By KAREN SCHRAUFNAGEL
Beginning in early January, Socialist Action joined with many other organizations for a series of conference calls on the need for united action to more effectively combat the rising tide of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant and anti-refugee hatred in this country. The ad-hoc coalition that was formed took the name Stand Together Against Racism and Islamophobia (“STARI”) and put out a call for a week of coordinated actions across the country between Feb. 13 and Feb. 21.
As the call explains: “The corporate media and some politicians on both sides of the aisle believe their interests can be advanced by scapegoating the poor and those oppressed by racism, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant prejudice, mass deportations, and the exclusion of refugees fleeing endless U.S.-supported wars abroad. Hate, fear mongering and war are increasingly publicly promoted for heinous ends and especially to divide the victims of the ever-deepening social cutbacks government austerity policies inflict. We say no to Islamophobia and all forms of religious prejudice. We denounce the endless racist police murders of unarmed members of the nation’s Black and poor communities. We reject militarily sealed borders and mass deportations of Latino people.”
Responding to the call, even before the official week started, two significant events were held on the East Coast. On Jan. 19, more than 200 people came out to a zoning board hearing in Bayonne, N.J., to support the Muslim community when their application to build an Islamic community center drew vitriolic protest from racists. Unfortunately, the packed meeting, which ran four hours, produced no decision from the board, and advocates for justice will be forced to return to the next hearing slated for March 14. On Jan. 31, the Bangladesh American Community Council held a Town Hall Meeting in the Bronx, N.Y., to strengthen minority voices in the national dialogue.
By the time the week started, nearly 70 organizations across the country had endorsed the call, and events took place from California to Connecticut and from Superior, Wis., to Houston, Texas.
The week began on Saturday, Feb. 13, with a panel discussion at Trinity College in Connecticut. The event was entitled, “Opposing Islamophobia, Deportations, Racism, and War,” and drew about 60 people to hear Connecticut Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) director Mongi Dhaouadi, among others. Grannies for Peace in Albany, N.Y., held a Valentine’s vigil that same day. Featuring a banner that read, “Grannies Embrace Refugees: Spread Love Not Hate,” and wearing red, 19 grannies (and their allies) braved frigid weather to send their message of love to refugees driven from their homes by war and climate change.
On Valentine’s Day, shoppers at a mall in Houston were greeted by members of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston Social Services Committee who passed out 300 roses, with the Quran verse attached: “Humanity is but a single brotherhood; so make peace with your brethren.” In Tallahassee, Fla., the Network for Justice and Peace, together with local chapters of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace held a Peace and Justice Picket Line.
In Superior, Wis., where mayor Bruce Hagen was in the news recently for an Islamophobic smear of President Obama, 10 picketers brought the message: “Love Diversity / Hate Islamophobia” to a busy intersection. The action drew an equal number of counter-protesters, presumably to advocate AGAINST diversity and FOR hatred. At mid-week, STARI received a photo of Afghan Peace Volunteers sharing a message of solidarity all the way from Kabul, Afghanistan!
Before the week was over, there was an interfaith discussion in Orchard, N.Y., a film showing in Rochester, N.Y. (“My Name is Khan” provides perspective on the life experience of Muslim refugees and immigrants in this country), and forums in Berkeley, Calif., Richmond, Va., and Minneapolis. The Solidarity Forum in Virginia was dedicated to the legacy of Malcolm X (marking the 51st anniversary of his assassination) and included six speakers who addressed attacks on Middle Eastern and African-American Muslims, Latino immigrants, the Black community generally, low-income workers, and the environment in front of an audience of nearly 60.
In Minneapolis, over two dozen endorsing organizations came together to create a new coalition, Minnesotans Against Islamophobia, which hosted a rally, march, and panel presentation on Saturday, Feb. 20. More than 150 people participated over the course of the afternoon. With such signs as “NO to War, YES to Refugees,” and chants including “FBI let’s be clear, Muslims are welcome here,” the rally & march through the West Bank neighborhood delighted the largely immigrant residents, some of whom joined in.
At the panel that followed the march, audience members learned about the Department of Homeland Security’s “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) program and the effect it is having on the local Somali Community. The speakers were CAIR-MN executive director Jaylani Hussein, Sadik Warfa of Global Somali Diaspora, Imam Hassan Mohamoud, and Deqa Warsame—the mother of Khalid Abdulkhadir, one of several Somali youth currently in jail awaiting trial on very serious charges.
Minnesota has the largest population of Somali immigrants in the country and is one of only three metro areas where the controversial CVE program is being tested (the other two are Boston and Los Angeles). In the name of stopping terrorism, this program is in local high schools, directing teachers to spy on “radicalizing” students.
Wearing head covering or other religious clothing is taken as a sign that a student is becoming radical. Paid informants are sent in to entrap young people. This is what happened in the case of some youths arrested last May, charged with supporting terrorism for allegedly trying to buy false passports (presumably so they could leave the country and join ISIS) and threatened with 15-plus-year jail terms if convicted.
The assembled crowd heard as well from Karen Schraufnagel of Socialist Action, the panel’s moderator, who pointed out that: “Muslim youth are not the threat. Black youth are not the threat. Immigrants and refugees are here escaping U.S. imperialist wars or fleeing the desperate poverty capitalist global trade policies inflict on their home countries. The forces of capitalism and imperialism are the real threat. But their crimes are not even called crime, they go by the name of “profit maximization”. Make no mistake, profit maximization is ecocidal, genocidal violence. Hands off the Muslim Community! Prosecute the real Criminals!”
During the same week an action took place in Wisconsin that truly highlighted the integral role immigrants (in this case Latin@s) play in keeping the capitalist system afloat. The STARI coalition was not involved in organizing “Un Dia Sin Latinos” but were deeply gratified to see more than 20,000 people gather in the capital city to protest two pieces of ignorant anti-immigrant legislation.
Another deeply gratifying rally occurred days after the official week of action ended. At the State House in Providence, Rhode Island, a rally against Syrian refugees was completely overwhelmed by refugee supporters. The anti-Syrian refugee rally was sponsored by the Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance (an Orwellian name if ever there was one). Their speakers were visibly flustered facing hundreds and hundreds opposed to their message, who repeatedly interrupted and challenged them. When the racist rally finally ended, the pro-refugee forces took to the stage with speaker after speaker sharing messages of love and solidarity with the immigrant and refugee communities. Perhaps as many as 200 students from various organizations at Brown University worked with CAIR-MA, RI State Council of Churches, several Unitarian Universalist churches, the Refugee Dream Center and others to pull off the counter protest at the anti-Syrian refugee event and pro-refugee rally that followed.
Stop Islamophobia! Defend the Muslim Community!
Photo: Anti-racist protest in Minneapolis. From Minnesotans for Syrian Refugees.