Imagine facing the overwhelming odds of fighting for equality in Islamic supremacist Saudi Arabia or in the 1960s-era white supremacist Mississippi.
These were the same odds faced by a handful of activists in challenging the estimated 600 supporters of the Islamic Saudi Academy at Northern Virginia's Fairfax County Planning Commission on the night of March 18, 2009. Many hundreds of the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) supporters wore printed name tag badges reading "I Support ISA," including ISA's logo containing the emblem of Saudi Arabian government with its two crossed swords.
This is the same Saudi government that a few weeks ago the U.S. State Department condemned for its "significant human rights problems" in denying basic freedoms and human rights to men, women, and non-Muslims, and the same Saudi government whose courts recently sentenced a 75 year old woman to 40 lashes for "mingling" with men, and whose courts recently sentenced a pregnant gang-rape victim to 100 lashes for "adultery."
The meeting of the Fairfax County Government Planning Commission was to consider a special exemption to a zoning regulation to allow for the building of an expansion to the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax, Virginia. The Fairfax County government has been leasing space for the existing Saudi Academy facilities for years now. As a suburb of Washington DC, Fairfax, Virginia is slightly more than 20 miles away from our nation's capital. The Islamic Saudi Academy has been frequently criticized for its reported use of textbooks promoting hate and violence, its former students associated with jihad plots, reports of negligence on reporting female child sex abuse, and ISA's former valedictorian convicted of joining Al-Qaeda and plotting to assassinate the president.
At the government public meeting, the Fairfax County government board auditorium was packed by Islamic Saudi Academy supporters beyond capacity with dozens standing in the aisles and corridors, as it sought to show its clout to Northern Virginia's Fairfax government. It was an event that most Fairfax residents were unaware of, but the Saudi Arabian-backed institution's supporters were well organized to demonstrate their power in Virginia. Andrea Lafferty, one of the few speakers to challenge the Islamic Saudi Academy was nearly ushered out with the overflow crowd of Islamic Saudi Academy supporters, until she fought to have a seat in the audience.
As Islamic Saudi Academy's attorney Lynn Strobel presented their case to the Fairfax County Planning Commission, she emphasized the public support of her clients seeking the expansion of this Islamic supremacist, Wahhabist-based institution. In a dramatic move to demonstrate their power, Lynn Strobel turned to audience and asked the supporters of the Islamic Saudi Academy to rise. In the auditorium packed with individuals wearing printed badges "I Support ISA," virtually EVERY person stood up.
While the Islamic Saudi Academy's attorney and their speakers were treated courteously and with respect, those in opposition to the Islamic Saudi Academy were treated very differently.
The bullying mob of Islamic Saudi Academy supporters was frequently allowed to disrupt the tiny number willing to speak against the Islamic Saudi Academy's planned expansion in Fairfax County. Several speakers challenging this expansion were loudly booed and laughed at -- until the Fairfax commission chairman Peter Murphy (as this was being captured on video) would eventually call for order.
While most of the activists challenging the Islamic Saudi Academy addressed typical zoning issues like traffic and local conservation issues, they also addressed the challenge to human rights in extending land use for an institution with a documented history of textbooks promoting hatred and intolerance, and whose leaders and students have been linked to covering up female child sex abuse and terrorism plots. One commissioner criticized such activists for addressing such human rights and human security issues as "people there who obviously had an agenda."
The first public speaker was Traditional Values Coalition's James Lafferty. After addressing typical zoning issues and explaining his familiarity with the existing ISA Academy, James Lafferty addressed his concerns about ISA teachings and the impact on the community. He stated that his concern has been that the repeated reports about ISA teachings indicate that they are anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-semitic. To underscore their intolerance, the bullying mob of 600 ISA supporters loudly booed, shouted down, and laughed at his comments. (Minutes earlier, ISA attorney Lynn Strobel attested to how ISA "promotes respect and mutual understanding" between Muslims and others.)
James Lafferty was not the only heckled speaker at the government meeting. His wife, Andrea Lafferty, was also booed and laughed at as she spoke about her concerns by the crowd - once again showing the type of "respect and mutual understanding" that the ISA supporters are seeking to expand. Andrea Lafferty expressed her concerns about how the land use would be used to promote supremacist ideologies, emphasizing her concerns about the Saudi Academy's promotion of Sharia law, the history of textbooks calling for intolerance and hate, the incomplete translation of recent allegedly revised textbooks, and the potential for promoting violent behavior. As the crowd of ISA supporters mockingly laughed at her concerns, Andrea Lafferty expressed her concerns about the conflict between the American commitment to human rights and Islamic supremacism's suppression of women and others, summarizing her thoughts as "the Statue of Liberty has a torch in her hand, not a rock." She challenged the Fairfax officials not to be cowardly on this issue and to consider the land use issues associated with such human rights and freedoms. However, Fairfax Planning Commissioner Chairman Peter Murphy was only concerned about challenging methods of flier distribution to alert residents to this meeting.
The meeting that started at 8:15 PM lasted late into the night, continuing well past midnight into the early hours of the morning, with 35 public speakers, many of which were apparently signed up in a coordinated effort by the Islamic Saudi Academy earlier in the week, as speakers supporting the ISA would state that they had been asked by ISA officials to speak at the meeting.
Other activists who spoke at the Fairfax County meeting included:
-- Denise Lee, ACT for America - who challenged land use issues for the ISA expansion including traffic patters, water issues, and property values - but then addressed the documented issues of the intolerance and hate reported in the ISA textbooks and the cover-up by a school official over sexual abuse of a 5 year old girl that was an ISA student.
-- Christine Brim, Senior Vice President, Center for Security Policy - who addressed the history of how ISA has overpromised and failed to live up to its commitments in the past on the existing facility. Christine pointed out that given this history, the commission should be concerned about new information yet to be disclosed by ISA.
-- Faith McDonnell, international human rights activist with The Institute on Religion and Democracy - who pointed out how a Christian school was denied similar zoning exceptions in the same area, and who addressed her experience in dealing with international human rights as to how Islamic supremacist ideologies oppress and threaten those who seek freedom of conscience and religion. Faith also challenged the Fairfax County Planning Commission that enabling the teaching of such supremacism does not come without consequences, and that the Planning Commission would be accountable for what happens as a result.
-- Myself - Jeffrey Imm, Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) organization - addressing the need for considering the Virginia Human Rights Act in government decisions and land use, and relating my past experiences in seeing business and land use to promote white supremacism in the 1960's Virginia. I related my experiences in seeing such segregationist, "white clientele only" businesses in Virginia and stated that there is no difference between businesses promoting racial supremacism from "religious" supremacism in terms of supremacism defying our inalienable human rights of equality and liberty. I urged the planning commission to consider how injurious it would be to promote the bullying nature of supremacist ideologies in Virginia businesses - among a people whose responsible for equality and liberty is their first priority.
The numerous ISA supporters who spoke at the Fairfax Planning Commission meeting were not heckled, booed at, or shouted down. One ISA supporter, Abdul Rahman, told the commission that the ISA expansion must be granted because "America needs Islam." Another ISA supporter called for the ISA expansion to "teach our children in our traditions." One of the very few women ISA supporters not wearing a hijab or a niqab (among the hundreds that did), Angela Jrab also spoke to the planning commission on busing issues and the perspective of women at ISA. In response to those concerned about the long history of Saudi and Islamic supremacist oppression of women, Angela Jrab spoke as a supporter of the ISA expansion. Angela Jrab told the planning commission that her Muslim husband did not discriminate against women, nor did ISA, as her company was allowed to manage security for the ISA facilities. Unlike the cold, angry, or "off topic" reaction of planning commissioners to those speakers concerned about Islamic supremacist and Wahhabist ideology's oppression of women, Fairfax Planning Commissioner Earl Flanagan warmly thanked Angela Jrab for her "most helpful presentation" (which well exceeded her time limit), stating that he was certain Planning Chairman Peter Murphy would agree with him. This was the overall pattern in the planning commission's reactions to those who spoke. For the most part, those who spoke against the ISA expansion were either ignored, confronted, or grilled - even when bringing up what seemed reasonable safety and land issues. Those who spoke in favor of the ISA expansion were routinely appreciated by the planning commission.
During one of the few breaks in the heated meeting due to the overflowing crowd of ISA supporters, several of those who sought to speak out against the ISA were cornered and confronted by some ISA supporters. These ISA supporters denied all of the reports by the Associated Press, the Washington Post, other media, and U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. These ISA supporters told activists that the Washington Post and other reports of ISA textbooks calling for jihad and calling Jews apes and Christians pigs - were all lies. These ISA supporters said that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's report criticizing ISA textbooks stating that it is permissible for Muslims to kill coverts from Islam and adulterers - was a lie. They said reports of former ISA valedictorian Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, convicted in federal court of joining Al-Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush - were a lie. They said that FBI reports that former ISA student Mohammed El-Yacoubi was carrying a suicide note with what it believed was planned to be a suicide bombing attack in Israel - were a lie. According to these ISA supporters, all of the reports about the problems with ISA are nothing but lies. In this exchange, one woman ISA supporter shouted out "it is all lies" and then after discovering that one of the cornered rights activists was a Christian, stated that "the Jews killed your Jesus." Later the same woman ISA supporter reiterated that ISA does not support hate.
In Virginia, while a bullying mob declared "I Support ISA," you should know that there were fearless activists who clearly sent the message that "We Support USA," and the inalienable human rights of equality and liberty inherent in America's identity.
But citizens concerned about the spread of Islamic supremacists' threat to equality and liberty must not ignore how vastly outnumbered such activists were and continue to be in representing us in public events and before government agencies. The six activists speaking out against the Islamic supremacist nature of the Islamic Saudi Academy were outnumbered by the estimated 600 ISA supporters by nearly 100 to one. This is not the first or the last such public event where the larger consensus on equality and liberty needs greater representation.
Clearly when supporters of Islamic supremacist institutions publicly demonstrate that they can outnumber their opposition by such vast numbers, such supporters will become further emboldened and confident in their ability to influence government agencies, laws, and legislature. In the Washington DC metropolitan area, and around the nation, it is not enough to commiserate privately over our concerns about Islamic supremacism, or to think that "preaching to the choir" on shared Internet blogs and via email is really accomplishing anything.
Those who believe that we can win victories for freedom by merely marching in place and reassuring ourselves -- need to wake up. If we are not willing to get out in public to defend equality and liberty as citizen activists, we can be certain that there will be plenty of others supporting institutions and ideologies that do not respect equality and liberty who will act in public. Those who support ideologies against equality and liberty will continue to persuade the media, the government, and your neighbors -- that they represent the majority of public opinion. We cannot expect courage from our government, if we don't see courage from the public they represent.
Will you let them win? Or will you do something about it?
Defending equality and liberty is inconvenient. It takes time and commitment. It costs you money. It interferes with your life. But equality and liberty cannot be taken for granted, with the forces of supremacism that are on the march, not just in Northern Virginia, but around the nation and the world. When you consider how inconvenient it is to challenge supremacism, think about what your life would be like without equality and liberty. Think about what type of future and legacy we would leave for the children and future generations. Good intentions are never enough. Being responsible for equality and liberty means that your action is needed now.
To help in the activist focus on issues challenging equality and liberty, our organization "Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.)" at realcourage.org has listed future events where we are publicly challenging supremacism. Take the time to look for such events, and see where you can get involved with R.E.A.L. or other activist organizations, such as ACT for America.
The next time you are concerned about the growth of Islamic supremacism in foreign lands, never forget that those who seek to challenge equality and liberty are right here today in America too.
Remember those like the "Fairfax 600" that publicly supported an Islamic supremacist institution in Virginia. They are convinced that you aren't willing to publicly challenge them. They are convinced that those supporting equality and liberty either don't care or are too afraid.
But those of us responsible for equality and liberty will Fear No Evil.
Join Us Today.
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