As the gears of federal government have ground to a halt, a new energy has been rocking the foundations of our urban centers. From Atlanta to Seattle and points in between, cities have begun seizing the initiative, transforming themselves into laboratories for progressive innovation. Cities Rising is The Nation’s chronicle of those urban experiments.
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The Tayba Islamic Center is a small storefront mosque on the southern tip of Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. Sandwiched between a kitchen-cabinet shop and a Jewish daycare center, its main identifying feature is a miniature dome that juts out of the green awning. This modest house of worship has a congregation that mainly consists of Pakistani New Yorkers—including Abdul Manaf, the mosque’s spokesman.
On the evening of July 18, during the final ten days of Ramadan, Manaf received a call summoning him to the center. Three elderly men, all in native Pakistani dress and each on his way to Tayba, had been pelted with eggs by people driving around in a white Lexus and yelling, “This is for your Allah!” The attack stunned the old men and shook others, including the mosque’s imam, who called 911 and then telephoned Manaf. He drove directly to the center to find a speechless 70-year-old Sabir Toppa, egg shells in his hair, the yolk still dripping down his face.
“He was scared. He was worried,” Manaf told me. “I think he was in shock.”
This was hardly the only bias incident against Muslims this past summer. Days before, vandals had scrawled “Islam is evil” and “Islam is barbaric” on mailboxes in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn. And worship at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge was disrupted on July 20 when a car decked with Israeli flags—music blaring, lights flashing—circled the building repeatedly. It doesn’t end there. On July 27, some residents of the Shore Haven apartment buildings in Brooklyn awoke to find fliers outside their doors that proclaimed “Islamists! Go to your country!!! USA hates you!!! You are terrorists and bastards!!! You are the second holocaust!!!!” And on July 30, Sandeep Singh, a 29-year-old Sikh man from Queens who wears a turban, was dragged under a pickup truck for thirty feet after an altercation with the driver, who reportedly referred to Singh as “bin Laden” and “terrorist.” (Sikhs are frequently the targets of anti-Muslim bias because of their dress and skin color.)
These New York stories put flesh on a recent national Zogby poll from late July, which found that American attitudes toward Muslims, never overly friendly, are only getting worse. These days, just 27 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Muslims, down from 35 percent in 2010. A troubling 42 percent believe that American Muslims should be profiled by law enforcement, and the same percentage questions their loyalty in government jobs. It’s possible that these dismal poll results and the recent attacks on Muslims in New York are partly related to the summer’s bloody conflict in Gaza. But while The New York Times and others have rightly drawn attention to the disturbing anti-Semitic incidents that took place in Europe during the Gaza war, little heed seems to be paid to the tensions that Muslims in New York endure.