An anti-mosque placard in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn (Photo via Islamophobia-Watch.com)
A planned mosque and community center in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn has come under renewed attack from a New York state senator–the latest salvo in what has been a failed effort to stop the construction of a mosque to serve the local Muslim community. Construction on the mosque continues, and has cleared all the hurdles that have been put up by residents and anti-Muslim activists.
Last week, Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald reported on Republican state Senator David Storobin’s opposition to the mosque. Storobin, who represents Sheepshead Bay and other Brooklyn neighborhoods like Brighton Beach, is in a re-election battle after winning a special election in March. Storobin won his seat on the strength of the conservative, Orthodox Jewish vote, and now New York political hands note that Storobin is pandering to his base. Storobin is himself a Russian Jew who immigrated to the US.
Storobin sent a letter last week to Mayor Michael Bloomberg–a meaningless one, since Bloomberg does not have jurisdiction over what gets constructed in Brooklyn–that was pure fear-mongering. After ticking off the community’s concerns over zoning laws and parking, Storobin claims:
The residents are also concerned with who is backing this construction, saying that there is evidence that MAS (Muslim American Society), the organization that is in charge of overlooking the project, has links to radical organizations, and been under numerous investigations by federal authorities due to their alleged support for Hamas and Hezbollah.
While the claims were false, Storobin’s letter echoed the rhetoric of opponents of the mosque and community center. Storobin’s office did not return a request for comment on this story.
Other politicians, like Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, have also expressed concerns about the mosque, though Markowitz only questioned whether the mosque violates zoning laws.
“We’re really shocked that some politicians still want to play politics with religious freedom. Religious freedom should never be a political issue,” said Allowey Ahmed, a Yemeni-American Sheepshead Bay resident and the owner of the property where the mosque is to be built. In a phone interview, Ahmed noted that there are synagogues and churches nearby to where the mosque is being built, and that they have had no problems with neighbors.
Since 2010, as opposition to mosques intensified and caught nationwide media attention, a group called Bay People Inc. has organized against the Muslim community center and mosque in Sheepshead Bay, which when completed will also include English as a second language and computer classes. Bay People Inc. is a small group that has 15 active members, half of whom are Russian Jews who immigrated from the Soviet Union, according to the Jewish Daily Forward. The group has held rallies with the likes of Pamela Geller and the anti-Muslim Brooklyn Tea Party.
While Bay People Inc.’s opposition is couched in neighborhood concerns–parking, traffic and noise–they have also taken to worrying about “neighborhood character.” “The neighborhood residents are mostly of Italian/Russian/Jewish/Irish decent and will not benefit from having a mosque and a Muslim community center,” Bay People states on their website. “[The] Muslim American Society came out of Muslim Brotherhood and is still associated with the Brotherhood, sharing ideology, goals, leaders and members. We are sure you are aware of the Brotherhood’s fundamentalist views, as well as its anti-American, anti-Semitic and World dominance ideas.”
But the Federal Bureau of Investigation disagrees. After Rep. Michael McMahon, a New York Democrat, inquired about MAS to the FBI concerning a different mosque in Staten Island that MAS was involved with, the FBI told him there was nothing to see. “They gave me no indication whatsoever that the Muslim American Society is affiliated with any organization that threatens our national security,” McMahon wrote in a letter.
The facts about MAS have not stopped Islamophobes from targeting the mosque, though. One anti-mosque protester told a Brooklyn newspaper in 2010: “If they build a mosque there, I’m going to bomb the mosque.” The newspaper reported that the person who said that, who would not give his name, “identified himself as a former Israeli soldier.” And after Osama bin Laden’s death, the walls surrounding the lot where the mosque is being built were vandalized.
Despite the vitriolic opposition, though, mosque construction continues. Bay People Inc.’s concerns about zoning have been heard in the courts and have been tossed out.
The continued attacks on the mosque have not fazed Ahmed, who hopes that the mosque, built on the strength of local fundraising, will be completed by the end of the year.