Times Union prints my op/ed on Muslim neighbors

‘Anti-jihad’ bike ride picks wrong target

Op/ed at Times Union, Albany, NY

Terrorism is as old as dirt. Incarnate violence and intimidation go way back with human beings. Remarkably, we also have the capacity to gain new knowledge that brings about good-will. In other words, we outgrow knowledge that is no longer appropriate.

A Facebook event page, recently created by the American Bikers United Against Jihad, calls for a May 15 rally ride, headed to Islamberg, in Hancock, Delaware County.

Islamberg is a 70-acre rural hamlet for Muslims of America, Inc.

The jargon on the Facebook page hits me like a bug in the eye. The bug of inappropriate information. You can read about Islamberg online. The community has made headline news for years, nationwide. They’ve been tied to terrorism with a mix of correct and incorrect images.

Images are powerful. Eight years ago, I rode my bike from Washington State to New York. When pulling into towns for a doughnut, disguised in my helmet and armored jacket, I encountered a few people who withdrew. The old image of tattooed Hells Angels made it difficult for them to see me, a 49-year old, graying mom, weighing in at about 115 pounds.

Granted, it’s legitimate to admit our fears and concerns, however the legitimacy wears off when there is little, or no real evidence to validate the fears.

The community of Islamberg got started more than 30 years ago. It consists of about 20 families, more children than adults. Muslim individuals and families moved to Delaware County to get away from unsafe big city life and to raise their children in a rural wholesome environment.

Muslim, Rashid Clark, admitted, “Our family moved from New York City when I was young. While attending the local school, I assimilated. I didn’t talk about my religion because my past taught me that I’d be treated with biases. I played baseball with the Hancock Wildcats, went home, said my prayers, and did my math.”

Basically, prayers and religious celebrations were done in private to avoid bigotry. Therefore, Islamberg, to the skeptical outsider, felt mysterious.

As global consciousness became aware of terrorism linked to radical Islamist groups, specifically the Islamic State, the mysteriousness in Hancock became a target for suspicion. Insidious threats were hurled at our Muslim neighbors.

It’s no wonder they then appeared guarded and secretive.

Residents of Islamberg and other local Muslims made it a practice to work with law enforcement officers. They allow investigations which lead to reports able to clear the false records and invented evidence.

After getting to know them, I have found that my Muslim neighbors don’t identify with Islamism, defined as the determination to enforce a single version of Islam on society, and as espoused by ISIS.

They respect not only an internally diverse Islam, but also other faiths.

I have not noticed an appeal to theocracy, or a system of government in which a religious leader rules in the name of God.

“I am an American,” said Faruq Baqi, spokesman of Muslims of America.

Muslims can be and are Americans. While faithful to their form of spirituality, they abide by a democracy, a system of government by the people. I have only felt good-will from my Muslim neighbors.

We all are entitled to good-will. Come Sunday, I won’t ride with the American Bikers United Against Jihad, but I will wish good-will on them. I hope they ride with good-will as well.


Bio: Cheryl Petersen is a freelance reporter and author of, “from science & religion to God: a briefer narrative of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health.” She lives in Delaware County.



2 thoughts on “Times Union prints my op/ed on Muslim neighbors

  1. Kevin Brenner May 15, 2016 at 12:57 pm Reply

    Thank you for your brief into one of the many “Islamic Compounds” throughout America. Just to be clear as far as you are aware there is or never has been any anti-american or anti-Jewish sentiment from anyone associated with Islamberg?

    • Cheryl Petersen May 16, 2016 at 9:01 am Reply

      You can decide for yourself about the Islamic Community. This video was created at the rally, yesterday. https://vimeo.com/166753603
      Hundreds of Americans and people from all faiths attended the rally.

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