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Islamophobia at heart of protests against Harford County mosque | COMMENTARY

Sean Moran, left, and Bruce Huber, center listen as they and Hasan Shah, right, with the Harford Islamic Center, talk about ways they can work together to get the community information about the proposed mosque on Rt. 543 in Bel Air during Wednesday morning's Development Advisory Committee meeting held at the Harford County Council Chambers.
Sean Moran, left, and Bruce Huber, center listen as they and Hasan Shah, right, with the Harford Islamic Center, talk about ways they can work together to get the community information about the proposed mosque on Rt. 543 in Bel Air during Wednesday morning's Development Advisory Committee meeting held at the Harford County Council Chambers. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Religious liberty and tolerance is one of the principles on which the United States was founded. Unfortunately, that tolerance only applies to certain religions, judging from the reactions to a proposed 60-seat mosque in Harford County.

Someone has threatened on social media to “burn it the [expletive] down” if it is built. Another bigoted post declared “Death to Allah,” the Arabic word for God, and encouraged people to bring their weapons to protest, playing into tired Islamic terrorist tropes.

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Instead of embracing diversity and welcoming the mosque, which would sit on a 12-acre site near Bel Air, as a potential good new neighbor, some are instead practicing wholesale Islamophobia and promoting the most egregious falsehoods about the Islamic faith.

They join a chorus of reinvigorated groups of people across the country who, likely emboldened by President Donald Trump, have engaged in hate and discrimination against certain religious groups. We have read far too many stories about violent attacks on Jewish synagogues, swastikas drawn on public spaces and threats made to those of the Jewish and Islamic faiths. A recent Pew Research Center study found that half of Muslim Americans say it has become harder to be Muslim in the U.S. and 48% had experienced discrimination at least once in the past 12 months

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Mosques are a particular target, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The organization found that 506 anti-mosque incidents across the country occurred from 2014 through June of 2019, including damage, destruction or vandalism to mosque property.

Other discriminatory acts are more subtle, such as when government agencies and bodies mask their anti-Muslim sentiment through zoning laws, the American Civil Liberties Union has found. Zoning boards and planning departments in some areas are more likely to deny zoning permits to mosques and Islamic centers than other religious groups despite federal law that “affords heightened legal protection to the use of property for religious purposes,” the group has found.

More often the hate, often based on misinformation and ignorance, is spewed by average citizens with the help of wide open and anonymous platforms on social media. For instance, many people on Facebook said they are fearful of the mosque opening in Harford County and expressed concerns over a false notion that Islam calls for the killing of non-believers.

While there certainly are terrorists who inflict violence in the name of religion, the vast majority of Muslim worshipers, like Christian worshipers, are hardworking citizens with the same concerns for a good quality of life as any other resident. The whole white race isn’t condemned because of the behavior of white nationalist terrorists, and we also shouldn’t denounce a whole religion.

We hope that the Harford Islamic Center doesn’t back down on its push for a new mosque. We can’t let intimidation scare people from pursuing their basic rights. If anything, maybe the eventual existence of the worship center could help dispel Islamic myths that some people hold and instead build understanding.

Read a little about the Harford Islamic Center on its website; it sure doesn’t sound like a hateful, terror-filled organization. Its vision is to be a model Muslim community that fosters inclusiveness, vibrancy, education and creativity for the future. Islam promotes morality, sanctity of life and human decency. That’s a lot better than what some of Harford County’s bigoted residents are promoting. Maybe they could learn from the Muslim faith.

The county has a Choose Civility Harford County campaign to promote respect, restraint and responsibility, including on the internet. Those goals are being put to the test by some of its residents. We hope the county does what it needs to do to practice what it preaches.

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