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Laughter, applause and “Amen!” as Kathy Szilega dismisses SPLC data on discrimination

29 September 2017

Though our book club was scheduled to discuss “Hope in the Dark” by Rebecca Solnit, Pam proposed and others agreed that we reschedule it so as to be able to attend a public meeting concerning a development coming up in Joppa which was known by various names – River Run, Old Trails, and “Muslim housing.”  The issue was:  “Is this neighborhood going to be Muslim-only?”

 Certainly such a thing would not pass the fair-housing laws.  Furthermore, even if for some reason there was a special exception permitting this, I was concerned that it would send a signal that Muslims should live in separate neighborhoods and worried about the freedom of religion of those who lived there – what if someone wished to adopt another religion, could they still live there?

As it turned out there was no such plan.  How could there be?  Did hearing that information put to rest the concerns of the 200+ who showed up at the meeting?  Were they really concerned that the neighborhood might be closed to non-Muslims?  Or were they concerned that there would be Muslims there at all?

As the Baltimore Sun noted in its editorial, “The cost of demagoguery in Harford County, ” the actual dispute between the builders and local officials had to do with paperwork and compliance with stormwater regulations.

I am glad I attended the meeting and heard all this first hand.  Even as I entered the meeting I had seen no clear statement as to what the meeting would be about. I ran into Delegate Kathy Szilega outside the restroom and asked her.  She spoke only of stormwater permits and some construction work issues, the latter of which, she stated publicly, had started being addressed as a result of a prior meeting.  (reported in the Sun: Concerns about ‘Muslim only’ development spark controversy in Joppatowne)

Dr. Faheem Younus, who is part of a company involved in promoting the property, stated clearly and repeatedly that anyone was eligible to purchase and live in the homes.  Although 20 had already been sold, 20 were still available.  Apparently he even gave out the realtor’s phone number (I left early and did not hear this).  The only restriction is that the community is for people of age 55+.

[In the video below at 49:25 Delegate Impallaria asks, “Dr, How can we buy a home”

Dr Fahim gives out the name of the realtor Bob Stone and phone number 443 608 2257]

While the Sun editorial rightly calls out the role of Delegate Impallaria and Delegate McDonough, I would like to hold Delegate Szilega accountable as well for while she herself kept her remarks related to permit and construction issues, she did not oppose the demagoguery of her colleagues.  In fact, when a community member raised the issue or rising incidence of hate crimes against immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants, quoting data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, she coolly said, “I don’t believe any of us are discriminating. The Southern Poverty Law Center gets a lot of stuff wrong.” She was met with laughter, applause and “Amen!”

It was really sad to see xenophobia on display at the meeting.  Punctuated with the obligatory remarks of “I don’t see color” and, regarding racist discrimination, “that does not happen in this community.”  Yet it was happening right before our eyes.   At the opening of the meeting, a young man whose skin was brown was asked, regarding the pledge of allegiance, “do you need help with that?”  Later when Dr. Faheem went to speak and shared his own experiences of living and working in the US I heard someone heckle, “are you a citizen?”  When he stated that the community center would be for cultural activities and that while they planned to pray there, anyone could pray there as well, I heard a woman in front of me say, “I am not praying in a mosque.”  If someone uses a community center to hold prayers connected to the Muslim faith, does that community center become a mosque?  The Armory in Bel Air is used on Sundays by a Christian organization.  Has it become a church?  Are there any religious criteria governing who may rent the facility?

Even more sad is the claim that having a mosque in the neighborhood would lower property values.   In the above video at 33:20, just after the audience applauds itself on its lack of bigotry, a man says “house values around a mosque decrease.”  Why would that happen if there was no discrimination? First of all, the facility is not a mosque, it is a community center which will be used for various purposes and one planned purpose is to hold Muslim prayers.  During those hours it may feel like a mosque but another group can use it for another purpose.  More importantly though – what if it was a mosque?  Even then, provided it secured required permits, there can be no objection.  How can you object to building a mosque on the grounds that it affects property values?  Is xenophobia a legally protected right?

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From → Civics, Culture

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