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A woman in Spokane protests against CAIR/Facebook photo

In Spokane, “The ugly face of Islamophobia” reared its head

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By Blaine Stum

“Sharia law is not compatible value the U.S. Constitution… We are here today to stand against the jihadis.” I overheard these words from the mouth of Rep. Matt Shea as I stood in disbelief at the display of hatred and vitriol from the crowd of anti-Muslim protestors rallying outside of the Northeast Community Center. Muslim community members and families stood in the back, their faces showing noticeable dismay and fear as pseudo-militia group members patrolled the rally with guns in tow, filming and deliberately intimidating Muslims and those of who oppose what they stand for. All of this happened due to a simple council salutation honoring the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for the vital work they do in the community.

Members of the Washington State Council On American-Islamic Relations and local Muslims community members accepting a council salutation thanking CAIR for the work they do for people in our community. We are proud to work with CAIR and local Muslim community members to continue advocating for peace, justice and human rights./Photo courtesy Blaine Stum
Members of the Washington State Council On American-Islamic Relations and local Muslims community members accepting a council salutation thanking CAIR for the work they do for people the community/Photo courtesy Blaine Stum

When members of CAIR and the local Muslim community accepted the salutation, Usamah El-Bakkush stepped up to the podium and spoke of his desire to become a doctor and his life in this community. He began to cry when he talked about where he went to school, and how long he lived here. I had to hold back tears myself. This man has lived in this community his entire life. He was born here. He went to the same schools many of us did. His dreams and aspirations are quintessential affirmations of the American Dream. Yet, he had to hear and see a crowd of people who believe he does not belong.

The ugly face of Islamophobia had reared its head in full force with the rally outside, and confronting that ugliness and hate is critical to the health and well being of our community. Islamophobia has been on the rise since the events of 9/11. As pundits and commentators searched for answers to explain the horror and tragedy of the attack, a group of Evangelical Christians and prominent atheists latched on to one explanation: Islam itself. They feed in to the narrative propagated by al-Qaida that there is a clash of civilizations at work. They cherry pick suras and ahadith, stripping them of all context, to confirm their own biases; and ignore the views and words of Muslims all over the world who reject the extremism and terrorism perpetrated by groups like al-Qaida and ISIS.

A toxic mixture of fear, ignorance and lack of exposure continue to feed Islamophobia’ ascent into the mainstream. Hate crimes against Muslims have remained disturbingly frequent. Books, articles and letters espousing uninformed opinions on Muslims and Islam permeate the Internet. And few of those who who spout such opinions make an effort at interfaith dialogue. In a society as segregated as ours, it’s not a surprise to learn how few people have actually taken the initiative to interact and dialogue with Muslims in their communities. Yet, this interaction is precisely what is necessary to overcome Islamophobia’ grasp.

I know this because many years ago as I stewed in my own fear and ignorance, I subscribed to the same beliefs as noted anti-Muslim author Robert Spencer. It was not until I took the time to truly educate myself, reject the fear I allowed to take hold of me and engage in open, honest and heartfelt conversations with Muslim-Americans across the country, that I realized how utterly wrong I was. I have since had the pleasure of befriending many Muslims, both here in America and abroad. They have enriched my life, and affirm what I now believe about the vast majority of people on this planet: that we all desire life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our life, and our pursuit of happiness, may not be identical; but it is precisely that kind diversity that makes a vibrant, strong community. As a society, we cannot afford to continue living our lives in homogeneous silos. We owe it to everyone, including ourselves, to embrace and live the values we espouse.

Blaine Stum

About Blaine Stum

Blaine Stum is a 30-something-year-old native of the Spokane area who was raised in Spokane Valley. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a bachelor's degree in political science. He works in the local political arena and has been involved in LGBT non-profit work for several years.

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40 comments

  1. Blain I appreciate that you took the time to engage the issue and be present at the meeting and wrote about it, but this piece is loaded with divisive rhetoric, why? You are swinging at those who showed up with different views than you hold with the same frantic derogatory dissmisiveness as they have towards Muslims. Seems you brought gasoline to a fight a fire.

    Maybe we could start our conversation from the point of the salutation and list “the vital work they do in the community” and then evaluate the merit?

    • I agree with Blaine’s post, but you make a good point Eric. I would be curious to know more about CAIR and the good they do. Blaine perhaps you or someone here at SpokaneFAVS has a follow up post?

    • Eric, I was not at the event, however if what Blaine said happened … “patrolling the rally, guns in tow … and deliberate intimidation of the Muslims that were attending” That is activity that is not tolerable regardless of viewpoint

      • That isn’t an illegal act or one that law enforcement deemed as out of line for the protest. I would agree that it’s out of line from my perspective and provoking and intimidating. The issues involved are reflective of the huge amount of work we need to accomplish in being bridge builders instead of those who build barriers. But the right to assemble and the right to carry guns is legal here. I find it to be extremely problematic and a combustible act of intimidation. If muslims showed up with weapons, I can’t imagine the response! But I don’t think fighting and denigrating those we disagree with is helpful in moving towards understanding. Blaine is free to call them all kinds of names but I hope there can be more than just expressing how we dislike the ‘other’.

    • As Taylor Weech once wrote for FAVS: “All opinions are not created equal.” Islamophobia is no better than anti-Semitism, hatred of Christians, or racism. Blaine wrote an impassioned post as an ally. I don’t see his words as divisive. Hatred must be condemned.

      • Are you calling this a statement of hatred: ““Sharia law is not compatible value the U.S. Constitution… We are here today to stand against the jihadis.”

        • In the context of the event, it was. We were doing a simple council salutation for a group who provides critical support for Muslims in the community. (Most recently, they responded to and helped report a hate crime against the Bosnia Herzegovina Heritage Association).

          To suggest that these people want sharia law, or secretly waging a “jihad” against the US is not only untrue, it’s ridiculous. That’s what Matt Shea was saying when he uttered those words.

          • “The Council on American-Islamic Relations received praise Monday night from the Spokane City Council for their contributions to our community”. That is the KXLY article headline. Are you arguing that CAIR has had no history of controversy? Are you surprised that many in a conservative political area would possibly protest such a org?

          • CAIR has only had a “history of contro

          • It’s HOW you protest, and where, and when. CAIR is controversial, particularly among some portions of the Jewish community. But a salutation attended by members of the Muslim community answered by (sorry, namecalling alert) wingnut conspiracy theorists? With guns? Nah, that’s hatemongering, not protest.

        • Sharia law = all Muslims? The Westernized conception of jihad = all Muslims?

          Ben Carson said a Muslim shouldn’t be president because Sharia law isn’t compatible with the Constitution. That suggests all Muslims subscribe to all of “Sharia law,” which is something I have some but not a lot of understanding of. Like all Christians and Jews follow the Bible to the letter? I doubt all Muslims do any particular things. Because no people group is uniform.

    • Eric: Tell me where I said any of the following:

      – That the protesters are not American, or don’t belong in this community.
      – That they associate with terrorists, or have been “linked” to them.
      – That their religion is hateful and violent.

      Those are the kinds of words I heard and received yesterday all day. If you’re going to compare my column to that, at least have the gall to show me where I supposedly am engaging in the same kind of rhetoric they are. Do I call that rhetoric ignorant and hateful? Absolutely; because that’s what it is. I was there at one point in my life, and I admitted I was ignorant and filled with fear. I won’t hesitate to continue calling out such rhetoric for what it is.

      I find it interesting that you would say that, given the last line of the of the column: “As a society, we cannot afford to continue living our lives in homogeneous silos. We owe it to everyone, including ourselves, to embrace and live the values we espouse.”

      • In my opinion these comments from your article are molotov cocktails that will end dialogue but you are free to express them.

        -display of hatred and vitriol from the crowd of anti-Muslim protesters

        -pseudo-militia group members patrolled the rally with guns in tow, filming and deliberately intimidating Muslims

        -The ugly face of Islamophobia had reared its head in full force with the rally outside

        – They feed into the narrative propagated by al-Qaida

        -confirm their own biases; and ignore the views and words of Muslims

        -A toxic mixture of fear, ignorance and lack of exposure

        -uninformed opinions

        – few of those who who spout such opinions make an effort at interfaith dialogue

        – few people have actually taken the initiative to interact and dialogue with Muslims

        – I took the time to truly educate myself

        – living our lives in homogeneous silos

        I assume you feel that there is no need to attempt to dialogue with these people and that you feel that they are a detriment to the community but isn’t that as much of a dead end as the views you are protesting?

        • – You weren’t at the rally. How can you take issue with my description of their words and conduct without experiencing it for yourself?

          – LFA III%, a group who “deployed” to the event open carrying, is a group that aligns itself with the Lightfoot Militias in Idaho and sovereign citizen groups. I describe them that way because that’s what they are.

          – So, I’m not allowed to call Islamophobia hateful? This is bit like being upset when something is called racist because it is.

          – Anti-Muslim activists have made it no secret that they believe Islam is incompatible with “Western values” and that we need to “fight Islamization.” Tell me how that doesn’t feed into al-Qaida’s class of civilizations narrative.

          – Shea and his ilk has spoken about the need of Muslim organizations to denounce terrorism, when Muslim organizations and people across the world have done so all the time. That’s called confirmation bias.

          – They are uninformed. They don’t talk to Muslims. They’ve made that clear from day one. Tell me I’m wrong.

          Actually, I’ve been engaging with people like this for nearly a decade. I find their views toxic, yes; but I don’t allow that to come between opportunities for dialogue. It’s interesting that you’re making so many assumptions about what I am and what I do.

  2. Fear is such a basic human emotion. It’s always surprising to me that people haven’t figured it out yet. It’s literally a no-brainer. People fear what they don’t know. It’s that simple. Fear of spiders? Let one crawl around on you for a minute. When you see that it has absolutely no interest in you what-so-ever (and perhaps is even terrified itself that it’s crawling all over a massive alien being) you quickly realize your fear was irrational.

    This applies to almost every imaginable scenario. Matt Shea is rallying groups of people who fear other people who prescribe to the Islamic religion. I can say this with 100% confidence and certainty that every. Single. Person. in that group has never once spoken with an actual Muslim. They couldn’t list one single teaching from the Islamic faith, and they’ve never hung out with a Muslim (e.g., let them “crawl” around your house for a minute). If they did, they would immediately see, as I have found, that there is absolutely nothing to fear. They are the most humble, sweet, most gentle people I have ever met. They are welcoming, and they bathe you with food and hospitality. That has always been my experience with Muslims in Spokane, and I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have been able to meet them through college. They LITERALLY have the same hopes, dreams, aspirations. They look up to heros like we do. They laugh at the same jokes. Frankly put, they’re not “just like us.” They ARE us.

    There are millions of Muslim AMERICAN CITIZENS living in this country. They are us. Choosing to fear them is choosing to be ignorant. Watching biased media only fuels this ignorance. The extremists like Osama bin Laden were NOT real Muslims. They were using a religion to claim legitimacy. “I am a Muslim, therefore I am justified to do the things I do.” But he, and every other extremist have only one purpose and agenda. They wish to take over and rule the regions of the Levant. To do this, they use terrorism. These people have nothing to do with your neighbor Muslims. To Matt Shea: Stop believing or pretending they do!

    • I don’t think it’s wise to compare every political strain one doesn’t like to fascism. However, stoking the flames of fear and hatred isn’t wholly outside the realm of fascist strategy and ideology, if we look at history’s evidence.

  3. Who were these anti-Muslim protesters? Do they represent any actual organization? How can those of us committed to interfaith relations engage them and address their fears? It seems from Blaine’s column that he encountered two very fear-filled groups: local Muslims afraid of the protesters and protesters afraid of who they think these local folks are. How do we get these two groups together to work through their fear? And if this cannot happen, how do we ever make progress?

  4. Conversations like this are what SpokaneFāVS are all about! Thank you, everyone, for being so thoughtful and respectful in your comments.

  5. Thank you for sharing this Blaine! As the child of an immigrant myself who also grew up in Spokane, I am thankful for people as yourself who have LISTENED to the “other” and found that they are not really the “other” but at the core are very similar to the rest of Spokane society. The isolation that comes from being an immigrant is hard enough but to have people from mainstream society openly condemn you because of your beliefs is, what I believe, hatred in one of its purest forms. We dehumanize what (or who) we fear; but I hope your transformation in thinking about Muslims continues to be a testimony to many others in Spokane.

    • Patty Dyer Bruininks

      Gifti, thank you for your contribution to this discussion. It’s not about having the ‘right’ to protest by open carrying; this is not a discussion about legality. It is about stereotyping and prejudice which is fueled mercilessly by the media. It’s about being courageous and, as you said, listening to those we don’t know or understand.

      Blaine, I really appreciate you sharing that your current attitude and beliefs are not ones that you have always had. We are all broken human beings who tend to find ‘comfort’ in denigrating others when instead we could find JOY in making new friends who teach us a little more about this world in which we live. The phrase “embrace diversity” may be well meaning, but it is more than just embracing the idea; it is getting to know others of different races, religions, and sexual orientation and delighting in who they are just as God delights in who we are.

      ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

    • Patty Dyer Bruininks

      I’m really looking forward to your contributions as a member of the discussion panel to next month’s coffee talk on the refugee crisis

  6. Matt Shea is a funny guy. After I tweeted about this earlier, I got four responses from him. The two funniest: 1) “@JimBMcPherson Your tweet is tantamount to a death threat because it is a charge of slander under Sharia Law. Ask @shahramhadian ‪#‎StopJihad‬”; and 2) “@JimBMcPherson Appears to be defending the Muslim Brotherhood a known terrorist organization… We should all ask him why… #StopJihad”
    Oh, my original tweet: “.@RepMattShea pushes ‪#‎Islamophobia‬ in Spokane: @cathymcmorris & @david_a_condon do you agree? bit.ly/1QWNhYa @SpokaneFAVS”
    Alas, I didn’t get replies from Condon or McMorris-Rodgers.

  7. Yesterday on his radio show Matt Shea said he thinks refugees are going to non-Muslim countries because immigration is part of jihad. An amazing example of demonizing a vulnerable population.

    • “We’re doing what we know we can manage immediately…that the U.S. cannot take shortcuts on security checks.” – John Kerry, Secretary of State, speaking about the U.S. Refugee resettlement numbers.

      Is he “demonizing” the population by following increased security protocol due to the realities of our enemies stated objectives?

      • http://www.irr.org.uk/publications/issues/a-suitable-enemy-racism-migration-and-islamophobia-in-europe/

        “Liz Fekete explores the way in which anti-terrorist legislation has been used to evict undesirable migrants, how deportation policies commodify and de-humanise the most vulnerable and how these go hand in hand with evolving forms of racism, particularly Islamophobia.”

        I’m not saying let folks into the U.S. with zero security protocol. It’s not all or nothing. What strikes me as ludicrous is for Matt Shea to say that refugees are entering non-Muslim countries primarily to enact Sharia law and overthrow existing governments.

        • Pew Research: In South Asia, high percentages in all the countries surveyed support making sharia the official law, including nearly universal support among Muslims in Afghanistan (99%). More than eight-in-ten Muslims in Pakistan (84%) and Bangladesh (82%) also hold this view. The percentage of Muslims who say they favor making Islamic law the official law in their country is nearly as high across the Southeast Asian countries surveyed (86% in Malaysia, 77% in Thailand and 72% in Indonesia).15

          In sub-Saharan Africa, at least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they favor making sharia the official law of the land, including more than seven-in-ten in Niger (86%), Djibouti (82%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (74%) and Nigeria (71%).

          Support for sharia as the official law of the land also is widespread among Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region – especially in Iraq (91%) and the Palestinian territories (89%). Only in Lebanon does opinion lean in the opposite direction: 29% of Lebanese Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land, while 66% oppose it.” -http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia/

          • If refugees come from these regions/countries, isn’t it fair and prudent to examine the potential problems arising from such world views?

          • Eric, how many of the people who “support making sharia the official law” want thieves’ hands to be amputated? I’m wondering if the (dire) conservative American view of Sharia represents what the majority of Sharia supporters actually want.

          • They address that in the article I posted it: “In the Middle East and North Africa, many Muslims who support making sharia the official law also favor punishments like cutting off the hands of thieves. This includes at least seven-in-ten in the Palestinian territories (76%) and Egypt (70%), and at least half in Jordan (57%), Iraq (56%) and Lebanon (50%). Only in Tunisia do fewer than half (44%) of those who want Islamic law as the law of the land also back these types of criminal penalties.

          • Pew says 0.9% of Americans identify as Muslim. What I wonder is whether an influx of Muslim refugees (and not all the refugees are Muslim, right?), some percentage of whom are in favor of amputating hands and such, will somehow set up Sharia law in countries that don’t currently have it. Many American Christians think abortion should be illegal. Currently, it’s not. Many Catholics think birth control ain’t okay, but birth control is legal. Many evangelicals think premarital sex is sinful, but that’s legal. If the majority religion doesn’t get to have everything its way, how is a still very small minority, even after some kind of influx, going to establish Sharia as the law of the land?

          • And if you say, “Well, I still don’t want pro-amputation folks as my neighbors,” I’d say that I don’t prize the idea of having neighbors who think LGBT people are sinning and going to hell, but that’s America. If people start amputating others’ hands willy-nilly, then that’s a crime punishable under our criminal justice system. But I don’t see a rash of hand-amputating happening anytime soon.

          • My comments are in rebuttal to the way many here portray concerned citizens. These are not irrational mirages concocted out of hyped up fears based on tinfoil hat internet broadcasters. These are on the ground activities, statistical data, European experiences and a current war with jihadists going on. We are not receiving soldiers back from a world conflict with gays. Abortion providers are not blowing up buildings, forcing women and children into sex slavery or drowning Christians in cages. Those are horrific acts on the evening news, is it outrageous to see that some people might be concerned about the influx of 20-60 thousand from these regions?

          • Would people fleeing repressive/oppressive regimes really want to set up similarly anti-humanitarian situations where they’re going?

  8. I was at the council’s ceremony at the NE Community center, and I listened a while at the counter demonstration. I find Blains observations to be accurate, reasonable, and fair minded. I do not find his statements to be provocative, unless you object to his reasonable descriptions of the messages of the anti-Muslims. And Eric, I see you condemning Muslims for doing the same things you accept without question on the part of Christians. I fear Sharia law about as much as I fear Christian law. Both are mostly highly moral, and both have their points of irreason.

    • Really Tom that’s quite an accusation feel free to actually post where I have ever done that. This is the kind of comments that irritate me about this site. I have offered fair and documented response here but I get this type of responses consistently. It’s unfortunately one of the reasons that it will continue to draw from one corner of the Christian voice.

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