Islamic community center gets Jewish support after bizarre anti-Muslim incident - Home

Front Page Islamic community center gets Jewish support after bizarre anti-Muslim incident

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Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2018 9:16 am

On Sunday, March 4, Tahnee Gonzales and Liz Dauenhauer, with three children in tow, entered the Islamic Community Center of Tempe. Though they appeared to ignore the NO TRESPASSING sign on the open gate, they did take heed of a sign that said NO FIREARMS ALLOWED: Gonzalez removed a gun from her backpack and handed it to one of the children to return to their vehicle.

The incident that followed can be seen on a video the women took while it was in progress, and that Gonzales later posted to her Facebook page. For nearly 25 minutes, the self-described “patriots” rant against Muslims, tear down postings on a bulletin board and remove pamphlets and flyers, which they call “propaganda.” Their “exposé” video, as they called it, will reveal “the infiltration of the Arabic Muslim coming in and destroying America.”

They also say things like Muslims “smell like goats” and are “nothing but devil Satan worshipers.”

For Imam Ahmad Al-Akoum, the center’s director of interfaith and outreach, such remarks are not the most disturbing part of the video.

“What really affected me the most was seeing those little children, poor things, being taught this intolerance, this hate, this bigotry, at such an age,” Al-Akoum said. “What do you expect from these children when they grow up?”

In fact, at one point in the video, with the encouragement of the two adults, the children say things like, “Be careful because Muslims are waiting to rape you,” and accuse Muslims of being pedophiles.

On March 29, the two women pleaded not guilty in Maricopa County Superior Court to charges of third-degree burglary and aggravated criminal damage. Marc Victor, Gonzales’ attorney, tried to frame the issue as one of free speech, but the outpouring of support for the center in the wake of news stories proves most people don’t see it that way.

“We have no problem with free speech, but it’s not free speech when you’re intruding on somebody’s house, when you take stuff from it,” Al-Akoum said.

He also said the support the center has received, both locally and nationally, has been “heartwarming.” In a show of interfaith solidarity, Jewish organizations and individuals have written letters to the center, and some have donated money.

“We’ve received huge support from the Jewish community,” said Al-Akoum. “There is actually a Jewish lady from Payson, she sent us a letter, a beautiful letter, and she actually sent a $200 check as well. She mentioned that her father grew up here in the 1920s and she said she remembers her father telling her how he used to be chased around, with people running after him saying, ‘Jewish boy.’ ”

The center plans to display a collage of the letters as an expression of thanks.

One such letter was drafted by the Jewish Community Relations Council and signed by 13 other Jewish organizations. It expressed “great sadness” about the incident and stated that they stood united with the center against rising religious intolerance.

“Everyone said this is something we need to speak out on,” said JCRC Executive Director Karolyn Benger. “This isn’t just a JCRC thing. This affects all Jews as a religious minority in this country. We opened it up to the broader Jewish community to sign on this letter of support. I was very pleased by the reaction from our community members, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox.”

Larry Bell, executive director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, one of the letter’s signees, said the decision was a “no-brainer.”

“As a community that’s been victimized ourselves, we know how it feels,” Bell said. “I think it’s important that we reach out to the Muslim community and have dialogue and let them know that we do support them. Obviously, there’s disagreement at times between our communities over political issues, but it is what it is. I think that you can disagree on things but still support one another.”

Al-Akoum agrees, and believes the majority of Americans do not support the behavior of the two women, pointing to an interfaith rally that drew more than 300 people to the center on March 17.

“I think it should be a learning moment for all of our community. We were so blessed by having everyone coming together,” Al-Akoum said. “Love not hate, tolerance not intolerance. I believe this message was heard very loud.” JN

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