Mosque slams Marquez remarks Citizens call for an apology
Citizens call for an apology
Antelope Valley Press
Saturday, January 30, 2010.
By ALLISON GATLIN
PALMDALE - More than 50 community leaders and interested citizens gathered Friday at a Palmdale mosque to denounce comments made last week by Lancaster City Councilwoman Sherry Marquez on an Internet social networking site concerning a Muslim man charged with beheading his wife in New York.
At a news conference at the American Islamic Institute of the Antelope Valley, a dozen speakers - including elected officials from the city of Palmdale, the Palmdale and Westside school districts and several candidates for Lancaster city council and mayor - criticized Marquez' comments and issued calls for unity, education and understanding.
"The problem here is there is Islamophobia and there is ignorance," said Dr. Bassem Hadaya, chairman and president of the Islamic Center of the North Valley, a Lancaster mosque.
Representatives of the Muslim community said they want an apology from Marquez and have invited her to meet with them and learn about their religion.
Later Friday, the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it will file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice about Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris' comments that he is "growing a Christian community."
"The mayor's remarks promoting a particular faith in his official capacity at an official city event seem to violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Elected officials should not use public positions to impose their religious beliefs on others," said CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush. "We also call on California's religious and political leaders to repudiate the mayor's remarks because they could serve to marginalize people of other faiths and Christians who value the separation of church and state."
During Tuesday night's City Council meeting, Marquez said she posted the comments in reaction to reading of last year's killing in New York of Aasiya Zubair Hassan, who had filed for divorce from her husband, local television executive Muzzammil Hassan. He has been charged with second-degree murder.
"This is what the Muslim religion is all about the beheadings, honor killings are just the beginning of what is to come in the U.S.A.," Marquez wrote on her Facebook page Jan. 23. The remarks were later deleted.
"We are told this is a small majority of Muslims in America, but it is truly what they are all about," she said. "You disrespect/dishonor them or their religion and you should die. They don't even blink at killing their own wives/daughters because they are justified by their religion."
"I think we need to reset as a community. We need to go back to those values we all share," said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, citing efforts to build inclusive, welcoming communities in the Antelope Valley.
"It's disheartening when we take a step back and I think we have taken a step back," he said. "When I hear these descriptions of the Muslim community, it's not the Muslim community I know. We seem to be chasing this idea that's unreal."
Affah Shaikh , civil rights manager with CAIR and a Palmdale High School graduate, said Marquez' comments should not represent the Antelope Valley community.
"Growing up here I never experienced such bigotry and such hateful comments as Councilwoman Marquez posted on Facebook," he said. "That's not what I remember the Antelope Valley to be like. I grew up in an environment that was very inclusive. I was treated with respect."
Placing blame for a singular act on an entire community endangers that community, Shaikh said.
"I believe strongly that to blame any person's faith for an act of violence that goes against their religion is wrong," he said.
In his position with CAIR, Shaikh said he deals daily with victims of hate crimes and has seen the damage that inflammatory remarks may cause.
Sanah Burhan , who is Muslim, spoke about her fears that Marquez's remarks could incite violence against people who are already targeted as different due to their dress and names.
"Her remarks cause our children and ourselves to be harassed by people who don't understand our faith," she said. "We are part of this community."
"We are all the same. We are all worshipping God. We are all striving for the best education, best lives, best for humanity here," Burhan said. "We are in the 21st Century. The mind has to grow out of discriminations."
She encouraged Marquez and other non-Muslims to visit the local Islamic centers to learn about Islam.
"You will see for yourself that we do not differ," she said.
The American Islamic Institute of the Antelope Valley has filed a formal complaint with the Antelope Valley Human Relations Task Force regarding Marquez's published comments, task force president Darren Parker said.
The organization will investigate the complaint as a potential hate incident, and plans to take testimony at its next meeting on Feb. 22.
Parker said a larger goal, however, is to try to build a bridge between both sides of the discussion, as extremists on both sides are latching onto the incident and causing others to choose sides.
"We have learned over the last decade that generalizing and stereotyping brings nothing good," Parker said.
Several speakers during Friday's gathering acknowledged the councilwoman's right to her own opinion, but said that as an elected official, she has a responsibility to represent the community as a whole, including its Muslim citizens.
"She can have her own opinion as an individual. She had an oath to protect all the citizens that elected her. Muslims are part of that constituency," said Kamal Al-Khatib , chairman of the American Islamic Institute of the Antelope Valley.
Al-Khatib, for a brief time last year, fell under scrutiny of his own membership in the Human Relations Task Force when gay activists accused Muslims of distributing homophobic literature. Al-Khatib denied the allegations.
On Friday, Palmdale officials joined in the condemnation of the councilwoman's comments.
Elected officials are supposed to represent the entire community, "not to represent our own personal views," said Bo Bynum, a Palmdale School District trustee. "Those things should never come into play as an elected official.
"As a community, we have to continue to come together to battle bigotry, battle prejudice, battle all those evils that harm a community," he said.
"When we hear a disparaging remark made that is not true, we have a responsibility to step up as leaders," Ledford said. "What I care about is the leadership in our Antelope Valley that downplays an incident as if it isn't important."
Ledford also disagreed with the public responses of several Republican officials, such as Drew Mercy, chairman of the GOP's 36th Assembly District Central Committee.
Mercy, who is field aide to state Sen. George Runner, noted that the FBI severed formal ties with the Council on American-Islamic Relations after finding an indirect link with Hamas, a designated terrorist group.
"They don't speak for me," Ledford said of the officials' responses. "I'm a Republican. They don't speak for me. These are not the correct responses we should get out of leaders.
"Here in the Antelope Valley, we are not going to tolerate hate. We are not going to tolerate victimizing people," Ledford said. "We need to stand up as a community and say we are not going to accept that as OK."
"Our Antelope Valley needs to stand together against all types of hate speech, regardless of who is doing the speaking or writing," said Sandy Corrales-Eneix, Palmdale School District trustee. "We can't allow this councilwoman to demean the very vibrant Muslim community I love and respect."
- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html