Shortly after the Islamic Society of Joplin opened a mosque in 2007 in Joplin, a small town in Southwest Missouri, the sign in front was set on fire, an act determined to be arson. On the 4th of July of this year, someone who is undoubtedly a deeply patriotic person was filmed by a surveillance camera throwing a flaming object onto the roof of the mosque in an attempt to burn it down, causing some fire damage (see the video below); despite a $15,000 reward offered by the FBI for information leading to the arrest of those responsible and a clear shot of the attacker’s face, nobody has come forward to identify him.
On Monday of this week — the day after the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin — that same Joplin mosque burned to the ground, completely destroyed by a fire that began in the middle of the night. So powerful was the fire that “only remnants indicated a building had been there, including some stone pillars that were still standing and a few pieces of charred plywood loosely held up by a frame.” Although the cause has not yet been determined, investigators — for obvious reasons — have labeled the fire “suspicious” and are searching for signs of arson. As obviously ugly as these incidents are, they offer an opportunity to make an important statement.
In response to these events, a teenaged member of that mosque, Joplin high school student Laela Zaidi, began using social media such as Reddit to talk about what happened and to discuss the importance of the mosque to her community (it’s not only the town’s only mosque, but the only one within a 50-mile radius, leaving Joplin’s Muslim families with no place to gather for Ramadan); the results of Zaidi’s online efforts (including her defense of her community) are surprisingly moving. In Salon on Monday, Joplin native Susan Campbell described the abundant humanitarianism in the town when it was devastated by a horrendous tornado last year, and called upon residents to tap into those same sentiments now by turning the July 4 attacker into authorities. Local-area churches and synagogues have quickly united in a show of support for the mosque.
Most significantly, a little-publicized online campaign to raise the $250,000 needed to rebuild the mosque has produced extremely quick and impressive results. Yesterday, when Al Jazeera’s The Stream wrote about the then-hours-old campaign, it had already raised 1/5 of the money needed ($51,000). When the campaign was first brought to my attention last night and I tweeted a link to it, it had already raised $75,000. As of this morning, barely 24 hours after the campaign began, just over half of the money needed ($126,000) has been raised. Having this Southwest Missouri mosque be able to quickly raise the money needed to re-build — all from small donations of people on the Internet disgusted by these attacks — would be a powerful statement indeed, and I really encourage everyone who can do so to donate.
Read the full article with updates at Salon.com