Fire Destroys Large Part of Seattle Mosque, What I’m Seeing in the Hours After

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The Islamic Center of the Eastside on Seattle’s eastside in Bellevue, WA. Top photo from KOMO TV, bottom photo from Bellevue Fire Department and KUOW radio.

There are a lot of questions and few answers. As of the morning of January 15, 2017, it’s unclear what or who started this fire. Police did arrest a man who was lying on the ground behind the mosque. News reports say only one day earlier authorities charged a man with a hate crime for threatening members of the same mosque back in October. No one was inside when it happened. No one got hurt. But, the fire destroyed a large part of this mosque in our city.

I’m writing about this here because we cannot look at this and let it seem normal. No, we must stop, look, and act. This is our community and we can make a difference.

I found out about the fire after reading my Facebook feed while my friend Alex and I drove to Snoqualmie Pass to snowshoe. I have to say, my immediate gut response was, “I can’t fucking believe what I’m reading.” 

Only minutes after reading the initial report from a local TV station, I got my first email in what would be, by day’s end, a long string of messages between Neighborhood Action Coalition (NAC) organizers and members as they sorted out best immediate actions to show solidarity with our Muslim neighbors, and to help the mosque’s community. The first email was short and urgent:

“This seems like a clear call to action. In addition to helping to fund the buildings, what other actions can we take to help out?”

NAC organizers also went public with messages like this on Facebook:

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And, another organizing group that’s formed across our city, Pantsuit Nation Seattle, posted messages like this:

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A crowd-sourced fundraising webpage had raised almost $130,000 for the mosque’s members within 24 hours:

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I couldn’t help but think that the reaction to this fire–especially the way NAC communicated and organized a response–was the first big test of all the groundwork that’s being laid by trying to connect with our neighbors during regular NAC meetings, which can be difficult. We have to keep showing up to our NAC meetings, connecting with our neighbors and organizing.

And, we have to organize because we cannot normalize what we are seeing. We have to organize because of warnings like this from Americans for Refugees and Immigrants that was posted on Facebook in response to the fire:

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