Iowa Groups Send Message Against Islamophobia

IOWA – As American community sees the growth of Islamophobia to epidemic proportions, religious organizations and academics in Cedar Rapids, eastern Iowa, are planning an event next month to address the problem in the city home to America’s first mosque, The Gazette reported.

“Islamophobia is a problem that exists from coast to coast, in small towns and large cities, in communities with a long-standing Muslim presence and in communities in which Muslims are fairly new,” Todd Green, associate professor of religion at Luther College and author, said.

“In this regard, it [Cedar Rapids city] is not much different from the rest of the nation in that it has not been shielded from the anti-Muslim bigotry and racism that other regions and communities have been experiencing,” he said.

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“At the same time, the fact that Cedar Rapids is home to the Mother Mosque makes the city a promising venue for conversations about Islamophobia,” Green said. “From the history of Islam in Cedar Rapids, we are reminded that Islam is not a foreign religion, nor is it at odds with American values or a threat to American identity.”

Green is the guest speaker at an April 2 event in Cedar Rapids.

The event is organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County along with Coe College, the Catherine McAuley Center, Temple Judah, Mount Mercy University, Cornell College, the Mother Mosque, and others.

“I recently read a novel by Louis de Bernieres, ‘Birds Without Wings,’” said Charles Crawley, president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County. The book, set in Turkey in the early 20th century, documents how international events tore apart Christians and Muslims who lived together peaceably for centuries.

“If we aren’t proactive, the same thing could happen here, with national and international events used to separate people on a local level,” he said. “So we want people to know there are forces actively promoting Islamophobia.”

Countering Islamophobia

Green’s two books on Islamophobia, “The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West” and “Presumed Guilty: Why We Shouldn’t Ask Muslims to Condemn Terrorism”, propose alternative ways to engage each other in pursuit of counterterrorism.

According to Green, Islam is one facet of America’s cultural and religious landscape.

“It’s had a home in this community, right here in the Heartland of America, for generations. Muslims helped create the Cedar Rapids that we know today. That’s a powerful message in this age of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim fearmongering,” he said.

Building bridges in society can also help people of differing backgrounds to engage with each other.

“Personal relationships have the greatest potential to move the needle against prejudice, and we need to invest more energy and effort at the grassroots level in fostering an environment in which such relationships can materialize and deepen,” he said.

Green added that people must be willing to reject false connections and discriminatory rhetoric in the media.

“As we speak out against Islamophobia, and as we build relationships across religious boundaries, we must never lose sight of the larger goal — to create a movement that will dismantle the systemic discrimination faced by Muslim Americans,” Green said.

Rising Hate

American Muslims see rising Islamophobia as a major obstacle to their daily life.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, said that anti-Muslim discrimination incidents and hate crimes increased in the third quarter of 2018 by 83 and 21 percent respectively, compared with the first quarter.

During 2018, CAIR documented more than 1,000 reports of potential bias incidents. The numbers include situations involving various government agencies.