During Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, a mechanic for the Mount Vernon Fire Department says Muslims should be banned from public office and positions of power in a Facebook rant Wednesday, April 29th that has since been removed.
Robert Versace’s statement (see below) is nothing less than Islamophobia which is by definition the fear, hatred of, or prejudice against the Islamic religion or Muslims.
“A statement like this is reprehensible and does not reflect the values of the City of Mount Vernon or my administration. Our city is not only diverse but inclusive and we will not tolerate hate speech and bigotry,” Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard told Black Westchester. “We are in the process of expanding staff training to include implicit and explicit bias and other critical topics. As this is a personnel issue, we will be addressing this incident internally.”
This comes at a time when leaders in the community are trying to build bridges between Muslims and Christians and this individual post these racist and bigoted comments that can only lead to further burning down bridges between the two major monotheistic religions.
“Please understand that there is great unity of God as a common element between Christians and Muslims. Christians and Muslims Pray to the Living God. If one relativizes differences, then the significance of the concept of difference will be undervalued,” Rev. Jeffrey Wheeler, Pastor of Mt. Calvary (The Promise Church), who held a Day of Unity Service, Sunday, November 10, 2019 where the late Min, Hafeez Adbul Muhammad of Muslim Mosque #7 in Harlem, preached to his congregation. “However, differences do not do away with the meaning that one can experience in-depth in the encountering of one another. True Christians realize that the God of Muslims is not an idol, not a creature, not a lofty idea, but the God in whom Christians also believe. We Stand Before one God,”
This bigoted statement should not be tolerated any more than Anti-Semitic behavior we saw rising around the holidays at the end of 2019. Despite the opinion of this uninformed individual, Islam is a real religion practiced by Muslims. The First Amendment does in fact guarantee freedoms concerning religion for Muslims and every other religious belief. This statement is also against the city’s social media policy that forbids statements like this on and off duty. A black Mount Vernon Firefighter was Suspended After Allegedly Posting Support of Dallas Gunman in 2016 and many feel this FDMV mechanic who is white should at the very least be suspended if not outright fired.
“The Westchester Coalition Against Islamophobia (WCAI) calls upon all clergy, public officials and the citizens of Westchester County to support the Muslim community during this holy month of Ramadan. Together we wish them a Ramadan Mubarak. It is unfortunate during this holy month that a city employee of Mt. Vernon and mechanic of the FDMV would post on social media comments that reveal an ignorance of Islam and Islamophobia. The comments are un-American and also show an ignorance of the Constitution and the First Amendment granting Freedom of Religion to all and the right of every citizen has to hold public office or assume positions of authority regardless of his or her religious affiliation,” the grassroots association shared with Black Westchester in a statement. “WCAI invites clergy, public officials and other social justice groups and citizens of Westchester in condemning these comments and any other acts or words of hate, or vandalism towards the Muslim community here in Westchester County and throughout the country. The individual making these comments has clearly not joined with the Muslim community in breaking the fast during the many Iftar dinners that would normally take place during this holy month of Ramadan.”
The City of Mount Vernon, the home of Betty Shabazz has a rich Muslim history, including elected its first Muslim City Court Judge in 2016. Mount Vernon also has a Muslim Fire Chief Al-Farid Salahuddin and Muslim firefighters.
“As the Fire Commissoner I am taking this matter very seriously and will not tolerate any member of the department attacking any religious group(s) regardless of said individual(s) posting anything on their own personal social media account… this unacceptable rhetoric will be addressed immediately…,” Fire Commissioner Deborah Norman tells Black Westchester. “MV Fire Department is very diverse with members of all religions, race, ethnicity and gender. This individual’s postings/views and or opinions in no way reflects the views of the Mt Vernon Fire Department it’s members or administrators period.”
How can this man who has such disdain for Muslims and doesn’t even respect Islam as a real religion – but a cult and a threat to his way of life – be trusted to perform his duties as a mechanic in a department with Muslim firefighters?
“It’s a shame in 2020 with the worst plague known to us, that we still have thinking that our Great Orator Frederick Douglass stated ‘that you claim Christianity from your lips but your actions would shame a nation of savages.’ Al Islam has never been a cult or an enemy to American freedom, but a faith, a religion of peace and good will towards all men,” Imam Musa Y Abdul-Ali MPA, Resident Imam of Yusuf Shah Islamic Center shared with Black Westchester. “Al Islam has deep roots even in our American Constitution. One of our Nation’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, ulitilzed the Qur’an in drafting up America’s most important document. Al Islam claims the same message of Love, hope and service to all people. Therefore his statement has no place in our Society.”
Fear of, and discrimination against, Muslims is on the rise nationwide, according to a 2019 report by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The study includes an annual Islamophobia Index, conducted in collaboration with Georgetown University. It showed that negative public opinion of Muslims has increased in the United States.
There should be no room for bigoted statements made by city workers in a minority majority city like Mount Vernon. One would hope the current administration will not take this lightly.
“We are disappointed that this has happened especially considering that this is the sacred season of Ramadan,” Mayor Patterson-Howard said in closing.
In the spirit of Ramadan I wanted to end of a good note. Despite this uninformed and bigoted individual one of the greatest qualities of Mount Vernon is its diversity.
“Standing together helps Christians and Muslims in that it is God who is binding them together, and the encounter between them is God’s gift,” Rev Wheeler shared in closing. “This encounter helps Christians and Muslims to live their profound differences in mutual respect. When Christians and Muslims seek to live their relationship with God in such a conscientious way, they are together with their differences, and, thus, they become brothers and sisters.”
Stay tune to Black Westchester for more on this developing story.