Why is it that we only hear from so-called peaceful muslims like yourself when you are whining about some sort of slight against a muslim or islam? Why don't you and your brethren speak out about the bombings, beheadings, rapes, tortures, etc, etc, etc, all in the name of islam? Why no American flag outside your mosques? These are all rhetorical questions, to which most of us already have the answer. You wonder why the hate and mistrust. Look in the mirror.
Dear Mr LoBaido,
This is a letter from one local artist to another. We have met before, but in case you don’t remember me, my name is Omnia Hegazy and I am a lifelong Staten Islander and musician, who happens to be a Muslim. I’d like to offer a different perspective surrounding the airplane artwork in front of the Muslim American Society, which was was taken down as a result of your efforts.
By now, you know that the airplane was symbolic of the many Muslims who traveled to Mecca for the pilgrimage this week, from Staten Island and from all over the world. You see, it’s quite a swim to Saudi Arabia and the ferry doesn’t go that far. So many have flown on direct flights via Saudi Airlines to complete the hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam.
Scott, I know you think you did a good thing by alerting residents to the plane and taking it down. I also know that the folks at MAS agreed to do so without much of a fuss, as a sign of good will toward their neighbors. But all you did was contribute to treatment of Muslim Staten Islanders as “the other” and infringe on our constitutional rights. We are your neighbors, doctors, lawyers, teachers, co-workers, and fellow artists: not your enemy. I am not sure if you have any Muslim friends or know any Muslim Staten Islanders personally, but I suspect that if you did, you might not be so suspicious of us.
The MAS mosque in Dongan Hills is no stranger to controversy. You may recall that it was originally intended to be built in Midland Beach, and that the residents were not happy about it. Many said they “didn’t want terrorists in their backyards” and that they were afraid the mosque would become an incubator for terrorism on Staten Island. Despite the fact that the law was on their side, MAS built the mosque elsewhere.
As you and I both know, Midland Beach was among the most devastated neighborhoods on Staten Island and greater NYC after Hurricane Sandy. The Muslim American Society, who had previously been excluded from that communuity, mobilized hundreds of volunteers, Muslim and non-Muslim, to aid in relief efforts: from delivering hot meals to displaced neighbors to helping them rebuild. As a result, many Staten Islanders realized two things. 1) Their Muslim neighbors are not out to kill them. 2) Halal food is actually delish. Unfortunately, many Staten Island folks still need convincing of these two things.
Many Muslim Americans lost family and friends on 9/11 and the subsequent wars that followed. I am not sure if you are aware of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a 23 year old paramedic, who heroically died on that fateful day. His name was was not included among other first responders at the 9/11 memorial, due to his Muslim faith. I also urge you to learn the story of Abdul Salam Mallahi, who worked at the Marriott in the World Trade Center and lost his life helping his co-workers and hotel guests to escape. His body was never found.
Many Muslim Americans have experienced hate crime post 9/11, and still do - from verbal harassment to violence. These hate crimes happen as a result of fear and misunderstanding. I was only a 6th grader at I.S 24 when 9/11 happened, and despite having been born in the United States and spending most of my life on Staten Island, my classmates taunted my sister and I with labels such as “terrorist”, “Bin Laden’s daughter”, “Osama”, “Saddam”, and list goes on. I do not wear hijab, the traditional Islamic headscarf, but I worry for the safety of my family and friends who do, for their visual Islam puts them at risk for attacks such as these (or worse). Even non-Muslims have been harassed or killed as a result of the fear that has overtaken our city - including Sikhs and Hindus, who are often mistaken for Muslim.
But back to the Muslim American Society. Was it naive of them to put an image of an airplane outside of their establishment without reminding their xenophobic neighbors of 9/11? Perhaps.
This may surprise you, but we do not associate ourselves with terrorism or radical Islam. We don’t consider Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, or any other murderous group to be Muslim any more than Christians consider the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church to be Christian. Unfortunately, the words “Islam” and “Muslim” have become synonymous with terrorism for many Americans and this is a view that individual Muslims and organizations seek to counter.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, I am not writing this letter to be confrontational. But as a fellow local artist- I urge you to consider the consequences of your actions. People can get hurt as a result of hysteria and fear, and they have - time and time again.
I’d love for you to paint one of your American flag murals on the side of the MAS mosque in Dongan Hills (I cannot speak for the organization of course - do consult with them first before doing so). It would send a strong message that you consider Muslim Americans to be just as American as you are. Your art is very powerful and I still respect it, even if I disagree with how you have harnessed the local power it has given you.
Hope you have a great day,