Minorities in America
What they did not discuss was their own indifference towards the miserable conditions of the marginalised minorities back in their own home
While sitting in a lustrous and ornate theatre that accommodated more than thousand people, I and my friend, Zahid, were feeling both excited and nervous; the gathering was called in to ascertain the fate of the construction of a mosque.
Only a month ago, it seemed that the proposal would fail to get an approval. It was naively assumed that an overwhelming majority would not succumb to the pressure of a tiny minority.
Those who had opposed the plan had come with preparations. They knew how to navigate the system; how to get heard in an official manner; how to disguise racism (if that was the case) in the auspices of legitimate concerns for the community and how to refute and reject while claiming to have supported the freedom of expression.
But on 26th February, at the end of the second meeting, we were going to witness the inherent fairness in the system working regardless of race and religion if it existed. We would see justice prevailing, if there was justice; we would experience minorities being heard and favoured by the majority if it was possible. In other words, we would either America at its best or expose its hypocrisy to the world.
Not too long ago, in the heart of Midwest-also known as the Bible belt-Muslims whose total population in Carmel, Indiana stands less than one percent, decided to build a mosque. The place in question was located in the middle of a posh residential area, just behind a prestigious sub division. To give you a background, Carmel has been ranked as one of the top twenty towns to live in the United States. Overwhelmingly inhabited by Caucasians (Whites), its public-school system beats many private schools in its ratings; the crime rate runs so low that people forget to lock their cars or sometimes even their homes. Its streets are marked by numerous Churches and Synagogues but do not have a worship place for the Muslims.
For that reason, Al Salam Foundation-a project conceived and initiated by Pakistani physicians practicing in Indianapolis wanted to build a mosque in the town. Because of the residential location of the plot, every town resident, according to the zoning laws, could object to the communal use of the land. In the February meeting too, anyone could enlist and deliver a speech lasting up to one minute to express his views both in favor or against the proposal. After the first gathering, in which Muslims had gone unprepared and were embarrassed by the contradictions in their own statements, they had decided to show up in large numbers and also to hone their arguments through professional and legal help.
In order to grasp the gravity of the situation, ask yourself: would the residents of DHA permit Ahmadis or Hindus to build their place of worship in their backyards?
The meeting lasted for more than five hours; almost one hundred fifty people shared their opinions. Members of various Christian denominations endorsed the undertaking; Jewish organisations-yes, you read it correctly-sent their delegates to defend the Muslim’s right to build a mosque as well. The opposition also voiced their concerns focusing mostly on the increased flow of traffic on a narrow road and about the ambiguity on the size and future extension of the proposal. The panel which consisted of seven members had to vote after listening to all the speakers. The majority vote would then decide the fate of the undertaking.
To better understand the situation in Pakistani terms, allow me to ask: Would the members of Defence Housing Authority (DHA) permit Ahmadis to build their place of worship or let Hindus build a temple in their back yards (so to say)? Would the officials allow it to happen? Let us suppose for a moment that they did. Can you imagine the backlash, the invectives, and the propaganda against them? Whose agents they would be considered? How many friends and close relatives they would lose? All of these are real possibilities as we are a closed society absorbed in self-pity, narcissism and self-gratitude; not a society which accepts otherness, pluralism or diversity as a virtue.
Anyways, at eleven thirty that night-despite being alleged in the media as racist, xenophobic and white supremacist-the city approved the proposal. Two members out of seven abstained from voting, three of the members favoured and the two opposed the project.
Once the decision is announced, the only way left for the opposition to resist is to take the matter in courts and prove that the zoning committee broke the city rules, a task that requires burden of proof on them.
Realising that Muslims-mostly immigrants-cheered and congratulated themselves. The foundation asked the members to refrain from shouting, chanting or screaming in part to avoid attention by challenging the majority and in part to display deference. On the following Friday, they threw a dinner to celebrate. During the dinner they discussed their strategy which leads them to victory. They shared how did they plan for the event the second time, how many hours it took them to prepare the speeches, how God helped them in this endeavour and how greatly indebted they felt with all his favours. They also discussed the future fund raising, a task that would require millions of Dollars for the completion of the mosque.
What they did not talk about was how back home they did nothing to protect minorities, and how in the countries of their origin minorities suffered while they kept their lips sealed, looked the other way or even cast the first stone.
The writer is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, April 17th 2018.