Florida Blacks Say No To Mosque

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by Pabst, Jul 16, 2006.

  1. Pabst


    "They don't contribute a nickel to any cause in terms of improving the community," Pompano Beach Commissioner E. Pat Larkins said of Arab-American proprietors. "Most black folks see them as people that come in to rape the community and go away."


    Pompano mosque dispute sheds light on split between blacks, Muslims

    By Gregory Lewis
    South Florida Sun-Sentinel

    July 16, 2006

    There was a time when many black Americans and Muslims got along because of shared experiences of fighting discrimination.

    They meshed in black neighborhoods when Arab businesses opened in many urban cities, extending credit and sometimes jobs to poor African-Americans.

    So when black people in Pompano Beach opposed a mosque's planned move to their community and the outspoken Rev. O'Neal Dozier called Islam "a cult," many were stunned.

    That unsettles people like Genard Hassell, who wonders how a black preacher can condemn another religion and lead an effort to bar other minorities from the neighborhood.

    "Martin Luther King must be turning over in his grave," said Hassell, 45, a Lauderhill paralegal. "Dozier sounds like an old South Mississippi bigot of my youth. We of all people should understand that."

    Such harsh characterizations have resounded throughout the county.

    "I'm surprised by all this rhetoric," said Cory Perez-Shade, chairwoman of the Broward County Diversity Advisory Board. "I considered African-Americans to be empathetic with other people."

    Much of the dispute centers on the mistrust blacks in Pompano Beach have for Arab storekeepers. Some residents say the storeowners disrespect customers, overcharge for items and some sell tobacco and alcohol to minors.

    That has affected how some black residents view Muslims, many of whom are immigrants and minorities. Muslims can be of any racial group.

    "They don't contribute a nickel to any cause in terms of improving the community," Pompano Beach Commissioner E. Pat Larkins said of Arab-American proprietors. "Most black folks see them as people that come in to rape the community and go away."

    Muslim leaders say black community residents should be glad they have those businesses. "The very fact that a Muslim person is brave enough to come into a neighborhood that most other business owners will not come into is very commendable," said Altaf Ali, executive director of the Council On American-Islamic Relations.

    Mike Hammad, who owns a string of convenience stores from Miami to Delray Beach, including two in Pompano Beach, said he hires area residents and contributes to their communities.

    "We support schools, parks, churches and museums," Hammad said. "We get involved in neighborhood associations."

    For some, that Muslims need to defend themselves is unusual. Black Americans have long embraced peers who converted to Islam. African-Americans such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, who became Muslims, are icons.

    "The Muslims were always well-respected because they stand for something," said Hassell, who grew up in New York and has lived in Florida for 20 years. "They're dignified."

    Dozier and other ministers, however, say they fear the mosque could attract vulnerable young black men and women to its ranks and turn the neighborhood into a "breeding ground for terrorists." Dozier and the Rev. Alonzo Neal of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church repeatedly have said that all Muslims are "dangerous" because "they must declare war on other religions" to enter heaven.

    But others in the black community say while they would not join the faith, they respect its members.

    "The Muslims, at least in New York, make a difference," Hassell said. "I have seen them, with my own eyes, make heroin addicts men."

    Still, tension between blacks and Arab-Americans is on the rise, particularly in urban areas of San Francisco and Detroit, where Middle Eastern immigrants have purchased stores in black communities.

    "Black folks traditionally are sick of being on the bottom," said Barbara Cheives, a West Palm Beach diversity specialist. "They see an entire group come over and buy up your neighborhood. You resent or hate what you don't understand and we don't understand the attire."

    Muslims and Arab-Americans also have faced heightened stereotypes since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Many Americans are weary of terrorism and religious extremists who use suicide bombers.

    Florida Atlantic University professor Walid Phares, a Middle Eastern scholar who is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, said there are several sources of tension between black Americans and Muslims.

    "What's impacting the relationship is Muslim radicals putting pressure on black Muslims to show their Muslim identity," Phares said. "They are telling them to make a choice."

    But in reacting to fundamentalist Muslims, many black Americans target all Muslims. "The majority of Muslims are sensitive to the African-American cause," Phares said.

    He said Muslims have an image problem like those of previous immigrant groups who began to exert economic power. That can create a backlash from other minority groups.

    "I saw a lot of cultural and religious misunderstanding," said Perez-Shade, who is Puerto Rican. "They need to stop the sound bites. They are talking past each other."

    Gregory Lewis can be reached at glewis@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4203

    Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
  2. I propose legislation that would turn all mosques into public restrooms.