The mayor of a Detroit suburb was called a terrorist on Tuesday for saying that a proposed mosque in the city will not cause traffic problems in a row that has seen anti-Muslim protests led by Christians who fled violence in Iraq.
Islamophobia raged at a city council meeting that approved a legal settlement resolving a civil lawsuit and a Department of Justice complaint against the city’s planning commission for denying a mosque proposal in 2015.
The Muslim house of worship was initially rejected after anti-Muslim protests mostly led by Christian Iraqi Americans.
Although demonstrators had residential grievances, including parking and noise, anti-Muslim bias was conspicuous as opponents of the mosque referred to Muslims as killers, terrorists and freeloaders.
The American Islamic Community Center (AICC) sued the city last year, alleging that the mosque project met all legal requirements. The Department of Justice followed with its own lawsuit, accusing Sterling Heights of violating Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).
Sterling Heights is a northern Detroit suburb with a population of more than 130,000. It is home to a large concentration of Chaldeans, an ethno-religious Catholic community native to northern Iraq, where Christian churches and villages have been targeted by the Islamic State (IS) group and other militants since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Both lawsuits compared the proposed size of the mosque with other houses of worship in the city and cited Islamophobic statements by protesters and a member of the planning commission.
Sterling Heights agreed to settle the cases, allowing the mosque to be built at its originally proposed size, but with the height of its minarets slightly scaled down. The AICC will be compensated at least $350,000, with an additional confidential amount negotiated between the Muslim group and the city’s insurance company.
On Tuesday night, more than 200 people flocked to the Sterling Heights city hall to urge officials not to ratify the settlement. There was an orchestrated media blackout among anti-mosque protesters before the hearing began.
A man stood outside the building asking protesters in Arabic and English not to speak to news outlets.