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Beyond the Mosque: Bloomberg and New York’s Muslims

Bloomberg’s defense of the Park51 proposal will never be forgotten but neither should be his mixed record in regards to the Muslim community.

Beyond the Mosque: Bloomberg and New York’s Muslims

(Gotham Magazine)

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly defended the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero last August even as polls showed most New Yorkers opposed the project, he garnered some favorable media coverage and praise for his stance.

A New York Times editorial called Bloomberg “the leader with the courage to make the case” for the center. Tom Robbins, a Village Voice columnist and frequent critic of the mayor, wrote, “Mike Bloomberg did a brave and good deed for this city” when he spoke out in favor of the project, known as Park 51. Errol Louis called Bloomberg’s speech on Governors Island defending the proposed center “the finest speech of his career.” And the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, praised Bloomberg for “defending the rights of Muslims and other Americans to build houses of worship.”

The mosque, while significant, is just one issue. Beyond that, many Muslim groups, faith leaders and activists who have applauded Bloomberg’s forceful defense of Park 51 say his administration has had a mixed and at times disappointing track record on policies affecting the Muslim community. Among other issues, they cite his failure to speak out on proposals for other mosques around the city, his refusal to provide a school holiday for Muslim holy days and the attitude of the police department toward Muslims in the city.

“We appreciate that Bloomberg came out and took a stand in a very difficult political moment, particularly a backlash against Muslim communities,” said Monami Maulik, the executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving, a grassroots activist group serving the South Asian community. “On the other hand, we also saw it as window dressing in many ways because the bottom line is that it’s the policies and practices that the administration puts in place that affects the members of our community day to day.”

A Range of Concerns

An estimated 800,000 Muslims live in the city, and their numbers are growing. Not surprisingly, they have an array of concerns — extending far beyond a mosque in lower Manhattan. Interviews with a wide array of Muslim community leaders indicate that the Bloomberg administration and the city’s Muslim community have a complicated and nuanced relationship.

“It is a work in progress,” said Adem Carroll, the former executive director of the Muslim Consultative Network and the former coordinator for the Islamic Circle of North America’s 9/11 relief program. “He has hired some Muslims as commissioners who work very hard at being liaisons. He himself does not visit our community members very much, at least that’s the perception.”

Robina Niaz, the founder and executive director of Turning Point for Women and Families, a non-profit organization that seeks to address domestic violence within the Muslim community, said she has seen a “marked change in the last several months” toward the positive in how Bloomberg is perceived in the Muslim community.

Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, an African-American leader at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, describes the relationship between the Bloomberg administration and the Muslim community as “strained.” But he said, “There has been a demonstration of some political sensitivity on the part of that administration toward some issues of importance to the Muslim community.” For example, ‘Abdur-Rashid said, after a September 2009 fire badly damaged a mosque in the Bronx that served a large West African Muslim community, “the Bloomberg administration was a great help and assistance to them, helping them to find a temporary place to worship.”

However, a consensus exists that the Bloomberg administration needs to reach out more to the Muslim community, especially in a difficult political climate for Muslims.

“Just because he supported Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Park 51, that doesn’t mean every other issue should be taken off the burner,” said Niaz.

In an interview, Fatima Shama, a Palestinian-American Muslim who is the commissioner for immigrant affairs under the Bloomberg administration, forcefully defended the administration’s efforts.

Bloomberg “has engaged with the Muslim community more than any other mayor in this city,” said Shama, noting that she was the first Muslim hired to be commissioner of immigrant affairs. Shama also pointed out that Bloomberg holds an annual Iftar dinner, to mark the fast breaking during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Voice of Reason

With anti-Muslim prejudice seemingly on the rise across the country, many Muslims in New York would like the mayor to go beyond his speech on the mosque and community center near Ground Zero. In particular, they wish he would speak out on the battles over proposed mosques elsewhere in the city. In the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island, the board of a Catholic Church blocked plans for a proposed mosque when, in the face of harsh condemnation, they refused to sell a vacant convent to a Muslim organization. In Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, a proposed mosque and community center has also sparked controversy.

“Bloomberg this time around chose to stand on the right side of history on the Park 51 controversy by making that eloquent speech, but I don’t think that he should stop there. I think he’s positioned uniquely as a mayor, as a national leader, to lead the charge against Islamophobia if he really wants to redeem himself in the eyes of Muslim New Yorkers considering that he’s failed them a few times,” said Debbie Almontaser, the founder and former principal of theKhalil Gibran International Academy, the city’s first dual-language Arabic public school.

In 2007, many Muslims and other New Yorkers believe, Almotaser fell victim of that prejudice when a right-wing campaign targeted the school and Almontaser. Following an article in the New York Post that claimed she “downplayed the significance” of T-shirts bearing the word “intifada,” she was“forced to resign following a directive from Bloomberg, according to Almontaser. Earlier this year, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that the Department of Education discriminated against Almontaser and “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school intended to dispel.”

Almontaser’s resignation remains on the mind of many community leaders.

Perceptions of the mayor’s actions don’t stop at New York’s borders. While Bloomberg does not have a role in formulating foreign policy, many Muslim activists disapprovingly cited his staunch support for Israel, and specifically his January 2009 visit to Israel while the country waged an assault on the Gaza Strip in Palestine.

“His relationship with Israel, supporting Israel with no limits, hurts us,” said Zein Rimawi, a member of the New York City-based Arab Muslim American Federation. “Don’t forget: We are Arabs, we are Muslims, and the people in Gaza are Arabs and Muslims and we support them.”

Under Suspicion

In addition, Muslim leaders have concern about New York Police Department counter-terrorism practices in the Bloomberg era. Civil rights organizations like CAIR-NY and DRUM have of police harassment of Muslims in New York.

Arguably the biggest irritant came when the police department released a 2007 report, titled Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat. The report detailed the process by which it saw some American Muslims as being “radicalized” into terrorists and said that, while Americans Muslims are “more resistant to radicalization than their European counterparts, they are not immune.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations promptly criticized the report, saying, “Its sweeping generalizations and mixing of unrelated elements may serve to cast a pall of suspicion over the entire American Muslim community.” In the wake of the report, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition formed and critiqued the report for presenting “a distorted and misleading depiction of Islam and its adherents.”

Following meetings with Muslim organizations, the police department quietly issued a two-page clarification that stressed that the “NYPD’s focus on al Qaeda inspired terrorism should not be mistaken for any implicit or explicit justification for racial, religious or ethnic profiling.”

While Muslim organizations welcomed the clarification, criticism of the report remains.

“It’s not clear what the NYPD really thinks, because it’s leaving the bulk of its assertions and its conclusions in place,” said Faiza Patel, who works with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Project. The clarification “didn’t address all of [the Muslim community’s] concerns. The way it was done — really kind of hidden there — makes it seem as if the police department is talking out of two sides of its mouth.”

The police did not respond to requests for comment. But Shama defended the department, saying it has many Muslims in the police force and also has aMuslim Officers Society whose mission includes promoting “a mutual understanding between the NYPD and the Muslim community.”

“I don’t think there are any broad brushes or generalizations in the report,” said Shama, when asked about Muslim community leaders’ criticism of the document. “But we do have a policy that if you see something, say something. … It’s a new day in a new country,” she said, referring to the post-9/11 world.

No Days Off

Bloomberg’s opposition to closing public schools on two Muslim holidays — Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha — disappointed many in the Muslim community — particularly after the City Council approved the change in the school calendar. In July 2009, the New York City Council passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the inclusion of Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha, two Muslim holidays, into the school calendar. Underscoring the issue, parent-teacher conferences this year are being held today, which is also Eid Ul-Adha.

The administration opposed the measure, saying that the school system can’t celebrate every holiday. “One of the problems you have with a diverse city is that if you close the schools for every single holiday, there won’t be any school,” Bloomberg has said.

Shama said the Bloomberg administration “absolutely listened to all the requests and concerns of the school holidays coalition” before taking its position. Despite that, ‘Abdur-Rashid said, the administration stand “left a very bad taste in the mouths of many Muslims.”

Faiza Ali, the director of community affairs for CAIR-NY, said her organization is still pursuing the issue. “We’re looking to the leadership of the mayor and chancellor…[to] re-tool the school calendar to fit the needs of the community,” she said.

Alex Kane blogs on Israel/Palestine and Islamophobia in the United States athttp://alexbkane.wordpress.com/, and you can follow him on Twitter here. His work has also appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, The Electronic Intifada, Common Dreams, Palestine Chronicle and Alternet. He is a former intern at the Gotham Gazette.

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  • abdus the truth

    halalpork,lol! what a loser!

  • jihad bobs dad

    Small sausage you make me laugh, how great to hold on to your humour despite your ahem disability.

  • muhammad ‘abd-al haqq

    Imad i don’t think it was meant to be fun.., it’s sad but true

    It is telling though that haram pork suffers from a severe disability to respond to those who address him in an intellectual manner. Hence no response to my post directed at him but a continuation of insults directed at posters here,Islam, Muslims and the Prophet(as). In one instance he quoted verbatim from himself something he spam posted months ago here; something he was probably paraphrasing from a hate-site he normally parrots and copy/pastes from anyway.

    @ haram pork,

    You dealing with an actual scholar here(me), so you assertions and verbal bile must come with evidence, solid, logical reasoning to reach your conclusions, and proper citations, and in context assessment of sources.And please refrain from going wildly off topic. The only reason posters reply to your off topic rants, misinformation, and ad hominem attacks ids that many cannot stand to let misinformation go unchallenged, when many passerby readers lacking knowledge of Islam, visit here. Please take your meds, or alternatively i will rejoice on the day when you are banned.

    Now if you are through revealing to us that you area sadist and have an obsession with pedophilia and the sex lives of Muhammad(saws) and the Muslims, deal with my post in earnest.

    Robert Spencer is nothing more than a police blotter scholar and Dr.Wafa Sultan is one of those faux ex-Muslims attempting to dupe the Christian massses, who have little to no real knowledge of Islam,into thinking she is a former Muslim. What she actually says exposes this bogus claim for what it is. Please refrain from using them as authorities. If learning Islam from Muslims is so painful for you, do yourself a favor, first learn Arabic,read the Qur’an in full, then go for a post-graduate degree in Islamic studies at a legitimate, accredited university. Nowadays almost every university has Islamic studies as part of their curriculum. Then i will take you seriously, because right now i only post to you for the entertainment value, the opportunity to serve Allah by spreading the true message of Islam and counteract the lies of the haters, and for the benefit i receive from seeing my thoughts in writing so that they are available to others for either learning or critique.

    Please refrain from the inevitable logical fallacy of false analogy you get yourself into when comparing ‘Isa(as) and Muhammad(saws). Christians and Jews believe that Ibrahim(as) was an idol worshipper, Musa(as) murdered a man in cold blood, Joshua(raa, if he is considered a prophet or messenger of Islam..it is debatable) was a warlord, Yacub(as) married a ten year old girl, Sulaiman(as) allowed paganism, Dawud(as) was an adulterer,plunderer and rapist, yet consider them all to be prophets. The Qur’an absolves them of all these calumnies. Interesting it is,though, that these are all the same charges brought against Muhammad(as), used as arguments against his prophethood. Not that he is guilty of all of these, but it is quite hypocritical to consider biblical figures prophets while believing they did these things, while denying Muhammad(as)prophethood on the basis of the belief he was guilty of the same things.Incidentally all of these prophets practiced polygyny.

    But about ‘Isa(as) and Muhammad(saws),the comparison is fallacious and disingenuously made in light of the Christian belief of ‘Isa’s(as) divinity and the Muslim belief that the Prophet(as) was a human being. If we believed in the divinity of Muhammad(saws), then we could compare who deserved the title of divinity. Or if you believed ‘Isa(as) was a human being, nothing more, we could see who was the better man. Yours is a familiar tactic used by Christian missionaries, prefaced by “Muhammad can’t save you”. it won’t work here.
    You still have yet to deal with waht surah al-Fatihah actually says:

    Qur’an 1(Surah al-Fatihah):1-7:

    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
    Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds,
    The Beneficent, the Merciful,
    Master of the day of Requital.
    Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help.
    Guide us on the right path,
    The path of those upon whom Thou has bestowed favours, Not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray.

    transliteration:

    Bismi Allahi alrrahmani alrraheemi
    Alhamdu lillahi rabbi alAAalameena
    Ar rahmanir alrraheemi
    Maliki yawmi alddeeni
    Iyyaka naAAbudu wa-iyyaka nastaAAeenu
    Ihdina alssirata almustaqeema
    Sirata allatheena anAAamta AAalayhim ghayri almaghdoobi AAalayhim wala alddalleena

    Alalhu A’lam

  • Rob

    damn.. tough crowd

  • Mosizzle

    Too far, Rob, too far.

  • Imad

    @Rob

    Not funny

  • Rob

    Wow, everyone has halalpork squeeling like a pig in here. Gotta love how porky loves to project “self righteousness and hypocrisy”. 50 bucks says that halalpork has a stash of kiddy porn on his computer.

  • antiislamophobe

    @halalpork
    [I have spoken to a lot of COWARDS like you,who are nothing but windbags.A baloon like you can easily be deflated with a pin prick.Barking dogs seldom bite.Hence better if you keep your frothing mouth shut.]

    Lol You’re a moron. Yes, I know your ignorant kind and you’re all the same heap of garbage produced by the likes of fox news and islamophobic media. If anyone is a coward here, it would be your pathetic egotistic self. And its not my problem these “cowards” you talk to continue to mop the floor with you and your nonsense day in, day out because you lack the brain cells required for a rational discussion. You can’t even answer to any ones posts without adding more deluded nonsense and childish insults because your arguments aren’t well enough to hold a small drop of water. Why don’t you and your kind do the intelligent people a favor and get off the internet, get off the airwaves and read a book, real book.

  • Syed

    Sourin – I had thought his (halal pork’s) incipient pedophilia was because he was a teenager himself. But you are probably right. I might conjecture that he is probably in the late 30s, suffers from male pattern baldness and pale colored from spending all that time in his mothers basement.

    His lack of communication skills with the opposite sex is indicative of someone who’s never been laid (at least in a situation of mutual consent). That explains his obsession with sex that spills out every time he opens his mouth (or types a sentence).

    I concur with your prognosis – we are definitely looking at a psychopath who has discovered that Muslim-bashing is a socially accepted outlet for his psychopathic vitriol.

  • http://www.loonwatch.com Garibaldi

    @HalalPork,

    You are very close to being banned, we allow your posts to expose the insanity of Islamophobia and visceral anti-Muslim hate that exists out there. Please stick to the topic of this article. Consider yourself warned.

  • Sourin Mahbub

    Personally, as disgusting as the thought is, I think there’s a sexual component to Porkie’s weltanschauung. Halal Pork was probably rejected by a Muslim girl. He indirectly points out his love for them and how he wishes he can “save” one of them by converting them to his false religion.

    What you’re looking at is definitely a sadist. A future, if not current, rapist and a sexual deviant of the highest order. After all, the recurrent thoughts of underage women being molested or raped has to cloud his judgment sooner or later. He’s probably on his way to becoming an ordained pastor.

  • Syed

    halalpork is a SADIST according to his own admission. We agree and so does the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

    Sadistic personality disorder is:

    A) A pervasive pattern of cruel, demeaning, and aggressive behavior, beginning by early adulthood, as indicated by the repeated occurrence of at least four of the following:

    1. has used physical cruelty or violence for the purpose of establishing dominance in a relationship (not merely to achieve some noninterpersonal goal, such as striking someone in order to rob him/her). DONT KNOW
    2. Humiliates or demeans people in the presence of others. CHECK
    3. has treated or disciplined someone under his/her control unusually harshly. DONT KNOW
    4. is amused by, or takes pleasure in, the psychological or physical suffering of others (including animals). CHECK
    5. has lied for the purpose of harming or inflicting pain on others (not merely to achieve some other goal). CHECK
    6. gets other people to do what he/she wants by frightening them (through intimidation or even terror). CHECK
    7. restricts the autonomy of people with whom he or she has a close relationship, e.g., will not let spouse leave the house unaccompanied or permit teenage daughter to attend social functions. LOOKS LIKELY
    8. is fascinated by violence, weapons, injury, or torture. CHECK

    B) The behavior in A has not been directed toward only one person (e.g., spouse, one child) and has not been solely for the purpose of sexual arousal (as in sexual sadism). CHECK

  • Daniel

    Halal pork & others:

    Genesis does not state how old Rebecca was when she was married.

    On the other hand, there is no law in Torah nor the New Testament on the minimum age for marriage.

    On the third hand, some Talmudic statements have some pretty shocking things about sexual relations with little children.

    Now, there are traditions about Aisha being very young when she became sexually active, but these traditions contradict others that would indicate she was older. But because you hate Islam, you choose to accept whatever tradition casts Islam in the most negative light.

    I could do the same thing with Judaism, Christianity or any religion out there. That doesn’t make it right. Propaganda is no way to determine the truth.

  • andrea

    also from wikipedia ” Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebecca (Gen. 25:20), making Rebecca 3 years old at the time of her marriage. According to the second opinion, Isaac was 29 years old and Rebecca was 14 years old at the time of their marriage. Another view is that Rebecca was 10 years old at the time”

  • andrea

    i lived in dubai,lebanon and syria, they go crazy with christmas decorations, especially dubai, all of the malls have a christmasy theme.

  • Cynic

    Whoah Zak, you listen to Orphaned Land? Rock on bro, I love that band. Mabool is one of my favourite albums of all time. I urge every Loonwatcher to give it a listen. A great story of the three monotheistic faiths.

  • http://gmail halalpork

    @ Mindi !;The answer to your question is :SADISTIC PLEASURE:When the Muslims are told that their Prophet married Aisha when she was only 6 then they come up with the age of Rebkka when she married Isaac.It horrifies me when the Muslims come out with falshood that REBEKKA was a minor when she married ISAAC without having read the fact in the book of GENSIS Chapter 24 in the Bible.They are so ill educated and twister of facts like their prophet.I should not blame them,after all,Mohammad could not read or write.Try to read Robert Spencers scholarly books on Islam.Also watch Dr.Wafa Sultan an ex-Muslim which is worth checking on Internet.You are a very sensitive and bright person bub real life is tough.Try to think more rather than feel more.

  • mindy1

    @Halalpork, I simply do not understand what you get out of this-if you dislike Muslims so much, why do you keep coming here.

  • http://gmail halalpork

    @ Anti-Islamophobe:I have spoken to a lot of COWARDS like you,who are nothing but windbags.A baloon like you can easily be deflated with a pin prick.Barking dogs seldom bite.Hence better if you keep your frothing mouth shut.

  • http://gmail halalpork

    @ Z.A.Sher:It is all very well that you dated the Jewish girls.Would you have liked your sister or daughter dating a Jewish or Christian man and then marring her uncondionally?Yes or No?

  • http://www.counterculture-jihad.com Zakariya Ali Sher

    @ Halalporker:

    > How would you justify the Muslims occupying part of the Hindu country
    > which is now called Pakistan?

    The country now called “Pakistan” has been Muslim-majority for centuries, with a relatively small minority of Hindus, Sikhs and yes Christians. It’s not a historical “country” at all, since it was only created in 1947 as a “Muslim homeland”. But why do you think they chose those portions of Panjab, Kashmir, Balochistan, Sindh, Bengal, etc? Because they were already Muslim majority! Also, Hyderabad ALMOST joined too, which would have created a three-part state.

    I suppose that we should hold you personally responsible for Christian occupation of American Indian, Aboriginal and pagan land? I can think of quite a few Churches in Europe and the Near East that were actually built over pagan temples and holy sites!

    > No Muslim can honestly claim to love the Jews and Israel.Why can’t the
    > Muslim countries recognise the State of Israel then?

    I love the Jews. A lot. I’ve dated a couple Jewish girls, one of my biggest celebrity crushes is Jewish, and my next door neighbor growing up was Jewish. Orphaned Land is one of my favorite rock bands. I even have Jews in my family tree, though I am not Jewish. And I DO recognize the state of Israel. Most Israelis are actually very nice people. It’s just that I find some of the things their government has done (and is doing) to be morally questionable, and I reject the racist notions of the hardliners.

    You do realize that there is a sizable minority of Arabs in Israel, that Arabic IS a state language, that Arabs sit on the Knesset, and that Arabs serve in the Israeli military, IDF and Mossad, right? And that includes Jews, Christians, Druze AND Muslims! There’s even an official body that tries to standardize the Arabic language.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_citizens_of_Israel

    > Even your Quran starts with anti-Jewish and Anti-Christian
    > statement.Read your Fatiha again.

    Really, because I’ve read and recited from the Holy Qur’an numerous times, and I don’t recall seeing that. But since you are OBVIOUSLY such an an expert in Islam and no doubt fluent in Arabic, you’ll be able to point this out to me *end sarcasm*

    > Your so called holy book calls the Jews and Christians-the descendants
    > of APES AND SWINES.IS that right?

    It actually doesn’t, but then we’ve been through this numerous times.

    > Have you ever seen a mature PIG shagging a baby piglet.

    No, but then unlike you I don’t search the web looking for that kind of stuff. I shudder to think what kind of filth you have in your browsing history.

    > Your prophet shagged a little Aisha when she was only 9.

    And again, we’ve been through this several times as well. Aicha had to have been older when she married the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), given that she was only a few years younger than his daughter Fatima.

  • Farlowe

    Mr Pork, you seem to be worried about Aisha’s age of marriage. How old was Rebecca when she married Isaac?

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