By Waqas Syed
Irvine, California (March 3, 2011) – Hateful protests recently held against the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief fundraising dinner shed light on growing Islamophobia in our country and the participation of elected officials in this frightening trend.
ICNA was established in 1968, and through ICNA Relief we have launched numerous projects to assist struggling populations in the United States. Our social services include hunger prevention, disaster response and relief, women’s housing and family counseling, as well as emergency financial aid and funeral/burial assistance. We have teamed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, NECHAMA and other relief agencies and consistently work to bring aid to those in need. Our annual dinner last week in Yorba Linda was a means to further our local efforts and raise funds to fight homelessness and abuse.
As American Muslims, we have witnessed a rise in Islamophobia and its devastating repercussions across the nation, with mosques and homes being vandalized, Muslims being physically attacked, and the American Muslim community being subjected to Congressional hearings a la McCarthy—blatant acts of hate rooted in anti-Islamic sentiment. Islamophobia has undermined the values binding us together as Americans—freedom, liberty, justice and equality. From Temecula to Murfreesboro to New York City, the manifestation of this fear has become increasingly apparent.
A child covers his ears as the shofar is blown, a sound that one protester says, “(announces) to the enemy that God’s army is coming.”
Mimicking the national discourse surrounding American Muslims, protesters that Sunday yelled absurdities and vulgarities at families and their children attending the dinner, with Councilwoman Deborah Pauly even volunteering to “help these terrorists [event organizers and attendees] to an early meeting in paradise.” What’s most disturbing is not the protest itself or the ignorance expressed; in fact we at ICNA fully affirm the right of protesters to free speech. What should be of real concern to Orange County residents is the lack of civility displayed on their own front lawns.
Deborah Pauly, local Councilwoman & Vice Chair of the OC GOP referred to organizers and attendees of the event as “enemies of America” and “unwelcome invaders.” “I know quite a few Marines who would be very happy to help these terrorists (i.e. organizers and attendees) to an early meeting in paradise,” she said. She called the dinner “pure, unadulterated evil,” and compared it to a terrorist event urging the crowd to “pick a side, we must stand strong… we must resist evil.”
To protesters, I remind you that prejudice and fear mongering will simply incite hatred. It is only through civil dialogue that we will be able to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding and peace. We must leave bigotry behind and work toward an Orange County that promotes cooperation, collaboration and respect for one another and ultimately upholds the American values of inclusion and fair treatment. The future of our nation depends on these principles, as our children will belong to a more diverse and multicultural society than our own. They will need to learn respect and tolerance to coexist with their fellow Americans, and the responsibility to teach them lies with us; what will remain of these honorable traits if they are already in such short supply?
These qualities should be foremost represented in our elected officials, yet it is with great disappointment that we witnessed Congressmen Ed Royce of Fullerton and Gary Miller of Diamond Bar being complicit in the toxic, inflammatory rhetoric that was spewed against the half million American Muslims they have sworn to protect. Their participation in such rallies is inappropriate and irresponsible, to say the least, and essentially shows a lack of leadership and judgment.
To Congressmen Ed Royce and Gary Miller—it is your civic duty to represent all constituents, yet time and again you have stood beside those who seek to strip American Muslims of their fundamental rights. You distribute flags at a rally against our fundraising dinner, but do not extend that service to the dinner itself. You speak out against American Muslims in Yorba Linda, but do not speak for us. Your biased actions contribute to a climate of hate and intolerance, and suggest that American Muslims are somehow less American simply by virtue of their faith. I urge you to revisit your oath and uphold the constitution and your responsibility to the citizens of your district.
Waqas Syed is a long time resident of Orange County and the current Deputy Secretary General of ICNA. E-mail:
[Photo Credit: Orange County Register]