On Monday, the Islamic Society of Joplin – the only mosque within 50 square miles of Joplin, Missouri – burned to the ground in what authorities suspect was a hate-fueled arson attack.

This painful incident occurred a mere 24 hours after the Sikh temple massacre in Wisconsin, and the two tragedies broadcast to America (and to the world) the dangerous depths of Islamophobia and hatred for the other by white extremists in this country.

However, a different message is now being broadcast in Joplin, a town which just last year demonstrated its strong communal spirit in the wake of a devastating tornado. And it is a stirring message of tolerance and a rejection of hatred, a message that’s being delivered in the form of both communal support and the sudden success of a donation campaign to help rebuild the mosque.

Local religious institutions have stepped forward, showing an outpouring of support and offering communal spaces where citizens can hold an iftar – the meal which breaks the day’s fast during Ramadan.

But perhaps the most amazing element has been the sudden success of an online fundraising campaign to rebuild Joplin’s mosque. In less than 24 hours (at the time of this writing), nearly $160,000 of the $250,000 needed to rebuild Joplin’s mosque has been pledged, with donations from across the country (and world) continuing to pour in.

And much of this is due to a Joplin high school student, Laela Zaidi, who wrote beautifully of her community and of the need for interfaith understanding in a Reddit post that received much attention and directed readers to the fundraising site. (Watch Zaidi speaking with Al Jazeera’s “The Stream” yesterday.)

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The United States is suffering from a widespread Islamophobia that we have allowed to infect our post-9/11 psyche, manifesting itself in arson attacks, Michelle Bachmann conspiracy theories and profiled surveillance initiatives.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote this morning:

Islamophobia in the United States is pervasive and intense, and worse, is as ignored and tolerated as it is destructive. The greatest harm from these incidents is not to the property they damage. It’s the climate of fear that is created for Muslims living in the United States. As I’ve written about before, it’s hard to put into words how palpable and paralyzing this fear is in American Muslim communities. It’s infuriating to behold: perfectly law-abiding citizens and legal residents feeling – rationally and accurately – that they are subjected to constant surveillance, monitoring, suspicion, denial of basic rights, hostility and worse solely because of their religion and ethnicity.

This happens because overt expression of Islamophobia is, far and away, the most accepted form of bigotry in mainstream American precincts.

Which is precisely why supporting Joplin’s Muslim community is so critical, for doing so will send a clear message countering the streams of hate running through this country.

A message directed not just at those who harbor such hatred, but a message to Muslims in this country that such hatred will not be tolerated.

It’s a message you can help send by donating and helping Joplin to rebuild its only place for Muslims to worship, together.

Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG


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