A mysterious mailing to Mukilteo residents about a planned mosque has led some to assume it was motivated by Islamophobia. City officials say a major player in the aerospace industry may be behind the postcard.
Mukilteo planning manager Glen Pickus knew something was up when residents started asking for updates about a project before he had even sent out a public notice.
“It’s certainly unusual,” he said. Even more so was a mysterious mass mailing last weekend. “Attention Mukilteo residents,” read the postcard, which contained no name of a sender. “You may be interested to know Mukilteo has received a complete planning application for the construction of a mosque.”
The postcard offered no opinion, but urged those with concerns or questions to call City Hall or email “firstname.lastname@example.org” — an address that led some to assume the mailing was motivated by Islamophobia. Among the roughly 20 people to subsequently call and email the city, just as many were riled up about the postcard as about the planned mosque.
No one has acknowledged sending the mailing or explained why it was sent. But city officials say it appears connected to Peter Zieve, the founder and president of Electroimpact, an aerospace-engineering company and one of Mukilteo’s biggest employers.
Leading the small group trying to build the Islamic Center of Mukilteo is another aerospace engineer: Mohammed Riaz Khan, who works at Boeing. Khan, who lost a run for City Council last year on a platform of keeping Mukilteo a “family friendly community,” said the mosque likely would encourage other Muslims who work at Boeing’s nearby facilities to settle in Mukilteo rather than the Eastside and other areas that have their own mosques.
Those mosques are packed, said Fatah Boualamallah, a member of the planning group and an architect working on the design. And the growing Muslim population — some American-born and some immigrants, such as Khan and Boualamallah, from India and Algeria respectively — led them to believe a new mosque was needed, they said.
The plan was far from secret. Planning group members held a picnic at a local school to introduce themselves to Mukilteo residents. The (Everett) Herald wrote about it.
Pickus has been meeting with the planning group for two years to discuss complications related to the land it bought, on Harbour Pointe Boulevard, which has a wetland and needs a buffer between that and the planned 3,800-square foot building.
It’s been no secret, either, that Zieve has opposed the project. Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said the Electroimpact president brought up the matter several times with her, citing what she characterized as “international and national concerns.” The mayor said Zieve has also held community meetings about the mosque on the Electroimpact campus, about a mile from the project site.
City officials say they connected Zieve with the postcard when a resident forwarded an email exchange he had upon writing to the address given. “Normally we would be very positive, but times are different right now,” the resident wrote mukilteostaysafe, noting that he has a spouse at home in a hospital bed.
“Please call the mayor and explain your concerns,” came the response. On the “from” line was a name: Peter Zieve.
“I have nothing to say,” Zieve said when contacted by The Seattle Times. He hung up.
But a few minutes later, Mukilteo resident Sisay Desalegn called, saying he had been referred by Zieve.
Desalegn said he had become part of a “loose group coming together to raise awareness” about the mosque after getting the postcard, writing to mukilteostaysafe and hearing back from Zieve.
“It’s not like a hate group,” he said.
He said he and others have questions, such as: “What’s our guarantee that the mosque won’t be a place to radicalize people?” He said he comes from Ethiopia, where he has seen radicalized Muslims burn Christian churches and seek to impose Sharia law.
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Kraig Wood, also of Mukilteo, said he has no such fear, chalking up such incidents to a tiny fraction of the worldwide Muslim population. He said he thought the postcard was so “ridiculous” he took a picture and posted it on Facebook, with a comment about how he would be more worried about a Christian church moving in.
“Lately, the people I know who are devout Christians tend to be more hateful or fearful,” he said, referring to their views of Muslims.
Khan, who said he had spoken to Zieve about his concerns but failed to resolve them, shied away from criticizing anyone. “My focus is not him,” Khan said of Zieve. “My focus is on the mosque.”
“If anybody has issues, come talk to us. We’re open,” Khan added.
As for the city, it appears to be staying neutral. Gregerson called Zieve “a very smart man” who had built a highly successful company known as “an engineer’s paradise.” When he raised concerns, she said, she tried to listen and “understand where he’s coming from.”
Nevertheless, the mayor said the city’s role is simply to ensure that land-use codes are met. That will happen during a review process, including a public-comment period, which will begin shortly.
“We can’t and we won’t discriminate,” she said.