Crossing the divide
In the past two months, a Christian group and Nevada’s U.S. Senate candidate Sharon Angle have alleged that Dearborn, Mich., is under the sway of Islamic sharia law. Mayor John O’Reilly has since appeared in several media interviews to dispute those claims. O’Reilly spoke with American City & County about how cities can promote diversity and cope with the anti-Muslim movement.
Q: Do you think the various protests against Islam seen in recent months are a product of the election, or is it a permanent situation?
A: I think that the starting point here is that most people in America are unfamiliar with and don’t really understand the basics of the Muslim faith. So, they’re associating it with radicals and terrorism. We really need to take a step back and think consciously about what’s really going on in the community. [The Sept. 11 attacks were] terrible, but it wasn’t that Muslims did it, it was the terrorists did it. Terrorism is something we have to deal with, and it’s a new reality, but we can’t let our fear have us transfer [our anger] to another population. We have to take a step back and make sure we’re looking at the real facts and not letting emotions drive how we view things.
Q: What can other city leaders do to promote diversity in their cities?
A: You facilitate opportunities for everybody to get together and know each other and talk about issues. That community dialogue is essential. You just have to be conscious that the way to get around prejudice and anxiety based on different cultures is to get them exposed to each other in a positive or proactive way.
Q: What would you say to public officials who want to limit Muslim influence in their communities?
That’s not what we’re about. People choose to live in a place because it offers the amenities they want, it’s affordable — whatever they want. We shouldn’t be trying to determine who moves here. We ought to be sure we enforce reasonable standards so that everybody is respectful of everybody else’s rights. Everybody should be welcome, and everybody should be included. Inclusion is a huge issue for cities. That’s how you grow a community and not just a city. A community is a better concept — that we are a community; that we all see ourselves engaged in the same goals.
- Listen to the full podcast, “Michigan mayor refutes accusations of catering to Muslim law,” with John O’Reilly.