Controversy brewing over Muslim speaker at Illinois coffee shop

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by Jasmine Huda

KMOV.com

Posted on September 1, 2010 at 9:33 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 2 at 1:08 PM

(KMOV) -- A controversy is brewing at a local coffee shop, and it isn’t over the java. 

The Riverbend chapter of the Coffee Party had planned to host a meeting at Ge-Gee’s café in Bethalto Saturday, September 11.  But members say the owner booted them out after learning one of the group's featured speakers is Muslim.

 

Owner Jim Allen took over Ge-Gee's earlier this summer and said his decision was not based on religion. He said he was not aware the Coffee Party was connected to political discussion. In fact, he said he was somewhat embarrassed to admit that he thought the group was formed to discuss coffee.  In fact, the Coffee Party was formed as the more liberal response to the Tea Party movement.

 

Mike Davis, the organizer of the local chapter of the Coffee Party, said Allen recently called him and explained that the subject of the 9/11 gathering was "too edgy," according to Davis.

 

Allen said all individuals are welcome at his shop. But he said any group, be it the Tea Party or a church group, would need to go elsewhere.

 

"Business is separate from politics and religion for me. And I think that's a good business model. So it's not to alienate any customers, he said," he said.

 

The Coffee Party sees it another way. In the wake of the controversy surrounding the building of a mosque near Ground Zero, members see Ge-Gee's decision as anti-Muslim.

 

"It's justification for doing something that I think is ugly," Davis said.

 

Davis said his group will now meet at a coffee shop in Edwardsville.

 

Dr. Khaled Hamid, the guest speaker, said he was disappointed but not shocked by what happened.

 

"Given the sentiment these days against anything under the label of Islam, it's not very surprising," he said.

 

He added that he sympathizes with a small business owner who may be influenced by others without knowledge about his faith or culture.

 

The Riverbend chapter said it plans to now move its meeting to a local coffee shop in Edwardsville.     

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