Enclave or assimilate

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I noticed it on Saturday. The men of the local Islamic center were digging holes to put posts in front of the drive for their parking lot. Today I ran by and saw that they are putting bricks down between the poles, leaving just an open space between the two central ones for, I assume, a gate to let vehicles in and out.

The place where the Islamic center now is was a vacant building when my family moved to the community in 2003. That corner had two buildings, an old retail building, and some sort of abandoned office/motel (I was never quite sure). It took until the beginning of 2010 before that began to change. The retail building became the Corner Store, which has managed to thrive over the past seven years.

A bit later the office building was taken over by a group that we gradually learned was an Islamic Center of people who had immigrated from Bosnia. Over the years they slowly made very nice improvements to the lot, always keeping a low profile and not drawing attention to themselves. It took a long time for a sign to go up so we were sure exactly what the group was that had so improved the corner.

But more recently they have started creating a sense of enclave. It started with the slatted wooden fence around the back and sides, that prevented the sort of cutting across the corner lot that people were prone to do. And now they are sealing off the last side of the lot, this time with iron posts and cement blocks. I only saw two levels of blocks when I was going by today, and only on one side of what I took for the gate, but the other side was obviously prepped for the same treatment.

This sort of construction has two possible intentions, not always meant simultaneously: to keep people in, or to keep people out.

Now, practically, they wouldn’t be keeping people in — their people come and go all the time — but creating a place where they stay separate from other people, and don’t assimilate into the national culture, but remain distinct and foreign for generations, that is something I know this group isn’t intending to do. They have people from their leadership attending the local community association meetings, and becoming more active than a lot of the long-time residents.

So my sorrow is that I see this as a sense of keeping people out. They have fear of being attacked themselves, for their difference and religion, and are ensuring their property and people are kept safe.

With the recent event in London, among other events,  they have reason to be concerned that some people will see them, unfortunately, as an appropriate target, and are thus continuing their sense of enclave.

I, for one, don’t want them to gain that sense. They need to know they are welcome in the community, and that we want them to be a part of our greater American culture and community. Unlike some immigrants in some places, they have not moved in and insisted we change our ways to meet their religious laws. To anyone who does that I can only say “nay”. But to those who come to dwell in peace, we should give them peace.

I don’t object to limiting immigrants from countries where terrorism is rife, and putting extra security screenings before letting people in. That is only right and good. But once they are here, they should be treated as free and welcomed, and in return they should show themselves free and open to accommodating and acculturating into the body politic, while adding the strength of their uniqueness to that which is America.

Which is why I hope, and pray, that the whispers of intolerance don’t teach these good neighbors the wrong lessons about America, but that they might continue to open to us, and that we will stay open to them.

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