In a March 5 interfaith gathering at Dar-us-Sunnah Masjid and Community Center, 2045 Brown Ave., Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl was clear in expressing the respect the City has for its Muslim residents and visitors.
“Muslims are welcome in Evanston,” Ms. Tisdahl said. “Mosques are welcome in Evanston, and if there’s a registry, we’re going to sign up.”
She was one of six speakers – among them politicians, religious personnel and community advocates – discussing the implications of the Trump Administration’s travel ban and immigration restrictions for the Muslim community. She was joined by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky; Maaria Mozaffar, legislative attorney for CAIR-Chicago (Council on American Islamic Relations); Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago’s executive director; Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islamic Studies at Catholic Theological Union; and Rabbi Andrea London of Evanston’s Beth Emet Synagogue. About 125 people attended the event.
Ms. Mozaffar acknowledged the apprehension many surely felt from the recent executive orders and other government actions, but urged the audience to approach that activity with a critical eye.
“You have to look at the thought processes” behind the orders, she added, noting that current events at least can diminish ignorance about Islam and open new realms of communication. She also said the current administration’s actions reflected anxiety over shifting demographics rather than caution over terrorism.
“We need to step outside our echo chambers,” Ms. Mozaffar said. “That’s a big priority for us if we are going to win this fight.”
Mr. Alexander similarly urged the audience to adopt a sharp critical perspective, asking them to consider their own unexamined viewpoints that might have indirectly contributed to the rise of a president like Trump, whose phenomenon, he said, “is not new at all.” He questioned, for example, how Trump could have continued to appear on a TV program even after his production personnel reportedly heard him use racial epitaphs.
Rep. Schakowsky emphasized the importance of standing up to bigotry when witnessing it in the community. She added that one of her staff members, who is of Pakistani decent, was recently harassed in a local restaurant. The restaurant owner apologized and had the offending patron removed; all the other patrons, however, stood by silently.
“I want to call on everyone here,” she said. “When we see acts of bigotry, we have to stand up.”
Mr. Rehab urged the audience not to be caught up in negative news and politics, speaking of a “tug-of-war” between the foundational values upon which the country was built and what he called “travesties” that were being inflicted upon vulnerable members of society.
“We need to keep our eyes on what is right in America,” he said, later adding that the community must strive to “see that which is good and make it better, and to see that which is bad and make it good.”
Rabbi London noted that Mr. Rehab was the first person to telephone her and offer support for Evanston’s Jewish community when the Chicago Loop Synagogue was vandalized in February. She also said that progressive activism takes effort and vigilance.
“This is what it means for a democracy,” she added. “We can’t wait for someone else to do it. … We need to be out there for justice.”
Mayor Tisdahl was asked about the financial hit that Evanston could take in being a “welcoming city” for immigrants and refugees, should the federal government take retribution. She admitted that the status could entail the loss of about $3 million in federal funds. Rep. Schakowsky noted that the loss was only related to law enforcement expenditures and that, in theory, the government could not come after spending on social services.
Activists have been encouraging many communities to adopt the “sanctuary city” or “welcoming city” status, to minimize the number of municipal resources that federal immigration officials can co-opt, potentially undermining trust in local police.
“There is a major opportunity for cities to push back,” said Rep. Schakowsky.
“When you have a society that creates that kind of hatred, everyone is affected,” said Rabbi London. “The more that we know each other, the less that Trump and his administration can divide us.”
Mr. Alexander added, “Ours is the prophetic voice – we cannot wait for people to lead us.”