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Editorial: Our fair city of Willmar is doing just fine, thank you

Policing the misinformation spread via social media is an impossible task. Much of it leaves us simply shaking our heads.

That being said, there are some things so ugly, misinformed, ignorant and just plain hateful toward another religion, it is time to speak up with an intelligent response.

A hateful, misinformed piece circulating on Facebook, email and other social media paints a picture of diversity in Willmar that is distorted at best, and bigoted at worst.

The uninformed statement clearly is gossip — defined as casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true. Frankly, it borders on hate speech, which in this case is defined as attacking a community on the basis of religion.

From what we have tracked down, an elderly woman, formerly from a west central Minnesota town who now lives in Oklahoma, was one of the first individuals to share this item Thursday on Facebook. Then it was shared via Facebook by another woman from another west central Minnesota county. Since then this bigoted story has continued to spread via Facebook, email and other social media.

The original post claims to be sourced to a third person who had just met “a great couple from Willmar” at some Tucson, Arizona, event.

The purported couple — named as the source of this story — claims that Willmar “is going to be totally taken over by Muslims.”

Now a number of individuals — many former Willmar residents — have contacted various West Central Tribune staffers and public leaders this week asking if this “scary Willmar Muslim story” was true. We commend those individuals for trying to find out whether this malicious gossip was true. Kudos to them for not believing as gospel something unsourced as well as bigoted circulating via social media.

What makes something like this alleged story so insidious is there are nuggets of truth, twisted and presented as something negative. It reminds one of the Nazi propaganda against Jews in Germany in the 1930s.

The propaganda piece says an old elementary school has been turned into a mosque.

First, why is this a problem? Willmar has long been proud of its many worship sites within the community. Is this any different than a former Willmar storefront building being used as a place of worship?

Second, while it is true that a building that once was a school is now serving as a mosque, that’s a vast oversimplification of the facts. The building had not been a school for years, had been sold into private ownership and used as a location of business. And when that business closed, the building was vacant and available for sale. A local Islamic society purchased the building to provide a worship place for its members.

A downtown storefront in the center of town with a map of Minnesota in the window that also features the shape of Africa does exist. Again, why is this so scandalous?

Second, the true story is this logo is symbolic of the old and new homes of African immigrants of our city.

This storefront in the center of town actually is home to a successful economic development agency based in Minneapolis, with a branch in Willmar. The business logo of this African Development Center is a drawing of Minnesota made to look like a jigsaw puzzle with one of the pieces in the shape of Africa.

It’s symbolic of the immigrants’ old and new homes — Minnesota and Africa.

The story claims that the Muslims are failing to assimilate in the schools and into the culture of the community. Well, the Muslims immigrants here in WIllmar are pursuing life, liberty and happiness.

Many have found jobs, others have started businesses, most are practicing their religion of their choice and many are raising their families.

How much more American can you be?

East African students have assimilated very well in Willmar Public Schools. They have been part of various athletic teams, including the state champion boys cross country team a couple years ago. Many are getting good academic grades and participating in other activities as well.

This type of bigoted propaganda is just like the December Facebook post, shared more than 3,000 times, in which a woman alleged that a Muslim cashier at a St. Cloud Wal-mart refused to check out a Christian customer unless she removed her cross necklace. Allegedly, the Wal-mart manager backed the cashier’s demand.

When the St. Cloud Times did a fact check of the allegation, both Wal-marts in town denied it happened. No witness to the alleged event could be found, the alleged event could not even be found on security cameras and, finally, the original author who posted the allegation could not provide a name of the customer.

Willmar has been dealing with immigrants since its formation.

Yes, the latest immigrants look different and practice a different religion than the Scandinavian Protestant immigrants of the 19th century. Willmar’s East African community is making contributions to this community, from a viable workforce to economic development to students in our schools. Those are all positive developments.

Much of the current criticism of Muslim immigrants in west central Minnesota and America is based upon fear, ignorance and, for some, just plain bigotry.

So please, just leave Willmar out of your bigoted and untrue stories.

Our fair city of Willmar is changing but it is doing just fine, thank you.

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