My Ordeal with Jacksonville City Council

I was nominated by Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton to serve on the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission. The nomination needed to voted by the Rules Committee of City Council. In advance of this meeting, one of the Council members named Clay Yarborough sent me a bunch of irrelevant questions asking me about my views on "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and gay marriage. Although I was not required to answer such irrelevant questions, I went ahead and answered them in the spirit of respectful dialog and mutual understanding.

The Rules Committee met and approved by nomination 4-0. The local newspaper (Times Union) found out about this and wrote a story.

Yarborough quizzes Jacksonville commission nominees on gay marriage, God, Islamic ties

A hate group called ACT got wind of this issue through the news report and started to bombard city hall with spurious allegations stemming from my time with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), where I first served as its Florida Chairman from 2002-05 and then as the National Chairman from 2005-2008. I resigned from the organization after a public fallout over its direction and leadership.

Click here to learn more about ACT.

Next day the newspaper ran yet another story.

Anti-Muslim group opposes professor's appointment to Jacksonville commission

When the turn came for the full city council vote, instead of confirming the nomination as is the usual practice, they voted to refer the issue back to the Rules Committee for a re-vote.

Muslim's slot on Jacksonville human rights panel opposed

Following the city council's vote, I received a lot emails from a diverse group of people expressing outrage at the council's action and extending their support to me.

Times Union columnist Ron Littlepage wrote, "Any council member who has paid even the smallest amount of attention to what's going on in the world around them would know that charge is a crock. Ahmed has been a voice of reason and peace in these troubled times. But I guess paying attention isn't high on some council members' agendas."

On Thu, April 15, I was interviewed on Jacksonville's NPR station WJCT 89.9FM. To listen to the show click here.

When you listen to the interview, you will notice the overwhelming positive response that came from ordinary citizens of Jacksonville. I was gratified by this response.

Americans do not know much about Islam and Muslims. A recent Gallup Poll shows, "More than 4 in 10 Americans (43%) admit to feeling at least "a little" prejudice toward Muslims -- more than twice the number who say the same about Christians (18%), Jews (15%) and Buddhists (14%)." Hate groups like ACT, exploit this fear. Sometimes unfortunately they succeed. In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King let me remind ourselves that our finite disappointments should not make us give up on the infinite hope of equality for all people.

One final note, during the public comment section of the city council meeting on Tuesday, April 13, a bunch of ACT folks stood up and railed against the Quran, Islam and me. Their free speech rights allow them to make those comments uninterrupted. However, it is also the moral duty of our leaders to stand up to such hate and bigotry. It is also a duty of ordinary citizens to condemn such rhetoric particularly when such hate speech is uttered in a citizen funded public building. What kind of message does such ranting send around the country and the world to people and businesses who want to relocate to Jacksonville?

To view the city council meeting visit click here. Scroll down to city council meeting 4/13/2010. The public comment section begins around the 45 minute mark.

I still hold out hope that the City Council members will do the right thing when the matter comes for re-voting.

In a letter to all members of the City Council I wrote, "ACT believes that Muslim-Americans shouldn't be allowed to hold public office and instructs people to contact the FBI if they see a mosque being built in their neighborhood. Their leader also said, "Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim." Educational materials available on ACT's website makes ridiculous claims such as "Islam does not coexist well with other religions," "[Islam] Co-opts the moon god Allah," "Islam was spread by the sword, not conversion."

If the words Muslim in those quotes were replaced by the words African-American or Jewish or Buddhist will the Council treat information from such a source with credibility?"

In addition, I said, "By now you have heard a lot about me, but from others. Some of the people you heard from have had years of associations with me. I am thankful that my work and views have made a positive impression on them. While others who wrote or spoke using snippets of disjointed information gathered from the internet painted a distorted picture of my record and views. The irony is not lost on anyone that those who never met me seemed loudest in their condemnation."

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