Islamophobia holiday

Talk about bad timing. Eid al-Fitr, the three-day celebration that concludes the month of Ramadan, ends on an unfortunate date this year: Sept. 11. And that is causing problems for some planned celebrations like the customary Eid festival that was canceled in Fresno. It's also going to give me a chance to discuss another Mitchell Landsberg story for the Los Angeles Times:

"We thought it might be misunderstood and create a wave of attacks on our faith and community," said Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini, the center's religious leader. "It's really just a community celebration that happened to occur on 9/11. ... The way some local media outlets are attacking our faith and community created a serious fear among members of this community."

Muslims around the country are expressing similar concerns about the timing of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan and is marked by celebration and gift-giving.

For those keeping score, Landsberg has had a difficult run since taking over the LAT's neglected religion beat. The good is here; the bad is here, here, here, here and here.

Certainly, this story about Eid celebrations has its shortcoming too. At first I thought it was pretty solid, but each time I combed over it I was more troubled by missing voices, thin "trend" demonstration and dominance of the near-Ground Zero Mosque narrative in this story.

To start, the quote right after the this-is-a-national-trend paragraph is fairly rote comment from a CAIR spokesman blaming Islamophobia. To be sure, Islamophobia is real. But I don't really see the connection here.

While Hooper's is a voice readers have come to expect in a story like this -- a cheap quote offering an unsurprising insight, a la going to Tony Perkins with a story about evangelicals and abortion -- the other voices here are very limited. Dedicated not to the timing of Eid al-Fitr so much as the national sentiment toward Islam, Landsberg quotes only polar opposites: either anti-Islam extremists or those promoting tolerance and appreciation of Muslim traditions.

This story also might be overgeneralizing a bit. The Fresno festival is the only one known to have been canceled. And the Muslims around the country expressing similar concerns seem to just be Maher Hathout, "a physician who is a senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles." (No mention is made of his notoriety, though I don't think any was needed.)

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has compared the plans for the center to Japan erecting a building next to Pearl Harbor.

The controversy has contributed to what some Muslims and others say is a recent upsurge of anti-Muslim sentiment in this country. There have been demonstrations against a number of plans to expand or build mosques, including one in Temecula; and a Florida church has declared Sept. 11 to be "International Burn a Koran Day."

The debate has entered political contests around the country, and some Muslim leaders contend there has been an orchestrated campaign to motivate conservative voters through anti-Islamic fervor. "It has a lot to do with the ramp-up of the election cycle," said Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs of the Islamic Center of Southern California.

Indeed, more is going on here than just the NYC mosque and the Fresno Eid festival. But it's not really discussed.

In that vein, this feels not like a bird's-eye-view trend story but like two smaller stories sandwiched together -- a localizing of the NYC mosque story with a very interesting hook about some bad timing. Unfortunately the story of those stories that's already gotten a lot of attention ends up overwhelming what intrigued me when I read the headline "Muslims fear backlash as festival falls near Sept. 11."

PHOTO: Eid meal, via Wikipedia

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