Unity among ethnic communities increased hope against rising hatred
By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent
Cleveland: The International Community Council held its 7th State of the International Community’s Summit on Nov. 10, 2012 at the Ariel International Center to discuss the rise in Islamophobia and ways to prepare Cleveland to become a welcoming community for immigrants.
The forty guests representing multiple organizations and communities pondered the important questions of what is happening in the international area and its local impact. Ken Kovach, executive director, said as long as the ethnic communities stay individual communities without banding together, “We will be picked off one by one.” Kovach said the rise in Islamophobia is affecting the local Muslim communities in Toledo and has spilled over into tragic animosity towards the Sikh Community.
Julia Shearson, Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the tragedy of ignited a veracious campaign against the Muslim communities which has only gotten worst in the last decade with a startling rise in hate crimes that go underreported. Around the time of the Wisconsin shootings at the Sikh temple, gurdwara, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was burnt to the ground. Shearson said the Toledo Islamic Center was also set ablaze, only saved by a new sprinkler system resulting in million dollars worth of damages.
Shearson said while she resists using the word persecution, it is befitting term to describe the rise in hatred and quoted the 2010 Gallup Religion Survey which states more than 53 percent of US-Americans do not have a favorable view of Muslims. When questioned about the media reports of constant violence and hatred coming from the Middle East and what the US-American Muslim Community is doing about it, Shearson said it is a misconception that the local Muslim Community does not condemn violence and cautioned the entire population is not monolithic. Shearson said the real problem facing the Muslim community is the victims are afraid to speak out against the violence, “No one is going to listen to Muslims; we really need the wider community.”
Donna Welheim said the bigger picture of the current status quo reflect the tension in the United States that stem from three varying perspectives: One segment of the population struggled to assimilate, another feels excluded and the third is struggling to accept the changes in demographics creating an undertone of racial and ethnic tensions.
Shearson added the hate-mongering has no ethnic boundaries and spills against anyone labeled as the other. “Muslims see ourselves as part of the Abrahamic faith but we are pushed out of the club so to speak.”
She added she feels the pain of the Latino Community especially with the intense anti-immigration rhetoric. “I am really sick of the anti-immigration hate-mongering, and it will continue unless we hold our elected officials accountable.”
Joseph Meissner, of the Friendship Foundation of the American Vietnamese, said the city needs to consider becoming a sanctuary city that welcomes all with or without documents because it has the need and the capacity to be a destination for new comers. Kovach agreed, adding the International Services Center has been anointed the primer organization in the U.S. for refugee relocation which will increase the resettlement to 200 annually. ISC has also increased its awareness campaigns against human trafficking and is helping revitalize the city by buying foreclosed homes and renovating them to settle refugee families. Kovach added the organization is looking to build stronger relationships with the Latino leadership to foster partnerships and participation in events like the Summit.
Dan Hanson, founder of ClevelandPeople.com, said the international communities in Cleveland offer a great wealth of resource and information but before there is a strategic action plan to set the city on to the course of becoming a welcoming city, it must first define what that means.