How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Muslims in America last year: 'Like looking in the mirror and seeing a monster in place of yourself'

One of the biggest immigration-related stories of the year, one that I regret not having squeezed into my top-five list, also involved culture, religion, and a substantial dose of fear.

Nearly ten years after the World Trade Center attacks, a nationwide rise in anti-Muslim sentiment manifested itself everywhere from Ground Zero in New York City to Temecula, and many points in between. Citizens mounted protests against planned mosques from coast to coast, arsonists set fire to a mosque construction site in Tennessee, a Florida preacher threatened to burn copies of the Quran, and the overwhelming majority of Oklahoma's electorate voted to ban Sharia law from the courts, even if Islamic law had never been cited in one of the state's courtrooms.

The experience has left many Muslim Americans reeling. In the recent Bloggingheads exchange above, Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy describes the feeling she got seeing some of the news reports: "It was like looking in the mirror and seeing a monster in place of yourself."


Ground Zero's distant past: Before Little Syria, a burial ground for slaves


Photo by Wally Gobetz/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A plaque outside New York's Civic Center in Lower Manhattan, a few blocks from Ground Zero

Earlier this week, in a post about the so-called Ground Zero mosque, I highlighted a great post from KPCC contributor Marc Haefele on the history of the Ground Zero site in Lower Manhattan, lately tied to a vociferous controversy over the planned construction of an Islamic cultural center a couple of blocks from the location of the former World Trade Center. In the post, he described the area's history a century ago as Manhattan's old Arab District, referred to then as "Little Syria."

Mother Jones has now peeled away another layer of the historical onion, pointing out that before Little Syria existed, Lower Manhattan was the place where African slaves were buried. From the story:


A different take on mosque controversy: Ground Zero site was once 'Manhattan's old Arab District'

The controversy continues to rage over the Park51 site, where an Islamic cultural center is being planned a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero in New York (where protesters, seen above, clashed yesterday). Meanwhile, smaller-town protesters have been rallying against mosques under development from Temecula to Tennessee, and a shockingly large percentage of Americans have told pollsters that they think the president of the United States is Muslim.

So in the midst of all this, it was refreshing to come across this terrific post by veteran journalist Marc Haefele, published this morning on 89.3 KPCC Off-Ramp host John Rabe's blog. Haefele, Off-Ramp's literary and cultural commentator, delves into the long-ago history of the Ground Zero site, which may surprise some given the site's more recent past and what's happening today. From the post:


Answers to some of the questions swirling around mosque controversies


Photo by HORIZON/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The interior of a mosque in Ishafan, Iran, May 2006

The Huffington Post featured an interesting Q & A yesterday with Salam Al Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which has offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Al Marayati (also a member of KPCC's regional advisory council) addresses some of the questions and fears swirling around the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" in New York and related controversies elsewhere, including in Temecula, where some residents have protested against the development of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near a Baptist church.

Among the topics he addresses: Islamic law, national security, and terrorism. From the interview:

Q: What about Sharia (Islamic law) in the U.S.?

A: If what you mean by Sharia is what is practiced in the Muslim world -- no! Many Muslims fled the Muslim world because of corrupt regimes, injustice, misogyny, and downright discourtesy...When we see stoning of women in Afghanistan or Nigeria, or child marriages in the Arabian Peninsula, that is not Sharia. It is an exploitation of Islam to oppress people, especially women.

Q: Is terrorism ever justified?

A: No. Terrorism is evil...Yet, when terrorists tape video messages from the caves of Afghanistan or the jungles of Somalia, they get free publicity in all US markets. When we condemn terrorism, it is barely recognized.