Within hours of a fire bomb at a local mosque, citizens gathered to proclaim that hate was not welcome in Corvallis, Ore.
Local police discovered the arson at the city’s Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center early Sunday morning and quickly responded. The fire destroyed an office, but ignited the community.
Just two days before, 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud—who attended the mosque while a student at Oregon State University—was arrested in Portland, Ore. for an alleged plot to set off a bomb during the tree-lighting ceremony in the state’s most populous city. Local activists fear the Corvallis mosque bombing was retribution for the Portland incident.
“By Sunday afternoon, we were all calling each other, asking ‘How should we organize a response?” said Corvallis citizen Laurie Childers. Many acted individually, she added, by bringing flowers and cards to the mosque.
Led by Judi Kloper, a Not in Our Town coordinator, nearly 60 people gathered the following evening, to discuss how the community of Corvallis would respond to the arson and the suspected act of hate. Though they originally thought they’d help raise funds for the charred mosque, insurance will cover the damage. Instead, they set out to tackle a much deeper issue: building a stronger, inclusive community.
Aware of the original Not In Our Town story in Billings, Mt., the group opted to take a similar approach. Not In Our Town Corvallis was born in that first discussion.
“We are sending a clear message to the whole world, to learn from this small city and the big people here."
Just three days old, the fledgling group has already created a Facebook presence and plans on setting up a listserv, building on their history of community building through another local group, Alternatives to War, which banded together following the Sept. 11, 2001 New York attacks. They envision peace trees planted the site of the mosque, community meals, and conversation cafes that invite the community to regularly gather for informal and meaningful conversation.
By Tuesday, Childers was gearing up for a candlelight vigil at mosque. She printed 300 copies of two posters, “Hate is Not Welcome Here,” their chosen slogan, and “Unity in the Community.”
Despite the pouring rain, more than 300 gathered to show their support, encircling the mosque in a ring of light. As one woman wrote on Facebook, “Candles kept blowing out in the wind and rain and we just kept relighting, sharing from one anothers’ candles!”
The strength of the community’s interfaith ties also shone through. Individuals and groups have condemned both violent acts and vocalized their support of the local Muslim community.
“We are sending a clear message to the whole world, to learn from this small city and the big people here—and the lesson they should know is that people of different races, genders and nationalities are tonight here side by side … supporting each other and caring for each other and loving each other,” said the mosque’s imam, Mohammed Siala, in the Gazette Times.
The FBI is investigating the arson and Oregon State University students have planned a peace rally for Thursday.