The Velveteen Rabbi Stands Up to Islamophobia

Huge “way to go” to my colleague Rachel Barenblat (aka “The Velveteen Rabbi”), who recently posted this story on her blog:

Last week, a drunk man barged into the Al-Iman masjid in Astoria, Queens, and urinated on the prayer rugs. I tweeted about it, horrified at this display of Islamophobia (and also just plain atrocious behavior.) On Thursday, @stumark suggested that we raise money to replace the prayer rugs at the Al-Iman mosque in Queens. On Friday, I posted to this blog and to twitter asking for donations toward reimbursing the mosque for the costs of steam-cleaning their prayer rugs. My hope was to raise a few hundred bucks as a gesture of interfaith good will, a way of showing this one Muslim community that the actions of that drunk man do not represent the beliefs of most Americans.

While it’s a story that begins with a pathetic act of Islamophobia, thanks to Rachel it has a very happy ending. Make sure to read all the way to the end and donate accordingly.

8 thoughts on “The Velveteen Rabbi Stands Up to Islamophobia

  1. Lesley Williams

    Well, sure people were willing to help: it didn’t take much time, money or commitment, and it could be done more or less anonymously. Americans are basically nice people, and we’re good at this kind of “quick fix” social justice. What we are NOT good at is sustained social action requiring us to sacrifice personal comfort or to make major changes in our lifestyle. Unfortunately, systemic, long lasting change requires more than a one time donation.
    Katrina is a great example: while there was a great outpouring of support and energy during the first year, 5 years on little has changed, and most Americans are suffering “compassion fatigue”. Ditto Haiti. If you asked many of the people who donated to those causes if they would be willing to see their taxes increased for relief efforts, or if they would agree to settling large groups of refugees in their communities, I doubt the response would be as positive. How about giving up on carbon-heavy consumer goods that contribute to climate change, and thus hurricanes? Fuhgettaboutit. End restrictive trade policies that favor American goods at the expense of poorer economies like Haiti’s? No way Jose.

    Hate to be Debbie Downer, but these feel-good stories tend to obscure the difficulty of making true change.

    1. Shirin

      What grieves me is that whereas Americans WILL put their money where their hearts are when it comes to natural disasters, they turn very cold indeed toward those who are victims of the man-made disasters brought about by their country’s egregiously vicious and violent foreign policy. Iraq comes to mind in this regard. The United States has gratuitously destroyed that country, its society, its culture, and even the remains of much of its most glorious history, not just since 2003, but going back more than a decade before that. The United States ended and demolished the lives of millions of people, and yet how many Americans even give a passing thought to helping the victims of this decades’-long set of atrocities? On the contrary, they congratulate themselves and complain about their own “sacrifices”.

      Absolutely sickening.

      1. Mary Tappero


        Thank you for your comment about Iraq. Unfortunately, because of the state of our corporate mainstream media, I believe most Americans are terribly unaware of much of what happened to the Iraqis, both as a result of two wars and the sanctions. Not even PBS and NPR covered the sanctions and resulting devastation in depth (NPR repeatedly refused to air “Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq”, a sobering documentary by John Pilger) – though certainly some local newspapers (including The Seattle Times and former Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in my city) did a commendable job of trying to educate people. And that was accomplished in large part due to the tireless work by members of a local interfaith group, particularly Bert Sacks – who is still fighting a $10,000 government fine for taking medicines to Iraq during sanctions. (If any readers are interested, some good (and concise) information on sanctions as well as the devastation from the first Gulf War can be found here):

        How many Americans do you think know anything about this? Very very few, I think.

        To me the problem is not that Americans don’t or wouldn’t care, but rather how best to educate huge numbers of them with no help – and even opposing propaganda – from television networks and even mainstream radio. So very difficult, and totally impossible without the internet.

  2. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


    No argument from me. More fundamental change is and will always be needed. In the meantime, however, when this kind of ugly intolerance rears it’s head, we must be ready to respond in no uncertain terms. It’s only “feel-good” if we believe our job entails no more than this.

  3. Bonnie

    Rabbi Rosen says “it’s only feel-good” if this is the sum total of our task. How do we set an example of doing justice, which is our task?
    When I was working, I worked on some office “good works”, and in guerrilla fashion, sometimes used those to teach people to be more charitable. As I saw it, there were different “levels” of doing good works:
    1. Introductory level: you do it because it makes you feel good.
    2. Next level: you do it because you know it makes someone else feel good.
    3.Higher level: you do it because the action is itself good, whether it makes you feel good, bad, uncomfortable, or pained.
    It’s not a bad thing to invite people to participate at the “introductory level”, it’s a good thing. Perhaps Lesley’s vision of sustained social action, demanding long-term commitment and sacrifice, is an outcome of consistently practicing #1 and #2, and evolving from there.

  4. Ruth Rosen

    Here is an address to help Pakistan:

    PO BOX 5030
    (PHONE 888-392-0392)

    Mark the code E64 for Pakistan on your check.


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