SHAFAQNA – In June, Dr. Reza Mansoor, a cardiologist, went to the Congregational Church of South Glastonbury to talk about his faith.
It was a beautiful evening, the kind of night that calls you outside to watch fireflies, but the place was packed.
Mansoor is president of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford, known more colloquially as the Berlin Mosque. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. That’s just 1 percent of the U.S. population, and Mansoor and others from the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut’s speaker’s bureau find themselves called upon to talk about their faith, a lot. Mansoor gives maybe 30 talks a year to faith and civic groups. He only cuts back during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended Tuesday.
Since 9/11, Muslims in Connecticut and beyond have taken a proactive approach to discussing their faith. Otherwise, as Mansoor says, the void is filled with haters like Pamela Geller (the flamboyant anti-Islam spokeswoman for haters everywhere) and, more recently, the presumptive Republican candidate for president.
A few years after the 2001 attacks in Washington and New York, it looked like Muslims were making some headway against the tide of anti-Islam propaganda. But recently, members of the Muslim speakers bureau have been met by a core group of haters who make it their business to disrupt public conversations. They come armed with fear and red-inked brochures that ask that readers Google particular phrases, because everyone knows Google is the authority on all things.
That June evening in South Glastonbury, just as Mansoor had just finished his basic introduction to Islam, a woman leapt to her feet to shout about how horribly she thought Islam treated women, and then she went to leave. As she stormed her way out, an audience member asked if the woman would at least stay for the talk, to which she replied that Mansoor would only be sharing propaganda.
So no. She left, having dropped off propaganda of her own about the supposed (and disproved) relationship between certain well-respected Islamic organizations and the Muslim Brotherhood.
And isn’t that the way of all haters? They drop and leave. You see it on social media all the time, the sharing of false and hurtful information that with purpose and conviction sounds almost plausible. It’s how Candidate Drumpf built his following, and it doesn’t take a social scientist to draw a thick line between the hate speech of politicians (and their cohorts’ complicit silence) and precisely this kind of local action.
Mansoor, author of the memoir, “Stigmatized: From 9/11 to Trump and Beyond,” says audiences have become rowdier since Trump’s inexplicable rise. Some groups who organize such public conversations try to stymie the interruptions by asking that questions be written out, but as in South Glastonbury, haters don’t pay attention to rules. They shout. They talk over. They start their diatribes with “I lived in the Middle East” for x-period of time, or “I have read the Quran” x-number of times or “I read a book that said” something inaccurate about Islam. Starting their sentences that way gives what they go on to say a patina of respectability, but what follows is rarely accurate.
We would not allow such haphazard “scholarship” in relation to Christianity or Judaism or any other belief system with which we are familiar. So why is it OK for Islam?
As always, the antidote to racism is education, and a lot of conversation. All across Connecticut, faith groups are sponsoring Syrian refugees, most of whom are Muslim, and roughly 70 percent of whom are, according to State Department data, women and children younger than 12. The South Glastonbury church has signed on to sponsor a family, as have other churches in the area. These relationships are critical to breaking through our most recent bout of nativism.
Fortunately, Mansoor doesn’t get tired.
“There was a need for the Muslim community to stand up at the different vigils, at Berlin Mosque, on NPR, on Fox,” he said. “It’s vitally important we are out there explaining Islam. In our absence, that vacuum is filled by hatred.”