Signs of hate as mosque supporters give away school supplies

Signs of hate as mosque supporters give away school supplies
Photo by Paul Martinka

Call it readin’, writin’ and racism.

Supporters of a proposed mosque in Sheepshead Bay gave away backpacks and other school supplies at the site of the proposed Islamic center — but neighborhood opponents used the giveaway as another chance to decry the project’s supporters as terror-linked extremists.

Opponents have long said that their objection to the Muslim American Society-backed mosque is limited to the traffic and commotion it will supposedly cause, but protest signs plastered all over Voorhies Avenue between E. 28th and E. 29th streets suggest another motivation.

“Stop propaganda,” read one sign. “School supplies giveaway to cover your support of Hamas.”

Another sign added, “the Muslim American Society is not welcome.”

And as the kids lined up for their school supplies, one man chanted, “Go back to your country!” — though he did not specify the country.

Some members of Bay People, which organized this year to stop the mosque, stuck to the anti-Islam, not anti-traffic, argument.

“They’re just trying to dominate and provoke the neighborhood,” said Viktor, a Russian native who moved to Sheepshead Bay 20 years ago.

Other anti-traffic protesters also made a detour into vaguely anti-Muslim sentiment.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” said 20-year Sheepshead Bay resident Steven Peskin. “The Muslims are going to be praying or doing whatever they do five times a day, making noise, so why should I be inconvenienced?”

PS 52, a public elementary school, is right around the corner, serving hundreds of students.

For their part, supporters said that they knew there would be protesters, but were willing to go ahead with the giveaway.

“I knew it would happen, but there’s still people out there who need our help,” said Sarah Salem, a community service coordinator for the Muslim American Society, which has long denied a link to any terror group. “Poverty doesn’t discriminate.”

And recipients of the school materials were pleased not only at the goods, but at the group that provided them.

“Just let them build it!” said Allan Zoots, who picked up supplies with his 7-year-old daughter, Diana. “I don’t even think noise will be a problem.”

It’s not the first time that a seemingly peaceful event has nonetheless stoked tension in the neighborhood. Earlier this summer, a peace march to the mosque site led to racial epithets. And hundreds of protesters gathered on the block for their own rally, which featured a bomb threat.

But none of his neighbors’ reactions has stopped the project, which still needs a city permit, said project manager Ibrahim Anse.
“This center will become a part of this community,” said Anse, a Sheepshead Bay resident himself.

Neighbors talk with a police officer.
Photo by Paul Martinka