Monday, March 13, 2017

Conversion Kings: Religious Proselytizing as the Second Wave of Hate In Tampa

By Dezeray Lyn

It was getting late when I sent the text message.
It was the same sinking feeling I had when I was passed along the flyer about an Arabic Fest giving away free phones, free toys, free money. 
The same frustration when I learned of a Christian conversion movement’s religious proselytism in a grassy section of suitcase city; bird of prey in a field of young, Muslim Refugees.
It was getting late when I sent the text to a person who, I was informed, was sending lengthy messages to Refugees in my community, stating they had previously made their acquaintance and wanted to arrange “small cell groups” to hold Christian fellowship teachings in the Refugee’s living rooms.  (In all cases, the Refugees had no recollection of meeting those texting them.)

Posing as Bibi, a young, Resettled Muslim in Tampa who had gotten one of these messages, I began a half hour text exchange with a person named David Radford.  (He shared his name with me after the third time I requested it.)  He quickly summoned me to his home, to ‘just say hi,’ at 9:16pm.  (Prior to stating his name)

Beyond that, he requested my address numerous times. 
During this conversation, I pretended to be ecstatic about his “small cell group” proposal and stated that I wanted to share the Quran with him, as he wanted to share the bible with me.  His response started with “Ok, um.” 

After a very circular conversation; ‘Bibi’ expressing a commitment to Islam and Radford becoming increasingly frustrated, he proceeded to send me 22 text messages in a row in less than a minute.  Each text with a single word, stating that the meeting would be at his home on his terms and he ended this prolific series with a tense

David Radford then ended his messages with Bibi, the person he believed to be a young, enthusiastic Muslim Refugee with a very unfriendly message stating that “I have a life to attend to.  The more you know God, the more relatable you will be with people. Bye Bye.”   And when I outed myself as not being Bibi, but a person intellectually oppositional to religious predation, he said, “Oh I only say this because I love you.”

And so it is that the deeper phase of xenophobia and disturbingly discriminatory behavior plays out from stage left; not by the nativist Trump supporter groundswell but by those whose discrimination comes layered under the guise of embrace.  Those inviting themselves to the living rooms of the vulnerable to Bible-wash their roots, their Islam, their tradition away.  Conversion kings who, seemingly, have little temper to spare with those who value and embody the teachings of their own Prophet. 

Previous to our abrupt end in dialogue, Radford stated that there were four of these small cell groups currently carrying on in Tampa.  Four living rooms invaded.  Four weekly intrusions into the faith of a people. 
In my community, we have the honor of being highly diverse with a populous including newly arrived people from virtually every continent on the Earth.  That diversity needs to be defended from the anti-Muslim sect who ‘befriends’ Muslims with conversion agendas clenched in closed fists folded up behind their backs. 

Christian privilege, domination and hegemony that continues to prey on Refugee communities needs to be confronted when and where it persists.  David Radford, along with the “Arabic Fest” (there is a legitimate Arabic Festival, however the address listed on the specific flyer referenced in this piece, ambiguous in most ways, sans for desperation baiting with all of its ‘free’ offerings, was traced back to a local, evangelical church) and the small cell groups invading the living rooms of the Resettled are reminiscent of the Bible-washing xenophobia and racism I encountered at the first Trump rally I attended to protest and disrupt. 

Trump’s televangelist pastor Mark Burns promptly took to the podium and declared boisterously that “there are no Black people.  There are no Asian people.  There are no Arab people.  There are no colors.  There is only red, white and blue.”  This is the sort of patriotic rhetoric that fostered in an epic, answered invitation for white nationalists to arise from under their rocks and dip their feet into the socio-political atmosphere to see if the temperature was right.
Attacking the dynamics of oppression includes an explicit struggle against those sidling up to and brushing elbows with the movement welcoming and embracing Muslims and Refugees joining our community as a means to garner a foothold to deploy conversion agendas.

The outrageous arrogance of members of an oppressor nation, in most cases complicit in making other countries the ‘mouth of a shark,’ that people are fleeing from, includes a “disciple making” organization offering Muslim children money to read and memorize bible verses. 
The ‘free money’ bait is just the cementation of the doctrinal pillage of those most desperate and vulnerable, and the pillage in itself is blind to the traumas of displacement, war and violence (experiences in which many turn to their holy texts and spirituality for comfort and healing) the most heinous trait of this ilk. The British-Somali poet Warsan Shire’s piece Home, declared by some to be a rallying call for Refugees, intimates an angst of displacement in a visceral way;
it's not something you ever thought about doing,
and so when you did - you carried the anthem under your breath, waiting until the airport toilet to tear up the passport and swallow, each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back.

Enveloping arms do not seize.  Nor do they porcupine and pressure away the sacred parts of people to suit the height of a holy high horse.  If you are in the business of conversion, you are distinctly not in the community of welcoming. 

 We welcome the extraordinary writer Dezeray Lyn
To Our Team!

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