(CNSNews.com) - A new citizens' group in Boston says it is concerned about the "potential radicalization" of the Boston-area Muslim community.
The group says it wants to keep Boston "hate free," and with that goal in mind, it is calling on the Islamic Society of Boston to "honestly answer concerns" about the "radical Islamist roots of its $22-million Roxbury mosque."
The citizens group, called Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, says it is made up of concerned citizens, academics, and community activists who are Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
Citizens for Peace and Tolerance (CPT) said it is responding to recent media reports "which document a troubling connection between the Islamic Society of Boston and radical Islamists and terrorist organizations, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood."
The Boston Herald has done a number of reports "highlighting the link between four key figures in the Islamic Society and a global web of Muslim radicals," as the newspaper put it. The Islamic Society of Boston calls the Herald's articles misleading and distorted.
Dennis Hale, a Boston College history professor and a spokesman for Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, said his organization believes in the diversity of the Boston community and in the need to promote a climate of tolerance and civil society.
"This is not about a mosque being built in Boston," Hale said. "It is about the potential radicalization of the Boston Muslim community."
Hale said CPT takes pride in Boston's long tradition of welcoming diverse groups of immigrants. But CPT admits it is worried that some of the Islamic Center's founders "may be part of a global and national effort by radicals and extremists to control mosques and radicalize their communities."
Muslims are the main victims of radical Islamists, Hale said in a press release. "Radical Islamists using funding from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have taken over many mosques and now control a significant portion of all mosques in North America," Hale added.
He also pointed to reports indicating that Mosque leaders in various parts of the country may have connections to terrorist organizations.
"This is a disturbing development for moderate Muslims and for peaceful coexistence in our nation and communities," Hale said.
Citizens for Peace and Tolerance was holding a Tuesday morning news conference to air its concerns about the Islamic Society of Boston.
On its website, the Islamic Society of Boston says it practices and promotes "a comprehensive, balanced view of Islam. We strive to embody the 'middle path' to which our scriptures call us -- a path of moderation, free of extremism, and representative of the Islamic vision of a healthy community."
The Islamic Society of Boston says the Boston Herald, since October 2003, has "selectively" chosen what to report, ignoring the facts and the "overwhelming evidence" that neither ISB nor its leaders have any links to terrorism.
Poll shows bias against Muslims
On Monday, an Islamic civil rights group released a poll showing that Americans generally hold negative views of Muslims.
The poll, sponsored by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and conducted by an independent research firm, found:
-- More than one-fourth of survey respondents agreed with stereotypes such as "Muslims teach their children to hate" and "Muslims value life less than other people."
-- When asked what comes to mind when they hear "Muslim," 32 percent of respondents made negative comments. Only two percent had a positive response.
-- Those with the most negative attitudes toward Islam and Muslims tend to be less-educated white males who are politically conservative.
-- General knowledge of Islam is low but the presence of Muslim friends and colleagues drives more enlightened attitudes.
-- African-Americans hold more favorable attitudes about Muslims than do whites.
-- While half of respondents believed that American Muslims are "cooperating" in the war on terror, 50 percent did not believe that they are actively "condemning" terrorist acts.
-- Most Americans believe that the terrorists are misusing the teachings of Islam.
-- About half of Americans hold one or more favorable attitudes about Muslims, such as "Muslims have family-oriented values" and "Muslims have contributed to civilization."
-- Those who believe they are knowledgeable about Islam tend to have more positive attitudes.
Survey results were based on 1000 telephone interviews conducted by California-based Genesis Research Associates between June 23 and July 2, 2004. The poll's margin of error is plus/minus 3.1 points.
"As a nation that values tolerance and equality, we need to recognize the growing anti-Muslim prejudice in our society and join together as Americans to combat this divisive phenomenon," said CAIR Board Chairman Omar Ahmad in a press release.
Ahmad said that CAIR will encourage local Muslim communities across the United States to hold open houses for people of other faiths during Ramadan, the Islamic fast that begins in mid-October.