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October 8, 2015

Anti-Mosque protests underscore a growing
 anti-Islam movement in the West

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Racism and bigotry is on the rise across the globe. 

Many of the western governments won't allow building of a mosque on Muslim owned properties. Even if the central government sometimes may have no bars for such mosque constructions, the local Christian community, much given to racism and bigotry, may not permit construction of a mosque in its locality. 

Such objections against mosques are called democracy here - a flawed one, obviously, by the locals that have not learned that in a liberal democracy the majoritarian views should not trample religious and cultural rights of a minority.  

If you are looking for a connection with 9/11, think again. Such anti-Mosque objections are decades old. I remember the strong objections that came from local Christian community when Muslims in nearby Voorhees Township, NJ wanted to build a mosque nearly 25 years ago.

My local Muslim community in suburban Philadelphia has been struggling for years to get the necessary permit towards building a mosque, and so is the case with many Muslim communities across America today where they are denied the right to construct a new mosque or expand an existing one to cater to the growing needs of the community. 

Oddly, all these objections are happening in the 'land of the free' where things are supposed to be better for the minorities in comparison to other place around the globe! 

Often times, the hate-mongering talk show hosts and media-made or self-acclaimed pundits serving at the altar of merchants of death and perpetual wars are responsible for spicing up racism and bigotry against Muslims. Rather than reporting news they help to create news. They twist and distort facts and feed fear and hatred to put one community against another. They would lecture us about how terrible the condition is for the women and minorities, esp. in the Muslim countries, without ever visiting such countries, let alone living there. They give a bad name to the profession of journalism.

Consider, for instance, Fox TV's Sean Hannity program where the host, a college drop-out, audaciously asked his guest to cite a Muslim country where women and minorities are respected. What an ignorant! A simple Google search could have educated him. But he did not care to do that homework, and instead opted to spread his lies and distortions. 

These anti-Muslim zealots and pundits won't tell their audience that for centuries the religious minorities have co-mingled and co-existed without facing any persecution in Muslim countries and that many minorities have held high positions and even have headed the state. Many women leaders have held the top post in the Muslim majority countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey - some of the most populous Muslim countries of our time. Consider, e.g., Bangladesh, which has been ruled by two women (Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia) for nearly a quarter century since 1991 (with a small break of couple of years in 2007-2008). The speaker of the parliament (Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury) and leaders of the two major opposition parties (BNP and JP) are all women. The chief judge (Chief Justice S.K. Sinha) in the highest apex court (the Supreme Court of Bangladesh) is also a non-Muslim. As I have shown elsewhere the proportion of Hindus employed in government jobs in Bangladesh is much higher than their actual percentage within the overall population, and no one is discriminated on the basis of caste or creed in Bangladesh. People of all faiths are free to practice and preach their religion. Religious holidays for all the religious communities are observed. While like many third-world developing countries Bangladesh has her share of political problems no one can deny her enviable records in the areas of empowering women and minorities. 

In contrast, in Sean Hannity's America, there is neither a single Muslim Senator nor are Muslim religious holidays observed officially. 

Hateful guys like Hannity are either unaware of the truth or cares very little about it, and as such, would rather live in their self-delusional lunatic fringe keeping their audience also half-educated or ill-informed. They are, however, adept in recycling their worst thoughts and fears, and false ideas on their audience. Since hatred, sadly, sells in our world, they have found willing patrons to patronize the sale of their deadly capsules of intolerance and hatred

Women rights and empowerment is all empty talks for them and nothing else! 

Down south in Australia the Muslim community has been facing similar problems with mosques. The City of Greater Bendigo ticked off plans to build the mosque in June last year but objectors took the case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to argue the development would cause traffic and social issues. VCAT dismissed those concerns, but protests have continued, causing tension in the local community, and the city center was shut down in August when hundreds of people gathered for counter-rallies.

Police were called in to escort Bendigo councillors from their regular meeting last month after anti-mosque protesters began chanting and hurling abuse at them from the public gallery.

Mayor Councillor Peter Cox said the mosque would go ahead despite the ongoing protests. "Council can't change its mind on the mosque at this point in time, we made our decision 15 months ago, the decision's been upheld by VCAT, the permit's been issued," he said. "While there's a court of appeal that still has to go they can proceed with their permit at this point in time."

Rival rallies have been held in the central Victorian city of Bendigo by groups for and against the construction of a local mosque. Today, the United Patriots Front (UPF)   held a rally, which was the second time in two months that nationalist and far-right groups had demonstrated against the city council's approval of a mosque in Bendigo, Victoria.

Anti-racism groups, operating under the banner of the Bendigo Action Coalition, also marched from the city's town hall to Rosalind Park as 400 police watched on. Anti-racism activist Tashara Roberts called on those present at the rally to respect those opposite them, "even the idiots". "It is our responsibility as forward-thinking citizens to take every opportunity to educate fellow Bendigonians, and show them why we hold the beliefs that we do, and we must do so peacefully and respectfully. We must lead by example, we must show tolerance, even to the idiots."

Bendigo City Mayor Peter Cox said he did not understand why the UPF had targeted Bendigo. He said the council had to better understand what was driving people's fears about Bendigo's future. "Part of the Australian constitution is that we can practice our belief systems, however there are concerns and fears that people have, we need to talk to those people," he said. "I really don't understand how people can look at their TV sets in their lounge room about terrorism around the world and link it to building a mosque in Bendigo."

Earlier Saturday, Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane labeled the police presence in Bendigo a "major operation". There was also a heightened police presence at other mosques across the state, including in Melbourne.

Are the planned protests in Australia against mosques linked to anti-mosque protests here in the USA? I won't be surprised to find the unholy link. After all, this week, an anti-Muslim group, which absurdly calls itself Global Rally for Humanity, has similarly called for nationwide protests at mosques in the USA on Friday and Saturday (Oct. 9 and 10). It asked its “patriots” across the country to set up protests in their cities with multiple Facebook pages, and instructed organizers to “remember to do your homework and find a local mosque in your area.”

Though the group's Facebook page lists no contacts, the Chicago-based Center for New Community identified Phoenix activist Jon Ritzheimer, an ex-Marine and “Oath Keeper”, as the architect of the plan. He is affiliated with the right-wing Three Percenters militia group. He has posted several videos on YouTube promoting the protest, according to the Montgomery-Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.  He gained media attention earlier this year for coordinating the Freedom of Speech Rally Round 2, which drew hundreds of armed protesters and several hundred counter-protesters. Last month he threatened  to arrest lawmakers who supported the nuclear deal with Iran.

In May, when Ritzheimer staged a heavily armed protest outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, Arizona he had said he wanted to see similar rallies nationwide.

"We’ve never had this many events targeting mosques in this kind of national way," Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a conference call earlier this week. "This is widespread in a way that these things have not been before."

Although Ritzheimer has miserably failed to rally his 'patriots' against Muslims the planned demonstrations underscore a growing anti-Islam movement in the U.S., which has been exacerbated by rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail and the refugee crisis in Europe. And this is a warning sign for America. If serious the authorities should be able to easily connect the dots in finding the masterminds behind such hateful protest rallies not just within the USA but across the globe.

Dr. Habib Siddiqui has authored 11 books, five of which are now available through His latest book - Devotional Stories is published by A.S. Noordeen, Malaysia. Dr. Siddiqui is an alumnus of the prestigious University of  Southern California, Los Angeles, where he earned his Ph.D