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Vol. 80/No. 34      September 12, 2016

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Hundreds debate gov’t moves to keep mosque out of Ga. county

Johnny Kauffman/WABE
Meeting in Covington, Georgia, Aug. 22 debated Newton County Commission moves to block building mosque and cemetery. Edmond Hall, above, speaks against Muslim center. Others, including Sam Manuel, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate, condemned moves to keep mosque out. Anti-Muslim rhetoric divides and weakens working class, Manuel said.
COVINGTON, Ga.“The Socialist Workers Party condemns the attempt to prevent the congregation of Masjid Attaqwa in Doraville from building a mosque and establishing a cemetery in Newton County,” said Sam Manuel, SWP candidate for U.S. Senate from Georgia, at an Aug. 22 town hall meeting here. It was organized by the Newton County Commission to provide a platform for people to ask questions or comment on the proposed project.

The county recently adopted a five-week moratorium on permits for places of worship that would prevent the mosque from being constructed.

Three hundred people packed each of two back-to-back meetings. The majority of the 70 people who spoke opposed the mosque. Some said they thought Islam was a “death cult,” others expressed concern that the congregation would impose Sharia law on the county, or that the land could be used for an Islamic State training camp. Several people said they were worried they could be poisoned by the drinking water because Muslims don’t embalm their dead. Speakers were asked not to identify themselves.

“Decades of war in the Middle East in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria — that have killed tens of thousands of toilers, most of them Muslims — have been overseen by Democratic and Republican administrations alike, from Bush to Clinton to Bush and Obama,” said Manuel, who did identify himself. “The crisis unfolding in that part of the world is a result of the unraveling of the U.S.-imposed imperialist world order.

“We also face the consequences of the world economic crisis, from continued high unemployment to lack of health care,” Manuel said. “We need a movement independent of both capitalist parties that fights for all workers, including those who are Muslims.”

Half a dozen people joined Manuel in standing up in defense of the right of Muslims to build in the community. “If this discussion was happening 100 years ago, there’s a good chance it would be about my people,” commented Kendra Miller, who said she was of Jewish descent.

“I don’t think many of you really know how they are as a people,” said a 17-year-old African-American woman who didn’t identify herself. “I would like to say that not long ago people like me, Black people, were treated the same way.”

Mohammad Islam is the Imam of Masjid Attaqwa mosque in Doraville, a suburb of Atlanta, who organized to purchase the Newton County land. He came to the United States from Bangladesh 24 years ago and now leads a congregation of some 200 members, mostly Bangladeshis. In an Aug. 24 meeting with SWP leaders, he explained that they have no place to bury their dead and to pray before the burial.

“Land is very expensive, especially in Atlanta. We found this 135-acre site for sale in Newton County near another cemetery and at a price we thought we could raise,” Islam said. “Our plan was approved by the Newton County Commission, and we closed the deal last August.”

Islam said that they were not invited to the Aug. 22 evening meetings and that they learned about the moratorium on the religious buildings from the news.

“We are not in a hurry. It is more important for us to have good relations with those who will be our neighbors and to answer any questions or concerns that they have,” Islam said. “Yesterday a group of Newton County residents accepted our invitation to visit our mosque and get to know one another.”

Over the past five years, officials in Lilburn, Kennesaw and Snellville, all cities across metro Atlanta, have used zoning laws to deter Muslim projects from being built.

Between 2009 and 2015, the Georgia Council on American-Islamic Relations has documented more than 40 incidents in which mosques faced interference, local building moratoriums, vandalism and harassment.

The NAACP, CAIR and more than a dozen Muslim groups have asked the Department of Justice to investigate the Newton County moratorium.

Ronnie Johnston, mayor of Covington, and the other four town mayors in Newton County, wrote to the county commission Aug. 26 urging them to remove the moratorium on places of worship and that a meeting be set up with leaders of the proposed mosque. “We will all have to work to undo some of the ill will you created by your actions,” they said.

On Aug. 27, supporters of SWP candidates Manuel and Alyson Kennedy and Osborne Hart for president and vice president campaigned door to door in Covington, introducing the party and its program. They discussed how to fight against the effects on working people of Washington’s imperialist wars abroad and capitalist depression conditions at home. They took the opportunity to discuss what workers thought about the proposed mosque and cemetery.

Steve Shope, an electrician, told SWP member Susan LaMont he was concerned that building a mosque in Newton County might attract terrorists to the area, even though he thought the people with the mosque are not terrorists themselves.

“I don’t want to label anybody,” Shope said. “I don’t see how what the terrorists are doing accomplishes anything for the Muslim people.”

“It’s important for us as workers to be conscious that anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions cut across working people coming together to fight in our common interests,” LaMont said. “And the seemingly endless U.S.-led wars in the Mideast are what have created the conditions in which reactionary terror groups like Islamic State recruit and grow. And they are responsible for hostility and discrimination against Muslims.”

After the discussion, Shope said he’d like to try a subscription to the Militant.
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Miami forum: ‘Oppose attacks on Muslims, mosques’
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