2016-05-25 / Opinion

Mixed Messages Fuel Fear, Misunderstanding

* Lillian Browne is the editor-in-chief of The Reporter.

* Lillian Browne is the editor-in-chief of The Reporter.

A May 15 motorcycle rally past a Muslim community nestled in the hills of Tompkins, near Hancock in Delaware County - which was touted as a publicity event to raise awareness about terrorism - could not have gone more wrong, or perfectly right, depending on one’s point of view.

Pre-event messages put out by event organizers were not entirely clear and as such, were misconstrued by the media, Islamberg residents and community groups, with good reason. The spokesman for the biker group linked Islamberg founding members with terrorism while in the same breath confidently stated that most Islamberg residents are not terrorists.

It is completely understandable why such statements sparked fear and anger in many people.

Media fueled the flames by portraying the event as anti- Muslim, and understandably so. The bikers specifically chose the Islamberg community, one that is inhabited solely by Muslims, as an example of “home-grown” terrorism. It was a poor choice.

Islamberg residents and supporters, upon discovering the planned biker rally, began their own messaging campaign - one which included terms such as “threat,” “evil,” “hatred,” “anti- Islamic group,” “anti-Muslim rally” “Islamphobia” and “hate rally.”

Following the event, a video was released by Islamberg titled “Christians & Jews unite to thwart an attack on Holy Islamberg by ANTI-AMERICAN Bikers,” giving the event both a religious unity and patriotic slant.

It’s hard to spread a message of love, peace, unity and patriotism while simultaneously pointing out how wrong your neighbors are.

In my opinion, that’s what both groups did. In interviews, biker representatives said they had not attempted to contact Islamberg residents to learn more about the community or the Muslim religion; neither did Islamberg residents reach out to biker rally organizers to stem any perceived preconceived ideas or misunderstandings. Instead, the New York State Police - the true arbiters of peace - became involved.

An Islamberg spokesman stated that troopers were working around the clock to make sure that all members of Islamberg were safe. The rally organizer, likewise, stated that troopers had assured them of safe travel.

They were not entirely wrong, but they were not entirely right, either. In an on-camera interview with The Reporter (which can be found at the Walton Reporter’s FaceBook page) Major Barnes of the NYSP said police concerns were that of keeping the roadway open during the event. He also stated that troopers were not providing “security” for either group and both were entitled to freedom of speech.

One could surmise by the events of the day that police were, in fact, present to provide security. Multiple uniformed and plain clothes officers created a human barricade between the bikers and anti-biker protesters who chanted messages of their own - “Stop hating American Muslims” directed toward the bikers.

It appeared as though troopers were called on to protect both groups from themselves, lest they lose the self-control required for the orderly functioning of society. In this case, the police were also used as propaganda tools, by both groups.

Post-rally representatives from both groups said the event went THEIR way.

Individual interpretation of religious doctrine, as well as an inability to understand another’s point of view, has successfully incited hate and fear through time immemorial. The case is no different today. An unwillingness to learn about things that we don’t understand will continue to fuel fear and contempt.

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