Temecula's black eye
North County Times, 12/5/2010
The Temecula Planning Commission is to be congratulated, not just for approving the construction of a mosque in the city, but for addressing head-on the intolerance of some of the mosque's opponents.
"I don't think I can remember a project that raised the kind of hatred I saw today," Commissioner John Telesio said after about five hours of hearings on a proposal by the local Islamic Center to build a 25,000-square-foot mosque next to two Christian churches on Nicolas Road.
Telesio put it lightly. The bigotry on display Wednesday night was an embarrassment to the community. It seems many opponents of the mosque view the proposed edifice as a potential launching point for jihadism, not so subtly suggesting that the goal of every Muslim is destruction of the non-Islamic world.
While there are those who fit that description, certainly, and we are at war with some, to equate everyone who practices Islam with the radical extremists who abuse the religion in defending their violence is a grave insult to those millions of Muslims who have chosen to live peacefully among us.
Speakers at Wednesday night's hearing trotted out the usual anti-Muslim propaganda, much of which is being spread on the Internet, including the preposterous assertion that we will one day be forced to live under Sharia, or Islamic, law.
Why exactly they believe that allowing Muslims a place to practice their religion will eventually force us all to live by their laws is unclear, but it is a fear driving much of the anti-Muslim hysteria around the nation.
A few of the opponents argued that the mosque should be rejected for more earthly reasons ---- parking and traffic ---- but for some of these, at least, that was just a convenient smokescreen.
Planning commissioners performed admirably under trying circumstances during a 5 1/2-hour hearing ---- and in the end they did the right thing, the only thing they could legally do: approve the construction of the mosque.
It is to their credit that they didn't stop there, but made clear their revulsion at the comments being made.
The next stop undoubtedly will be the City Council, after the decision is appealed. We have faith that council members will follow the Planning Commission's lead.
We can only hope, however quixotically, that the embarrassing display of Wednesday night is not repeated.
Press Enterprise, 12/5/2010
Mayor Jeff Comerchero worries about Temecula's image. Has the city been "unmosqued" as a snake pit of bigots?
Of course not. The Planning Commission certainly didn't swallow the sewage certain mosque opponents spewed last week. The City Council will get its chance to ratify the commish's approval of a new mosque next year.
But Comerchero's right to be rattled and smart to talk about it because Temecula's image may have gotten a little mussed up by nut-job citizens who testified:
Islam is not a religion. It's "much like communism."
"I would ask you to consider what this mosque will cause ... for the Muslim that's in the White House today."
"We have only to see other countries who have allowed mosques in and how their way of life has not just been changed but is gone forever, and now they are submissive to Sharia law."
(The Islamic Center of Temecula Valley was "allowed in" 12 years ago. Miraculously, the city has survived.)
"The arrogance of it all to build next to other churches that will eventually be taken over by the Muslims ... They infiltrate, then overpopulate ... They are not only our enemy, but pagans. Why would we want them in our own backyard?"
(Some in the audience cheered for that one.)
These are the same folks who'll stand four square, by golly, behind the Constitution and the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of speech -- in that order.
If it's any consolation to Comerchero, his is not the first RivCo city to achieve dubious notoriety. Back in 1998, Riverside basked in the national limelight (the Montel Williams Show!) when the school board considered naming its newest high school for Martin Luther King Jr.
Some argued the name should honor the city's citrus heritage. But a whiff of racism penetrated the debate when some parents said, a) King wasn't regarded as particularly "famous" in some parts of the country, and b) King High could be perceived as an all-black school, damaging students' chances of getting admitted to out-of-state colleges. (No, I'm not making this up.)
This "concern" inspired me to call various admissions officials. A representative response:
"I thought I'd heard everything." -- Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions at Harvard University.
"Our process would never be that simplistic." -- Julie Peterson, U. of Michigan.
The Riverside school board ended up naming the place for King and I'd wager thousands of graduates have somehow been admitted to out-of-state institutions.
As Dr. King himself might have put it, Riverside overcame this sordid little episode. Temecula has a chance to do the same, especially if the council does what the planning commish did: allow the proposed mosque's fate to turn on land use issues.
In time, and with luck, the city's ignorant purveyors of fear, hatred and bigotry will crawl back into the woodwork from whence they came.
Reach Dan Bernstein at 951-368-9439 or dbernstein@PE.com
Press Enterprise, 12/4/2010
The debate over a proposed mosque in Temecula has no room for vitriolic, hateful comments that embarrass the city and anyone who values the Constitution. Such behavior needs to stop, now. The mosque proposal is a land-use issue, not a battle for the nation's soul.
The Temecula Planning Commission approved the mosque plan last week, after a long and often heated hearing. The Islamic Center of the Temecula Valley wants to build a 24,943-square-foot building on a 4.3-acre site in northeast Temecula. Opponents of the proposal said this week they plan to appeal the approval to the City Council.
The city should judge the project as it would any other proposed development, assessing traffic, parking, noise, compatibility with nearby development and other planning details -- as commissioners and some attendees tried to do. But many in the audience saw the proposal as a direct attack on America's way of life, and responded in ugly fashion. Critics called Muslims "pagans" and "enemies" and said Islam was not a religion, but a political movement trying to impose its views on the rest of the world.
A dispute over religion has no place in city planning decisions, however. The city has no authority to decide which faiths are allowed in Temecula, nor should residents want officials to make such judgments. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, and not just in cases where no one objects. That right is not subject to popular opinion or City Council votes.
And the hostility and rancor expressed by some at the meeting left a dark and unnecessary stain on the city's image. Appalled planning commissioners condemned the bilious prejudice on display in some comments. Mayor Jeff Comerchero worried, justifiably, about how the public would perceive Temecula residents "not supporting the Constitution."
Nor does the animosity toward the Islamic Center's plans make much practical sense. The group has already been in Temecula for 12 years, without causing trouble. The group hardly becomes a threat just by moving into its own building. And why would a mosque present a larger danger to the community than the same folks using a rented hall?
Besides, linking all Muslims to terrorism shows a simplistic world view that ignores the complex reality. Certainly, the nation faces a threat from the radical Muslim element willing to wreak havoc on the innocent to serve religious or political goals. But Islam encompasses a variety of differing schools of thought. Assuming that all Muslims agree with the most extreme element is no more credible than saying crackpot white supremacists represent mainstream Christian belief.
Planning Commissioner John Telesio's analysis was on target: "Ignorance of the facts breeds fear, fear breeds hatred." Telosio hoped this week's bitter episode was an anomaly -- and so should all of Temecula.
- 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