In Tampa this morning, members from several local groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a news conference to announce the launching of a national public service announcement campaign to challenge the growing anti-Muslim bigotry that has been building over the past month.
CAIR-Tampa Communications Director Ramzy Kilic said the motivation for producing the PSA's was obviously in part due to the controversy over the proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque planned to be built in Lower Manhattan, just blocks away from where the World Trade Center was destroyed in terrorist attacks nearly nine years ago.
"We feel that's a manufactured controversy by a small and vocal group that aims to divide Americans," Kilic began. Manufactured or not, the issue has touched a nerve nationally and has become the source of some concern for Muslims over the last part of the summer. "It is a misinformation campaign that has spiraled out of control, leading to Islamaphobia throughout the nation," Kilic said.
In materials made available for the media, CAIR presented copies of what they called a Teachable Moment Community Response Guide and a press kit that featured photos and short written descriptions of the 29 Muslims who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Korans were also available for members of the media to take with them, and CAIR says they will provide one to anyone in the community who calls their office.
Kilic also referred to the planned Koran burning scheduled this Saturday in Gainesville by pastor Terry Jones of the Dove Outreach Center, calling it a "fringe effort," but admitted that such "fringes can do a lot of damage." The proposed Koran burning has invoked outrage nationally and internationally, though yesterday New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, under fire in some quarters for supporting the plan for Park51, defended Jones' right to commit such an act, saying he personally considers the idea "distasteful," but insisted "You can't say you're going to apply the First Amendment in only those cases where we are in agreement," the New York City Mayor said. "If you want to be able to say what you want..you have to defend others no matter who much you disagree with them."
Glenn Katon is a staff attorney with the Tampa office of the ACLU. He said that "although we are very much against censorship and we believe that people have the right to say things even when they are hateful and offensive, we also have at the same time an obligation to speak out against these repulsive forms of bigotry and religious hated."
Dwight Lawton with the group Friends of Human Rights said "What we really need is more love, more care and more respect for other..religious organizations." He called for different groups to listen to each other, and he wanted to discourage hatred between different groups.
CAIR's Kilic said that he knows of no threats made to Muslims or Muslim groups recently in the Tampa Bay area.
Later this week Muslims will celebrate one of their main holidays, Eid al Fitr, which is a celebration held to commemorate the end of Ramadan. Because it comes near the anniversary of 9/11, some Muslim organizations have warned their members to tamp down their celebrations, for fears of appearing indifferent to the painful memories that many Americans still carry with them.
But Ramzy Kilic from CAIR said he was aware of those concerns, but doesn't support the idea of telling Muslims, saying, "We shouldn't live in fear...that's the last thing I want to tell our community, to not celebrate our holy day, just because it's on or near 9/11, because if we are to do that, then we're suggesting and falling into the argument made that Muslims are responsible for 9/11, and we aren't."
Below is one of the four PSA's that the national CAIR office is offering for media outlets to broadcast.