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To Be Iranian in Colorado Today: with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues. July 23, 2019 – Transcript, Part Three

July 31, 2019

Dr. Ali Zarrin, Persian-American poet, reading his epic poem on Immigration, Immigration Rights Rally, Denver. February 4, 2019

Transcript – KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues. July 23, 2019 – Transcript 3

Part One, Two

This profiling, this vilification of Islam has become so extensive, again, huge, as a result of the funds received from different philanthropic organizations through this Islamophobia network. One thing which we need to keep in mind. I reject the idea that this pattern was created as a result of domestic activities alone. Once this kind of pattern becomes commonplace along with the fear it generates, it manifests itself into public policy, foreign policy and it becomes extremely detrimental and dangerous.

Unfortunately, this American philanthropy and Islamophobia given the enormous sums of money that has been provided, now Islamophobia and Islamophobia institutions have become part and parcel of the electoral process. Islam and Muslims have been systematically defined as inherently violent and this is become an integral element of thinking among the American upper echelons.

This becomes extremely dangerous and requires discussion, an organized response.

Ibrahim Kazerooni

(Discussion continued)

Rob Prince: Turning to Ibrahim, I wanted to ask you, given your extensive experience here in Colorado. You lived in Colorado for fifteen years, something like that, is that correct?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes, approximately fifteen years.

Rob Prince: Now you are in the Detroit area, which has the largest Arab and Islamic population in North America – your experience in Colorado, Michigan, being someone for whom at least a part of your family heritage reaches back to Iran, can you elaborate on some of the themes that Kevin has raised?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes certainly. Listening to Kevin, my memory flooded back to what we were going through after 9-11 (September 11, 2001). At that time the same kind of thing – it was general. It was not only specifically Iranians targeted; it was right across the board effecting all Muslims and Middle Easterners – Iraqis, Iranians, Arabs, or even anyone that looked Arab which is part and parcel of how this happened, how the profiling is organized.

I remember students – even kids – were kicked out of school two days after 9-11. The principle told them that the school could not protect them. Students who had offers from colleges and universities – those offers were withdrawn. At work in many cases, people were immediately accused that either during or after 9-11 they were smiling as the pictures of the twin towers coming down were projected on television.

In economics, banking, the same kind of horror stories took place, of either banks refusing to open accounts or closing accounts. The Saudis in particular suffered. The bank accounts of a number of Saudis were frozen. The fear generated was so intense that many Saudi students decided that they could not stay in the United States. They left and traveled either to the United Kingdom, Canada or somewhere else.

In regard to immigration or what is referred to as Homeland Security, I want to make a few comments.

I remember at that time we approached the Colorado Chapter of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). The head of that chapter came to the mosque and we organized a number of workshops in which the head of the ACLU explained their rights to everyone, how to respond if approached by the authorities, etc. etc.

The fear was there, palpable.

For many days thereafter kids and families were not able to leave their homes. It was due to hatred, prejudice towards Islam and Muslims. It became a pattern of life.

I would agree with Jim – or what it you Rob? – that unfortunately this kind of racism is an undercurrent to the American way of life: the inability to accept others. Now who is defined as “others” changes over time. Rob, you mentioned the Native Americans, the Germans, the Italians and even the Jews within this country, but magnitude of the prejudice against Muslims and Arabs is staggering.

Rob Prince: the virulence of Islamophobia

Ibrahim Kazerooni: The magnitude is staggering when we look at what is happening now.

In April, 2019, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) published their recent report on Islamophobia. When you examine the “Islamophobia Network” – they stated that it cannot be considered a marginal or passing phenomenon in American society “rather it is a prominent and shameful institutional feature of American philanthropy.”

According to the information that they collected, over 1096 organizations funded the Islamophobia network in the United States between 2014 and 2016 to the amount of $1.5 billion – a huge amount of money. What is both shameful and at the same time surprising to those of us who read the report and to the authors of that report is that the same organizations that fund fundamental American institutions such as the Boy Scouts, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army are also responsible for providing funding to the anti-Muslim Islamophobic groups.

They have identified some thirty five major Islamophobia networks that are operating in the United States.

The problem that we have – what Kevin said and what I have noticed – not only there (in Colorado) but here (in Michigan) is that there is not a week that passes by in which our newspapers – the Arab-American newspapers here in Michigan – without articles that reflecting the depth of Islamophobia; they contain a number of examples – whether it is the police, Immigration, Homeland Security, or even other community bodies.

According to the information that they collected, over 1096 organizations funded the Islamophobia network in the United States between 2014 and 2016 to the amount of $1.5 billion – a huge amount of money. What is both shameful and at the same time surprising to those of us who read the report and to the authors of that report is that the same organizations that fund fundamental American institutions such as the Boy Scouts, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army are also responsible for providing funding to the anti-Muslim Islamophobic groups

When you get to the stage where women, families go out to a park and yet police cars are parked right there – in broad daylight – and tell them to get lost and to go back from where they came – and when someone from the community challenges them, they have the audacity to repeat it, their pictures are taken and put in newspapers. A few of them have then lost their jobs.

There are police officers that work in prisons… They are the ones who are so intolerant. In these prisons there are American born Muslims, Lebanese or from other Middle Eastern countries, that have lived in this country, their ancestors came here, probably in the late 19th or beginning of the 20th century. They have worked and contributed to the American way of life for many years only to be told when in prison to be called racially charged epithets, hostile words towards them. They (these Muslim prisoners) are forced to go to court to challenge these institutions.

The list goes on.

Rob Prince: Ibrahim, I was thinking back to the time around 9-11. If I remember correctly you had come to Colorado just shortly prior to that…

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes, one year before.

Rob Prince: You had been invited to become the imam at a mosque – and if I remember correctly – it was somewhere near the Colorado School of Mines. That was it’s main constituency, people who were involved in the college either as students or faculty.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: We had a mixed congregation.

We had Iranians, Iraqis, Saudis and we had Caucasians or Hispanics that had converted to Islam. These are people that came to that Islamic Center. It was located close to the Colorado School of Mines naturally a number of Muslim students came there. Immediately after 9-11, I remember, a couple of days later, my office was inundated with news that researchers were dismissed or students doing Phd work were told that the school is not prepared to provide them with the education that they needed – exactly as Kevin described it – although they were paying their tuition, room and board.

Rob Prince: This was the Colorado School of Mines one of the finest mining engineering schools in the country! What is particularly interesting to me is that the Denver-Boulder metropolitan area is known to be a relatively tolerant region for the most part and yet the people in that congregation that invited you to come to be their imam, in the months after 9-11, they mostly left as a result of the threats they endured.

Am I exaggerating?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: I want to tell a relevant story.

I remember that specific day, the infamous 9-11. I was the only imam that dared to go to any Islamic Center in the area. All Islamic Centers had closed down that day. The mosque where I ministered was attacked and although a number of multi-faith organizations and particularly the Abrahamic Initiative supporters got together as a way to protect the mosques, but as a matter of rule, all the mosques were closed.

Against the advice of the Community, I was the only imam that decided to go to the center (the mosque). Nobody can believe that from 8:30, 9 am that morning up until 4:30 in the afternoon, call after call came in filled with hatred, insulting Muslims, etc. etc. which typified exactly what Islamophobia is. Islamphobia is a fear, hatred and prejudice towards Islam and Muslims.

The problem is because Islamophobia is fear-based people who are affected by it, whether they are Muslim women, children or men, and those who share the characteristics that have been racialized as Muslim whether it be as a result of language, clothing, whatever – Sikhs were attacked because they looked like Muslims. And the manifestation of this undercurrent – you look for excuses, whether it was Trump’s election after which we saw such a sizable, huge rise – even in our community in Dearborn, Michigan – although our Islamic Center of America is the biggest center in the United States.

Nevertheless particularly during the primaries where he played the racial card, there was a huge amount of attacks against Muslims, physical attacks, racial attacks, discrimination, the curtailment of civil rights, the advancement of anti-Muslim policies . It becomes an opportunity where the hidden undercurrent of hatred toward “the other” that happens to be the “other-ing” of the Muslims now rises to the surface and people feel free to express that hatred towards anyone that they can see.

We heard of (Muslim) women drivers being chased by other cars, here in Dearborn, of women coming out of what we call Kroegers, what you call in Colorado, King Soopers, with people putting their cars into reverse and hitting them deliberately, of people breaking into the homes of their Muslim neighbors’ homes, smashing car windows. Luckily we have not had mosque burning in Dearborn but it can happen. In Colorado it did.

Rob Prince: There was a mosque burning in Colorado?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: The back door of the Lakewood mosque was set afire and pigs’ blood was smeared on the wall.

This profiling, this vilification of Islam has become so extensive, again, huge, as a result of the funds received from different philanthropic organizations through this Islamophobia network. One thing which we need to keep in mind. I reject the idea that this pattern was created as a result of domestic activities alone. Once this kind of pattern becomes commonplace along with the fear it generates, it manifests itself into public policy, foreign policy and it becomes extremely detrimental and dangerous.
Unfortunately, this American philanthropy and Islamophobia given the enormous sums of money that has been provided, now Islamophobia and Islamophobia institutions have become part and parcel of the electoral process. Islam and Muslims have been systematically defined as inherently violent and this is become an integral element of thinking among the American upper echelons.

This becomes extremely dangerous and requires discussion, an organized response.

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