Battle Waged in Boston
over New Mosque
By Jane Lampman
Worshipers at the Islamic
Society of Boston (ISB) still pack into their cramped mosque
in Cambridge, Mass. The crowd spills out into the parking
lot for the Friday prayer service. Their hopes of celebrating
this past Ramadan in a brand-new mosque and cultural center
The stated aim of the quarter-century-old society was to
build a center for worship, education, and community outreach.
Instead, the $24 million project in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood
is snarled in accusation, acrimony, and lawsuits. It's a
microcosm of the suspicions about Islam that have played
out across America since 9/11.
A LOFTY GOAL: The Islamic Society of Boston is trying to
complete a mosque that would be the largest in this region
of the United States.
After the city of Boston conveyed a parcel of land to the
ISB, articles appeared in the Boston Herald in 2003 linking
society leaders to Islamic extremists. The ISB denied the
story, responding in detail to what it saw as inflammatory
distortions. "When you place a picture of Osama bin
Laden next to a picture of our mosque, that is completely
misrepresentative of who we are," says Salma Kazmi,
assistant project director.
Boston's Fox TV station followed with broadcasts on the
charges, and two local organizations - the David Project,
a pro-Israel group, and Citizens for Peace and Tolerance
(CPT) - have continued to publicize them and press for public
CPT says Boston could become a "potential radical Islamic
center." The ISB counters that media and local groups,
with help from terrorism analyst Steven Emerson, have conspired
to halt construction and "incite public sentiment against
The society has filed a defamation suit. A local resident
has also sued the city seeking invalidation of the land
sale to the ISB.
The specific charges may have to be sorted out in court,
but the Boston controversy fits a national pattern.
Four years after 9/11, mosques in many communities continue
to encounter wariness and resistance ranging from suspicions
raised at zoning hearings to vandalism and worse. On Dec.
20, two pipe bombs damaged an Islamic center in an upscale
neighborhood of Cincinnati. The FBI said the powerful explosion
could have been deadly had people been present.
"It's all part of the unfortunate temper of the times,"
says John Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University
in Washington. "There is such a thing as Islamophobia."
Others, however, including the Investigative Project run
by Mr. Emerson, say there is widespread extremist influence
in US mosques. They point to Saudi Arabian literature rife
with religious bigotry found in some mosque libraries, and
to sympathy for various Islamic movements. Their concerns
receive regular media play as the groups press for government
Law enforcement agencies have had US mosques under scrutiny,
but some experts and officials have concluded that they
do not present the danger that some mosques in Europe have
posed. A 2005 internal FBI report leaked last spring said
no evidence has been found of terrorist networks or "sleeper
cells" in the US.
"Whether it deals with zoning councils or defamatory
statements made about Muslim communities or mosques, unfortunately
it's something of a growing phenomenon," says Arsalan
Iftikhar, legal director of the Council for American-Islamic
Relations in Washington. He calls the Boston case worrisome:
"Misinformation has always been a tactic, but false
media reporting to circumvent a local project is raising
the level of the stakes."
(Courtesy Christian Science Monitor, 1/5/05)