By Adam Pagnucco.
A coalition of Muslim activists has written County Executive Marc Elrich and the county council expressing their frustration that no members of their community were selected for the county’s new Commission on Racial Equity and Social Justice. Their letter appears below.
August 5, 2020
Dear Executive Elrich and Montgomery County Councilmembers,
We are a coalition of Muslim activists and allies affiliated with a broad array of local and national Muslim organizations and mosques. Many of us are also active in non-faith-based organizations seeking to promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice in our county. The Montgomery County Muslim community is frustrated and deeply disappointed that the County’s newly formed Commission on Racial Equity and Social Justice excludes any Muslim representation. Many of us met with the County Executive in December 2019 to convey our concerns about being marginalized and asked that our community be represented on the Commission. Our understanding was that this request was agreed to and we spent considerable time vetting and offering you a candidate.
Ten percent of County residents are Muslim. Moreover, the Muslim community is intersectional with marginalized groups. Twenty percent of Muslims are Black and many are first-generation immigrants. It is thus disheartening that there have been a number of documented instances of discrimination and violation of our civil rights by our own county officials.
For example, two government employees were engaged in the blacklisting of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) from county activities. Furthermore, Montgomery County’s Police Department was actively engaged in a surveillance grant for several years predominantly targeting Muslim youth. In fact, the former Director of Public Information revealed his prejudice and willingness to violate our civil liberties in a remark about the need to monitor the Muslim community because “how are we going to explain dropping this [surveillance program] if someone does something not good from one of the mosques. What’s the harm.”
What is even more disturbing about this continued marginalization of our community is that one of your appointees to the Commission, Jim Stowe was actively involved in both the CAIR blacklist and the surveillance program.
The Commission on Racial Equity and Social Justice must reflect the diversity of our County in gender, race, ethnicity and yes, religious affiliation. We hope that Mr. Stowe has come to understand that his past acts and views served to marginalize our community and are not aligned with the Commission’s mandate which is to promote inclusiveness and work against prejudice of all forms and the otherization of minority communities. This includes being aware of and addressing anti-Muslim sentiment.
It is unfortunate that the Commission does not have a Muslim member. We ask that you seek alternative ways to ensure Muslim representation so that our unique and important concerns can be heard. The American-Muslim experience is one faced by Black people and other people of color as well as immigrant communities and minority communities of faith. The American-Muslim voice must be present if the new efforts of the County Council to improve social justice and bring about racial equity is to have legitimacy.
Salahudeen Abdul Kareem
Rida Bukhari Rizvi