Above: Thirteen "American Bikers United Against Jihad" vehicles drive by hundreds of Islamberg supporters in the Delaware County town of Tompkins on Sunday, May 15. Video and photos by Julia Reischel.
A planned motorcycle protest against Islamberg, an African-American Sufi Muslim community in the Catskills, backfired on its organizers on Sunday, May 15, when they were vastly outnumbered by hundreds of cheering Islamberg supporters who gathered to defend the community from charges that it is an “Islamic jihad training camp.”
About 200 to 300 pro-Islamberg demonstrators lined the sides of Roods Creek Road in the Delaware County town of Tompkins at 1 p.m., the time that American Bikers United Against Jihad (ABUAJ) planned to take a “Ride for National Security” past the community’s entrance and the “Islamberg” sign that flanks it.
The purpose of the ride, according to ABUAJ’s website and Facebook event, was to call for the U.S. State Department to designate Islamberg and its parent organization, The Muslims of America, “an international terrorist organization.”
Above: Pro-Islamberg demonstrators line Roods Creek Road.
ABUAJ organizers had told the New York State Police to expect 70 riders, but at the appointed time, amid unseasonable snow flurries, only five motorcyclists and eight other vehicles participated in the ride.
As they drove past the entrance to Islamberg, the ABUAJ bikers passed through a gauntlet of Islamberg supporters waving American flags and chanting, “Freedom, Justice for Islamberg.”
The ABUAJ bikers, as planned, did not stop. The entire ride took less than two minutes.
Still, preparations for the event used up considerable resources. Islamberg officials sent out a fundraising plea right before the event to help cover the costs. More than 20 police officers from the New York State Police participated in the event, according to Major James Barnes, the commander of the New York State Police’s Troop C.
Barnes, who was personally present at the demonstration, said that other officers from other law enforcement agencies were also on standby for the day.
Above: Demonstrators support Islamberg with "Stand for Justice" and "Stop Harassing Muslims" signs.
Barnes said that the ABUAJ riders had the right to assemble peaceably and express their beliefs, and that the group had cooperated with law enforcement throughout the day.
While the ABUAJ protest “fizzled out,” according to Faruq Baqi, an Islamberg spokesman, the hundreds of people who arrived to support Islamberg were making history for the small, once isolated community.
“This is history,” said Ismail Shahid, who was raised in Islamberg, as he surveyed the crowd of supporters at the community’s front gate. Shahid said that the rally and crowd were unprecedented for Islamberg.
“We never had the opportunity to reach out to our neighbors like this,” he said. “There have never been this many guests in Islamberg.”
The gathering, a boisterous, racially diverse affair, was unusual for Delaware County, a largely white, rural region that isn’t prone to public protests.
Above: A demonstrator holds a "Biker Bigots Begone" sign.
Two busloads of Islamberg supporters had come from Oneonta, according to the Daily Star, and others drove from as far away as Albany and as close as the neighboring communities of Hancock and Deposit.
Members of a neighboring but unaffiliated Sufi community in Sidney, the Osmanlı Nakş-ı'bendi Hakkani Dergahı, attended. So did a group organized by a local Unitarian church and reporters from most local and regional newspapers.
Kathy Manley, a lawyer affiliated with the Muslim Solidarity Committee of Albany and Project SALAM, held a sign that said “We Are All Muslim Today.” She had driven to Tompkins with a carload of people from Albany.
“When we heard about this, we said that we wanted to be a part of it,” Manley said.
Above: Kathy Manley, right, holds a "We Are All Muslim Today" sign.
Above: Demonstrators line Islamberg's driveway.
“This is the most life-affirming thing I’ve ever been involved in,” said Nancy Furdock, who lives just over the mountain from Islamberg. Last month, Furdock organized a community forum in the village of Hancock to introduce Hancock residents to Islamberg residents.
Furdock said that although she has lived nearby for 16 years, she didn’t really know Islamberg's residents, “aside from seeing them in the laundromat and the store.”
In February, she decided to change that.
“I kept hearing lies, rumors and vicious attacks against my neighbors,” she said. “I heard all this terrible stuff about them, so I reached out to them. That’s what you do to find out the truth.”
Furdock invited a group of women from Islamberg over to her house, where they had tea. That conversation led to an ongoing friendship. Furdock had a seat of honor at the press conference that followed the demonstrations on Sunday.
Above: State Police deputies line Roods Creek Road after the demonstration.
“I think it’s ignorance”
After the ABUAJ convoy passed Islamberg, the mood of the crowd turned festive. The hundreds of demonstrators walked down Islamberg’s long, rocky dirt driveway to a large white tent that had been erected in a field on the property, where food was served and speeches were made.
Major Barnes of the State Police remained to mingle with the crowd. As he has in the past, he said that rumors that Islamberg is a jihadist training camp are false.
“We have no concerns,” he said, adding that he has personally visited Islamberg many times.
Asked why he thinks that the rumor persists, Barnes said, “I think it’s ignorance. People are uneducated about the community here.”
Above: Demonstrators begin to disperse after ABUAJ riders pass Islamberg.
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Below: A video report by Jessica Vecchione about the demonstrations at Islamberg on Sunday, May 15.