By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
When residents in the Bitterroot Valley rallied to persuade Ravalli County commissioners to approve a letter opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the surrounding areas, the wheels began turning at a synagogue back in Missoula.
Around that time, Soft Landing was also working with the U.S State Department to reopen a refugee resettlement office in Missoula. The regional talk of refugees and the off chance that some of them might be Muslim fanned the fires of controversy and saw its share of hateful rhetoric.
“Laurie Franklin, the rabbi at Har Shalom, had picked up on a lot of the anti-Muslim sentiment and decided to send out an email,” said Clem Work. “With that – in addition to the national anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail – she suggested we get together to form a group to see what we could do to combat this Islamophobia.”
Standing Alongside America’s Muslims, or SALAM, was born.
The Missoula-based group, of which Work is a member, has grown over the past few months by launching a Facebook page and incorporating a cross-section of religions. Later this month, the group will host its first “Celebrate Islam Week” in an effort to do what its acronym suggests by standing with the community’s Muslim residents.
“We want to push back against what we perceive as a rising tide of Islamophobia and counter it through conversation, and by projecting an image of what is undoubtedly the majority belief and the majority support of Islam as a religion,” Work said on Tuesday.
Work proudly notes the group’s composition, describing it as a little bit of everything. In that sense, he said, it represents America itself. He’s a self-proclaimed Episcopalian while Franklin is Jewish. Some members are Catholic and some are agnostic. SALAM also claims several Muslims, including Jameel Chaudhry and Samir Bitar.