imagine themselves in my position and please answer the following question: “What would you do?” Please, be honest with yourselves!

But Tenenbaum also seems taken aback by the accusations that he’s a bigot, a label fueled by a slew of media reports that found the crowd at anti-mosque gatherings spewing hateful remarks. Bigotry, he asserts, isn’t at the heart of his opposition:

Proponents of the mosque are trying to convince everyone that our concerns are ungrounded. Moreover, anyone opposing the project is called an “Islamophobe.” That characterization is unfair and very painful. I would oppose any type of large building, synagogue, church, mosque, or any other non-religious structure that would threaten to destroy my family’s right to quietly use and enjoy our property.
We will protect our rights and we will make sure our American dreams and our quality of life are not sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

Tenenbaum was one of the first people Sheepshead Bites spoke to about the mosque, way back before the story had surfaced. We can vouch that his opposition has remained consistently against zoning issues. Anse, too, has been a helpful source in shaping our stories.

But, as we’ve written before, there are more than two sides to this story. Too many people oppose the mosque for the wrong reason. These Op-Eds show a rational conversation, but as we, and many other reporters found, there is an overwhelming sense of bigotry and hatred emanating from the opposition. And the damage caused by those hatemongers has not only undermined Bay People and those who oppose it for zoning issues, but it has branded the entire neighborhood as racist and unwelcoming.

Just as marking all Muslims as terrorists is wrong, labeling all those who oppose the mosque as “Islamophobes” is equally wrong. Tenenbaum does not strike me as a hateful person. He is no Islamophobe.

But that villainous and vocal segment, filled of hate and ignorance, do need to be rooted out of the debate, and they need to be told in no uncertain terms that they’re wrong.

Until then, the legitimate arguments against the mosque will fall on deaf ears, and those for the mosque will focus on battling prejudice. That’s a poor playing field for finding a compromise befitting our great and welcoming community.

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