My Visit to the Hampshire Mosque

On Friday, November 25, I visited the Hampshire Mosque in Amherst.  Their usual worship space, the Jones Library, was closed for Thanksgiving, so they held their open service in the student campus center at UMass.

It was very low key, the people pleasant and welcoming.  I was a little disappointed no one invited me to lunch afterward, but maybe they’re shy, and they just don’t know me well enough.  After all, I just emailed them and appeared out of the blue.  And I’m not a Nobel Winner!

I’ve been thinking about how I might like to structure my relationship with them.  While I’m interested in learning more about Islam, I don’t plan to enter the religion.  And I think in order to achieve my original goal, which is to defuse the disinformation and public misunderstanding about Islam, as well as the geopolitical project of finding a scapegoat to use as a pretext for more resource wars, then I need to show up with them more.  Showing up just once, I think, would be just a pointless exercise in white liberal feel-goodism.  Dude, I like went to this mosque…..

I’m going to try to strike up a conversation with their website monitor, Ms. Mohamed about this.  How would they like me to show up?  Maybe I they would like to do some tabling at harvest festivals to give the public an opportunity to understand that 99.99% of all Muslims are sane, community and family minded people like all the rest of us, and I could help with that.

But I don’t know what they have in mind.  They may not have mapped out a “community relations strategy” at this point in the development of their congregation, where they’re just locating and preparing a building to begin their community presence.

I learned this because my friends Shen and George came with me, it was great to talk afterward.  It turns out that they know one or two people at the Mosque, Shen is very involved in a project called Racial Justice Rising that gives her a broad awareness of minority communities’ work and struggles in Western Mass.  She tells me that the Hampshire Mosque wanted to buy a building in Amherst, but faced public objections.  After hearing objections to the traffic burden the mosque might place on the community (which would be none), and then another objection to the noise their congregation might make during service (they don’t even sing), they got the message that they weren’t really welcome in Amherst, home to liberal intellectual bastions UMass, and Amherst and Hampshire Colleges, for reasons unstated but not too difficult to surmise.  In racial justice circles, this is called redlining, which is the practice of denying services, including credit allocation, or selectively raising prices, to prevent residents of certain areas from moving to their preferred area based on their racial or ethnic character.

I have read about redlining before, but was not familiar enough to be able to provide the above definition of it off the top of my head, and it was an interesting experience to look it up.  The Google definition and Wikipedia are pretty much the same, and I would point out a certain lack of clarity in their definition.  Google said redlining is:

“To refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk.”

To me, this points to the bias distortion often present in many internet institutions, especially including Google and Wikpedia.  Note that the Google definition that I have block quoted above says “because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk.”  Now, I’m generally allergic to banks, loans and credit matters of all types, I avoid them unless I cannot, partially because someone misspent my youth.  But that’s a blog post of its own.  Nonetheless, I’ve always thought that credit transactions are usually principally based on the creditworthiness of the applicant.  And furthermore, if someone is applying for a mortgage in a new area, then wouldn’t the credit implications of the area they are moving away from play even less of a role in the credit evaluation process?

In other words, Google and Wikipedia, whether out of apathy, or an active interest in making it harder to reach for social justice, are covering the tracks of the Caucasian-dominated real estate establishment, obfuscating and hemming and hawing, and pretending that redlining doesn’t happen here, along with fascism and violent repression of democracy in general.

Because if redlining isn’t happening here, then who really needs to know what it actually is?

For myself, I feel my attention drawn once again to the struggles that minorities of color face every day.  It is racism, and it may be harder for minority groups to deal with in liberal communities because what we have here is a soft racism.  Our racism doesn’t come on horseback with torches and home tailored sheets with ghosty scabrous eyeholes cut into them.  What we do here is waffle and shuffle, and say “O gee, I wish I could help, but the bank……”  or, “well, a mosque is a group and it could get kind of big, you know?……”  We deal with it by not dealing with it, and then we don’t have to take responsibility for anything while yet again our minority neighbors are forced to deal with gratuitous, onerous extra challenges not of their own making.


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