Published online on November 8th, 2013 in the Kennebec Journal
Last spring, the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine was proud to partner with the Lithgow Library to present a staged reading of “The Submission,” a play based on the book of the same title and the selection for the library’s “A Capital Read” program.
Written by Amy Waldman, “The Submission” is about an unknown architect whose design of a memorial for the victims of September 11 is selected. When the architect is discovered to be Muslim, however, a debate ensues, not because of who he is, but because of his religion.
The front-page article, “Augusta group proposes city’s first mosque,” printed in the newspaper on Oct. 31 makes some subtle and disturbing insinuations which, sadly, relate to “The Submission.”
The article notes that “the mosque’s entry won’t happen without a little culture shock.” This seems like a strange statement given the fact that the article also states that members of the Islamic Society of Greater Augusta already are meeting for prayer services in office space on Spruce Street in Augusta. The article also points out that there are already more than 1,300 Muslim adherents in Maine and five Muslim congregations.
It seems a little late for the newspaper to assume that there will be a culture shock when, in fact, Muslims have been living in and contributing to Maine for decades.
We can only assume that the article is suggesting that an actual mosque in Augusta would be a culture shock. However, it seems strange that Ather Mohammed should be asked to explain his group’s intentions when countless other religious organizations have erected or moved religious establishments into buildings without ever being asked to do so. We hope and trust that the newspaper isn’t insinuating that Muslims deserve different treatment.
Ward 2 City Councilor Darek Grant said he’s heard from two constituents who asked for more information about the group, which he called “a fair question.” Actually, a fair question would be “What kind of building do they plan to build and what are the zoning rules in that neighborhood?” Singling out people because they are different does not constitute a fair question.
Grant also said, “They’re actually surprised that this group is in Augusta. … I think that’s certainly a sensitive issue to deal with.” Grant seems to be suggesting that because their religion is different from his or religions with which he is familiar that automatically makes it a sensitive issue. It’s not.
We trust and believe that Grant will strive to represent all people in Ward 2 and throughout Augusta in his role as an elected official, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Perhaps for the first time in its history, Lithgow Library’s “A Capital Read” should focus on the same book two years in a row, since important messages of “The Submission” seem to have been missed the first time around.
Elizabeth Helitzer, is interim executive director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. David Greenham is the center’s program director.