The widespread condemnation by most local officials of several anti-Muslim hate incidents in southern Brooklyn shows how Brooklyn’s tradition of tolerance rises to the fore whenever such isolated incidents take place.
As Brooklyn Daily Eagle staffer Paula Katinas mentioned, some unknown persons left anti-Islamic flyers in Shore Haven, a Bensonhurst apartment complex, on July 26. The flyers read, in all capital letters: “Islamists go to your country. USA hates you. You are terrorists and bastards.”
Earlier this month, Katinas reported, a group of people threw eggs at worshippers at the Bayba Islamic Center at 2165 Coney Island Ave. for Ramadan services. And in front of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, a car pulled up with flashing lights and loud sirens and sat outside for several hours, intimidating congregants.
While these incidents are definitely cause for concern, far more typical of Brooklynites is the response from local officials and community leaders of all ethnic backgrounds, as well as clergy of all faiths. The attacks were condemned by Douglas Jablon, vice president of Maimonides Medical Center; Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights), Assemblyman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Bay Ridge-Staten Island), Mayor Bill de Blasio, Linda Sarsour of the Brooklyn-based Arab-American Association of New York, and others.
Incidentally, while it’s possible that the attacks may have been sparked by the current conflict in Gaza, there have been anti-Islamic attacks in Brooklyn before. In the past, especially after 9/11, many were directed not against Arab-Americans but against Pakistani immigrants. In 2006, for example, several teenagers attacked a young Pakistani man in Midwood. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, vigorously condemned the crime.
Brooklyn has also seen waves of anti-Jewish vandalism. In 2011 and again in 2013, swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti were found in the elevator of a housing project where many Hasidic Jews live. In 2008, five swastikas were found spray-painted on houses and cars in Williamsburg. In 2012, swastikas and the words “Die Jew” were spray-painted on houses in Midwood.
Each time, the vandalism was condemned by officials of many different ethnic backgrounds. This writer also recalls how a swastika incident in Brooklyn Heights in 2007 was followed by an interfaith march through the Heights and Cobble Hill that included Muslims, Christians and Jews from all racial and ethnic groups.
In yet another example of togetherness, Eagle religion editor Francesca Norsen Tate last year described how Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope hosted a joint break-the-fast ceremony for Jews who were observing Tisha B’Av and Turkish-American Muslims from the Turkish Cultural Center who were observing the holy month of Ramadan, during which the faithful fast during the day.
In some cases, examples of hate crime and vandalism can indeed be sparked by world events such as the current Gaza conflict or the 9/11 terrorist attack. In other cases, it may stem from resentment over the fact that members of a particular ethnic or religious group are moving into a neighborhood where other groups have traditionally lived. And in yet other cases, such as the Brooklyn Heights swastika incident, the damage was committed by a disturbed individual.
In all cases, however, Brooklyn’s tradition of tolerance has triumphed over hate. Brooklyn is the place, after all, where Jackie Robinson made his major-league debut. And Brooklyn will continue to be a place where the haters are far outnumbered by peace-loving citizens.
—Raanan Geberer, a freelance writer, recently retired as Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He had been Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Bulletin until 1996, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was revived and merged with the Bulletin.