In his novel, Birds without Wings, Louis de Bernières describes early 20th century Turkey, where Muslims and Christians had lived together peaceably in many places for centuries. But upheavals in the larger world — World War I, collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Revolution — changed all that and Muslims and Christians began killing each other with many forced to leave their ancestral homes. Muslims from Greece were swapped with Christians from Turkey. The local peace many of them had enjoyed was gone forever.
We in Cedar Rapids have been blessed with a minority Muslim community from the 19th century, and the Mother Mosque of America — a small, humble building on a quiet, residential street — stands as a tribute to the peace that Christians and Muslims have enjoyed in this city for over a hundred years. But what is to keep that peace if we live in a world that threatens to take it away, as people intentionally try to stir up hate on the national and international stage? What is to keep us from the fate of Turkey?
The horrific shootings in New Zealand remind us that Islamophobia is alive and well. Even the Wall Street Journal, in its editorial March 15, suggested that acts against Muslims have gone down and are largely decried by most leaders. But this goes against evidence that hate crimes against Muslims — like those against Jews — are on the rise. What is to keep us from the fate of New Zealand?
We must be ever vigilant if justice is to prevail, and that means we must be proactive in protecting our Muslim neighbors by calling out those who hate them and who try to use them as pawns in a game of white, and often Christian, supremacy.
The Inter-Religious Council of Linn County is an example of that proactive force, along with many other local organizations, colleges, and faith communities, by hosting an event to teach us what Islamophobia is and how to combat it. Co-sponsors of the event include the Catherine McAuley Center, Christ Episcopal Church, Coe College, Cornell College, First Lutheran Church, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, Mother Mosque of America, Mount Mercy University, Prairiewoods, and Temple Judah.
On Tuesday, April 2 at 7 p.m. in Kesler Auditorium/Hickok Hall on the campus of Coe College, Islamophobia expert Dr. Todd Green will make a presentation entitled “Presumed Guilty: Islamophobia and Muslim Scapegoating in an Age of Terrorism.” Green is an associate professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah. A nationally recognized expert on Islamophobia, Green served as a Franklin Fellow at the U.S. State Department in 2016 and 2017, where he analyzed and assessed the impact of anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe on countering violent extremism initiatives, refugee and migrant policies, and human rights. He also has lectured on Islamophobia to other federal agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. His two books on the subject of Islamophobia will be available for signing and purchase at the event, which is free and open to the public.
Please join our mosaic faith community at the lecture as a way to show your respect for our fellow Muslims. I urge you to be there.
• Charles R. Crawley is president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.