Al Jazeera America’s Steve Friess reports on conflict between Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims in the Detroit area on the location of a mosque in a Christian neighbourhood, a conflict rooted in past conflicts.
The nation’s largest concentration of Iraqi Christians, many driven from their homeland by persecution at the hands of Muslim groups, is mounting an intensive campaign to block a proposed mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan — sometimes by deploying public anti-Islam invective unusual in its bluntness even in this post-9/11 era.
The 20,500-square-foot mosque, to be built on four acres by the American Islamic Community Center (AICC), is to stand 60 feet tall along a major thoroughfare in a middle-class neighborhood if the Sterling Heights Planning Commission approves the plan at its meeting this Thursday. Opponents have dubbed it a “mega-mosque,” while Muslim leaders say it is of average size for houses of worship, including some nearby churches.
American leaders of the Chaldeans, an ancient Christian sect also known historically as ethnic Assyrians and originating from Iraq, have insisted in recent days that their opposition is based on concerns about traffic and property values, not religious enmity.
Yet a parade of speakers at a four-hour Sterling Heights City Council meeting on Aug. 13 offered vicious accusations that the group behind the mosque planned to use it to plot terrorist attacks and store weaponry, and attacked women who wear headscarves as scary to children. More of that sort of ire is being spewed on popular Chaldean group pages on Facebook and in signage and comments to local reporters at recent street-side protests near the proposed mosque site.
“This mosque is going to bring people like this. I do not want to be near people like this,” one resident, Saad Antoun, said at the City Council meeting as he held up a photo of women in burkas. “This is not humanity. … It is not right to live with people like this. This is not acceptable at all because these people are scaring the public. And they don’t care. … Can we prohibit this kind of public thing? We see them at the mall every day. We see them at shopping. Can we prohibit this? Can we make law against this? It’s scary and disgusting.”