Algeria In Iowa: "Because You Can't Be 'The Other' When You're A Part Of Us"
Muslims in Des Moines discuss GOP hate rhetoric. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register. Front: Abd el-Kader
To ease the pain of this week, a glimpse of the America that should be - the one we thought or at least hoped we inhabited, the one still out there in small, shining, often improbable pockets. Elkader, Iowa - population 1,200-ish - is named for Emir Abd el-Kader, a 19th century Algerian Muslim scholar, soldier, statesman and symbol of interfaith unity, widely admired for his learning and civility, who led a 15-year struggle against the colonial French that the town's founders felt echoed the American Revolution. Today, the town's non-profit Abdelkader Education Project promotes cultural literacy and reconciliation through forums, mosque tours and diversity-themed essay contests for high school and college students - all vital in a once largely white state that now has 22 mosques and up to 70,000 Muslim residents, with more coming all the time.
One of them is Frederique Boudouani, a gay French-Algerian who moved here from Boston with his partner, Iowa native Brian Bruening, shortly after 9/11 when he began feeling the sting of the era's nascent Islamophobia. They started the now-popular Schera's Restaurant and Bar, serving Algerian and American food and an impressive array of beers, on the banks of the Turkey River; they say the river's occasional flooding has been the biggest challenge to their assimilation. "I'm Muslim and I'm gay and I'm not that scary," notes Boudouani, who tremulously cites his belief in the goodness of people and "the Statue of Liberty narrative." In a small town, says Bruening, "You can't be 'the other' when you're a part of us." That truth, of course, will be tested in the coming months. In a hopeful sign, the day after the election saw anti-Trump protests by young people in nearby Iowa City. Their message: "This is not our America."