Mosque opposition in Sterling Heights is about more than location

On September 10th, there’s a scheduled planning commission hearing regarding a proposed mosque off of 15 Mile Rd and Ryan Rd in Sterling Heights, Michigan.  The proposed mosque has been met with opposition in three different city government meetings within the past month.  Much of the opposition has come from the Chaldean community, a Semitic people who are Christians that originate from Iraq. Even the mayor voiced his opposition to the mosque project in part to side with the Chaldean community though he backtracked from this position in a media story yesterday.

In 2011 in Farmington Hills, some within the Chaldean community teamed up with members of the Orthodox Jewish community to oppose the Islamic Cultural Association’s (ICA) plan to establish a community center with a prayer area.  During the same year, members of the Chaldean community launched vitriolic opposition against the American Muslim Diversity Association (AMDA) which sought to establish the first mosque in Sterling Heights.  After much contention, the mosque was eventually approved.

As we stood to defend ICA and AMDA, we did not focus on the fact that much of the anti-Muslim bigotry projected at these projects was coming from within the Chaldean community.  Between regular anti-Muslim comments on AM talk radio on almost a daily basisthe Aramaic Broadcasting Network (ABN) based in Walled Lake giving platforms to the nation’s most notorious anti-Muslim bigots, and a series of mosque oppositions, it is clear that there is a serious problem of Islamophobia within the Chaldean community in Michigan.

I empathize with the suffering of Chaldeans in Iraq.  Unlike Sunnis and Shi’is, Chaldeans and Assyrians had no armed militias to protect them after the misguided invasion of Iraq by American and British troops in 2003. Christians were forced from their homes, churches were attacked and clergy were murdered. The once vibrant community of Christians in Iraq has now become almost extinct.

Sterling Heights is in Michigan, however, not Iraq.

Putting Iraq into context, the vast majority of people murdered in Iraq by Al-Qaeda and Daesh have been Muslims.  The majority of houses of worship that continue to be attacked are mosques.  The religious leaders who continue to be killed are overwhelmingly Muslims.

But again, Michigan is not Iraq.

Michigan Muslims are not responsible for the burning churches and killing Chaldeans.  In fact, the majority of Muslims in Michigan and America were opposed to the immoral invasion of Iraq which opened up the hell that caused the large uprooting of Chaldeans to Michigan after 2003.  What is also ironic is that even when it came to Chaldeans opposing AMDA and their invoking of what took place in Iraq, the congregants of AMDA are majority Bengali-Americans, their resident imam is from Pakistani heritage, and I preach there as well, an African-American veteran of the US Navy.  The opposition launched against AMDA was clearly illogical.

Much of the Islamophobia coming from Chaldeans in Michigan is counter-transference in my estimation.  Those who have come here from Iraq suffered deep trauma, and that is being transferred to Michigan Muslims who are not responsible for that trauma.  When persons go through severe trauma, there is a much higher risk that they become abusers if that pain has not been dealt with therapy.  I believe that many Chaldeans migrated to Southeastern Michigan which has a large Muslim population and that trauma was not dealt with robustly enough during their resettlement.  I’m not making excuses for the Islamophobia in their community but am looking at one of the causes that it may be addressed if there is to be path forward after September 10th.

Bigotry is wrong no matter who it is projected at.  In this era in which we are having a national discussion on race relations and legacy of white supremacy, it saddens me to see so many Chaldeans, a people of color, who are using their religious privilege in America to marginalize another community of color.

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