Muslim New Yorkers Learn to Pick Their Battles

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hussein Rashid (WNYC/Arun Venugopal)

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.


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Comments [8]


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Mar. 07 2013 02:57 PM
NJ from NJ UWS Manhattan

Sarah, what Muslim controlled countries do you speak of? I was in Turkey this summer teaching English and I was standing beside a Church (one of many in Turkey). This is a country that has a Muslim population of 97%. No one is hurling rocks there. Don't be so quick to make judgments. Read a few books or two about Islam, try by a Christian author, Carl Ernst.

Sep. 25 2012 12:00 AM
juninho from Rockaway

No human being, past or present, should be immune from criticism, caricature or lampoon. If the followers of these so-called prophets can't deal with the freedoms guaranteed by our First Amendment such as subway ads, then GO BACK to where you came from!

Sep. 24 2012 09:13 AM
Paula from Ridgewood, NY

I think this is a bad idea and I do not understand what the purpose of these ads are. It is making everyone uneasy and provoking people. Instead of ads like this, why don't we post things that will bring people together, that highlight good deeds of all people? NYC (and the rest of USA) does not need any more people being angry or wanting to cause harm to us...why are we giving radical people of any race, religion, an excuse to do this? Not that their actions are ever justified, but why this? Why don't they use that money to feed hungry children or donate it to education? I bet the organization who is putting up these ads are not subway riders. Go post this outside their offices, but leave us out of this! Don't the people of NY get a say of what we read or see? This is going against my rights. This makes me very afraid to ride the subway...not that we should bow to terrorists but you can't predict crazy, so why provoke it? We should not be afraid, but we should be putting our minds together to try to make peaceful changes, not by calling people savages. I feel like if these ads are really put up, we are going backwords in evolution. Kindness is contagious and so is bad feelings and unhappiness. Let's all try to be in sync w/ positive, good thoughts...I feel like personally taking down the ads one by one whenever they put them up this week. Unfortunately I cannot avoid the subway but I feel extremely unsafe if this can we stop this? Why isn't Bloomberg looking out for our safety more in this matter? What's next Nazis putting up swastikas or the KKK posting whatever the heck they want too? When does it stop?! What good can come of this??? It serves no purpose! NEW YORKERS WE DON'T NEED THIS---WE HAVE TO BRING BACK AND CONTINUE HAVING THE SOLIDARITY WE FELT AFTER SEPTEMBER 11..not this!

Sep. 23 2012 01:58 PM
Yuksel from NYC

Herb from NYC asks a semi-fair question, one that is being asked every time radical Muslims commit acts of violence. Semi-fair, because the undertone in the question is obviously an implication that decent Muslims do not care. Well, American Muslim organization has a compilation that could answer the question, please share with your friends who want to know:

Sep. 21 2012 04:45 PM
Sarah from the UWS from Manhattan

Lutonya.. I think that in fact Americans and American policy has bent over backward to be understanding of Muslim sensibilities.

What is truly reprehensible is that worldwide you see that a terrible movie badly written, badly filmed, that no thinking person can take seriously,is used as justification for murder and mayhem.

If Muslim practice worldwide were as careful about the sensibilities of Christians, or Hindus or Jews, I might be a bit more sympathetic. But in general, it's awfully hard and often dangerous to worship freely as a non- Muslim in Muslim controlled countries.

I think about the ancient statues of Bhudda destroyed by the Taliban, or the fact that Coptic Christians are regularly attacked in Egypt, or that public Christian worship is not allowed in Saudi Arabia. This lack of respect for other religions gives Muslims a much weaker leg to stand on when they protest the lack of respect given to Mohammad.

Hate speech, and the vilification of another group for their religious beliefs is wrong. However, the destructive behavior of those so willing to fling stones at others for their own religious beliefs is also wrong.

Sep. 21 2012 03:11 PM
Herb from NYC

Acts of a few. Where is their outrage re murdering of Americans, beheadings, Attacks on non Moslems?

Sep. 21 2012 01:14 PM
Lutonya from Westchester

I think it is reprehensible how a country built on religious freedom can be so negative towards a particular religion. Muslims are the only group who can be mocked and insulted ad nauseaum without recourse. It is appalling. Muslims are valued members of American society, just as Christians and others. If some of things that are said about Muslims were freely said about Christians, there would be an uproar! Shame on those who discriminate against them.

I thought that we don't judge a group by the acts of a few. Otherwise, my fellow Christians would suffer the same fate in some instances.

I am saddened by this.

Sep. 21 2012 10:29 AM

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