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Our fellow Americans

By Darren Wiseman
May 25, 2016

I was fortunate enough to attend a barbeque on Sunday, May 15 at Islamberg, a community just upriver from us near Hancock, NY. The barbeque was a wonderful event brought about by unfortunate circumstances. A group called ABUAJ (American Bikers United Against Jihad) planned a ride to protest against the Muslims living at Islamberg in the woods near Hancock.

The amazing thing is that hundreds of their neighbors, from the farm next door and from all over the Southern Tier, came to support them, to stand with them on their quiet country road as the six bikers from ABUAJ rode by. These Muslims living in our community are African American families who moved up here in the early 1980s, mostly from the boroughs of New York City, to raise their children in a quieter less chaotic environment. Those children are now very accomplished professionals working throughout the state and are now raising their own children.

Rashid Clark, a master builder, member of the carpenters union and the mayor of Islamberg, speaks of his days playing baseball for Hancock High School and of his grandfather, a veteran of the U.S. Army; his grandmother who worked for the Navy; her brother, a semi-pro ball player who lost his legs in Korea; and of her other brother Stanley “Chico” Burrell, a Harlem Globetrotter whom I saw play when I was a kid and whose signature shot—the Sky Hook—I immediately copied.

At the event at Islamberg, I shared barbeque with Sgt. Kirk Gibbs, a longtime resident of Islamberg who is retiring this year from the U.S. Air Force after 29 years of service. These people are as “American” as anyone. They have deep roots going back hundreds of years in our nation. They are Sufis and repeatedly denounce ISIS, Al Qaeda and terrorism of any kind. They denounce what they see as pre-Islamic cultural practices from the other side of the world that have been confused with Islam: the repression of women, the images of violence and the idea of controlling how people worship. In attendance at this event was Town of Hancock Supervisor Sam Rowe Jr., who spoke highly of these residents. Their next door neighbors, who have a vegetable farm, and Major James Barnes of the New York State Police both spoke about their Muslim neighbors in glowing terms.