Background: summary

The Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) was founded by local students in 1981, and has since grown to become a key institution in Boston's Muslim community. Currently based in an overcrowded building in Cambridge, MA, the ISB began to construct a new mosque and cultural center in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood in 2003.

Shortly after the groundbreaking, a series of media and legal attacks was launched against the ISB. The Boston Herald and Fox 25 TV played on the general climate of fear and misunderstanding regarding Islam to smear the ISB. Through false accusations and the logic of “guilt by association,” an avowedly moderate group with a history of interfaith cooperation was presented as a potentially extremist organization with links to terrorism. The Herald went so far as to print a photo of Osama bin Laden below a picture of the ISB's Cambridge mosque.1

A lawsuit challenging the sale of land for the new mosque was also filed, apparently at the behest of a politically conservative Jewish organization called "The David Project."2 While the suit technically challenged the City of Boston's sale of land to the ISB at a discounted price, it seems that a larger political agenda was the real motive.3

The lawsuit and media allegations damaged the reputation of the ISB, intensified the climate of fear, and caused donations toward the new mosque to decrease dramatically. With ongoing construction efforts stalling, the ISB filed a lawsuit charging Fox 25, the Boston Herald, and the David Project with “defamation and an unlawful civil conspiracy to stop the construction of the mosque in Roxbury.”4

Following attempts at mediation, the presidents of Hebrew College and Andover Newton Theological School proposed a settlement to the ISB and the David Project. The organizations were asked to terminate lawsuits, publicly condemn terrorism, affirm the right of all communities to build houses of worship, and work together to create an interfaith center.5 The ISB agreed to halt the lawsuit against the David Project, but the David Project refused to respond to the proposal.6 The ISB has also accepted a more recent proposal to suspend all litigation in favor of mediation. Once again, the David Project has not responded.7

Notes

  1. Boston Herald, “Radical Islam,” 10/28/03.
  2. The Jewish Advocate has reported that, “members of the David Project played a role in bringing about [the suit]” (3/9/06). And in an email sent in 2004, Anna Kolodner, then Director of Education for the David Project, wrote, “[attorney] Evan Slavitt is preparing to file a lawsuit. The BRA [and other groups including the ISB] will be the defendant and we have identified a viable plaintiff.” (Emphasis added. MA Superior Court Civil Action 05-4637, plaintiffs’ amended filing, document FOX 06470.)
  3. In the email cited above, Kolodner notes that, "Filing the lawsuit will serve to trip the switch on the larger agenda of exposing the radical fundamentalist underpinnings of the Mosque and its leaders.” The suit was dismissed by the Suffolk Superior Court in February 2007, though an appeal is anticipated.
  4. Several other defendants are also named. The full complaint is available at www.SupportTheMosque.org/background/isbsuit
  5. The text of the proposal is available at www.SupportTheMosque.org/background/proposedsettlement
  6. The Boston Globe, “Schools try to patch rift in mosque project,” 12/30/06. See also the Jewish Advocate, “ISB offers to suspend lawsuit vs. Israel group,” 3/9/06.
  7. The Jewish Advocate, “Reconciling ISB lawsuit,” 3/25/07. See also ISB statement at www.isboston.org/v3.1/viewitem.asp?DocID=4804