Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
Muslim New Yorkers Learn to Pick Their Battles
Thursday, September 20, 2012 - 06:50 PM
This weekend, Muslims in several American cities will be protesting the film "Innocence of Muslims," which sparked violent protests across the Islamic world.
But New York’s Muslim community has taken a pass.
The subdued reaction suggests that Muslim New Yorkers are learning to pick their battles as they're confronted with a series of provocations, whether it's "Innocence," a French cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad, or an upcoming subway ad suggesting that Muslims are "savages."
Linda Sarsour, the head of the Arab American Association of New York, says one reason New Yorkers aren't protesting the movie is because there are other important issues to protest. That includes the spying of Muslim institutions and businesses by the NYPD, and the subway ad, which reads “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” followed by the tag line, “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
"We don't have resources to protest one guy in Los Angeles who has a criminal record on a very amateurish and dirty film he put together," she said.
But community leaders and scholars like Hussein Rashid , who think the film’s been overblown, see a more nuanced reason.
Rashid says there are important differences between each of the recent provocations, and feels they shouldn't be seen as some sort of conspiracy. He thinks in the U.S., Muslims are well-assimilated.
"There's no longer a sense of Muslim and American, but Muslims as Americans," said Rashid, "and I think that's a really important part of that political engagement. And I think, looking at France, you still see this isolation, this difference. You're either French, or you're Muslim."
Unlike Rashid, Sarsour views the provocations in a collective sense, as part of a pattern of trying to get the Muslim community riled up.
"We don't ,mind being criticized, or Islam being criticized, and constructively criticized. But it has to happen within civil discourse. What's happening right now is not civil discourse, it's promotion of hate and animosity and resentment," she explained.
Some Muslim leaders believe last month’s mass shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin brought attention to their cause. Those shootings prompted Congress to hold hearings on hate crimes, just this week.
Muneer Awad, the head of the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, thinks the community has also benefited from a growing coalition, including Jewish and Sikh organizations and others who sense a common threat.
He said "other members of the coalition feel like they are a potential target of hate and bigotry as well. So I think that's where Americans have been able to connect the dots."
Still, some provocations need to be addressed. Both Sarsour and Rashid want the MTA to counter the subway ad by running ads of its own condemning the rhetoric.
The MTA went to court to prevent the ads from being displayed, but lost.