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U.S. Navy Scapegoats Riverside Muslims

by Kynn Bartlett, Inland Anti-Empire Friday, Feb. 21, 2003 at 9:35 AM

The park in the Norco navy base (yes, there's such a thing) is closed. What's the biggest threat? No, it's not Osama bin Laden. It's Muslims from Riverside. Really. That's what the Navy says.

[This originally appeared on the Inland Anti-Empire blog]

So as part of my regular "news roundup" skimming of articles on the P-E, the SB Sun, the Californian, and others, I came across a very interesting article.

Because of the recent status change to "orange alert", you can't walk your dog or go fishing in the park that's on the Norco naval base, the Press-Enterprise reported last Saturday. Yes, there's a U.S. Navy base in the Inland Empire -- it's the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division and it's nowhere near the water.

The fact that they closed down part of the base, given the heightened alert (which was based on false information, by the way), is not surprising. What is shocking is what the Navy is telling the public about the biggest threat to the Norco base:

Last week, the Bush administration raised the alert to the second-highest level in the color-coded system, citing an "increased likelihood" that the al-Qaida network would attack Americans either at home or abroad.

Officials at the Navy's only independent analysis and assessment center said this week, however, that they are more concerned with local attacks on their division in Norco than with Osama bin Laden's organization.

"There might be local people in Riverside aligned with Islamic fundamentalists who would want to attack us," said Commander Jeff Taylor. "But I doubt Osama bin Laden knows where we are. He would want to take out the White House instead."

To lessen the chance of local attacks, the Navy no longer allows the public to walk their dogs around or fish at Lake Norconian, which is located inside the more-than-300-acre gated complex. The center is also home to a clubhouse, naval offices and various laboratories used for measuring instruments such as lasers and gauges.

Yes, you read that right. The biggest fear is not an attack from Osama bin Laden, but a fear from Muslims in Riverside. That is what Commander Taylor, the Public Information Officer for the Norco center, is telling us. Those nasty Muslims up in Riverside.

I couldn't believe it either, so I called up Stefanie Frith, the reporter who wrote the article. She confirmed that the quote was accurate -- and that the supposed threat from Riverside really was taken seriously by the Navy.

When your humble Inland Anti-Imperialist read this article for the first time, he happened to be sitting in a Starbucks which was just around the block from the Islamic Center of Riverside. So I skedaddled over there to see if I could ferret out some of these fundamentalists plotting to attack the Norco base under the guise of dogwalkers or fishermen.

I'd never spent much time in a mosque before, and it was foreign to my mainstream Christian upbringing. However, what was not foreign was the warmth in which this strange white man was greeted by the people who were there to worship. One young man -- as American as myself, as he was born and raised here too -- kindly let me follow him around as he did his ceremonial washing before prayers, and answered some of my questions. My goal was to meet with Mustafa Kuko (whose name I may have mangled), the leader of the center, but unfortunately he was not there.

I did get to meet with a number of other people, though. Many of them came from other countries originally, but now live, work, and worship here in America as do the rest of us. I told them why I was there, and about the quote from the Navy in the P-E article. They laughed, but it was a worried laugh -- not because I was "on to" some plot to attack Norco, but because since 9/11 it had become all too apparent how quick "good Americans" would be to scapegoat our brothers and sisters who follow Islam.

Make no mistake about it -- this is religious scapegoating. As a patriotic American who believes strongly in the ideals of our country, I cannot allow this to pass unnoticed -- not by an officer of our military speaking in an official capacity to the press. This is appalling and repulsive, and I will not stand for it.

I have written a letter to the Press-Enterprise, which I am also sending to the Norco base as well as to Secretary Rumsfeld. My P-E letter may not get printed, as they have run one of my letters within the last 30 days and their policy is usually "one letter each month." If you feel as I do about this issue, you may want to send your own letter to the Press-Enterprise. Be sure to follow their directions, and don't just copy what I wrote; use your own words.

My letter follows.

Letter to the editor of the Press-Enterprise:

As an American and a person of faith, I am shocked and appalled at the religious scapegoating of our Muslim brothers and sisters by the U.S. Navy base in Norco. As reported by the Press-Enterprise on February 15, 2003, the Naval Surface Warfare Center has closed the base to dog-walkers and fishermen ("Norco naval center limits public access").

What's the reasoning? The local Muslims in Riverside -- who may attack! -- according to Commander Jeff Taylor of the Norco division. "There might be local people in Riverside aligned with Islamic fundamentalists who would want to attack us," Taylor said, while dismissing fears of an internationally launched attack.

This kind of religious fearmongering is irresponsible and reprehensible -- a direct insult to the people of the Riverside Mosque.

As I read the story for the first time, surfing the Web in a Riverside coffeehouse, I realized that I was only a block from the Riverside Mosque. So I drove over to meet the people who constituted such a supposed threat to our national security.

I saw no signs of imminent attack against Norco. To a person, the people at the Mosque were warm, welcoming, intelligent, and devoutly religious -- in other words, indistinguishable from nearly any other resident of the Inland Empire.

By smearing these good people -- these good Americans -- Commander Taylor does a grave disservice to them, to our country, and to his service. An apology is most definitely warranted.

--Kynn Bartlett

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