'Unprecedented' rise in anti-Muslim backlash in US post Paris attacks

Since November 13, CAIR has documented dozens of anti-Muslim incidents


Afp November 26, 2015
A protester holds an American flag and a sign as he stands outside the Islamic Community Center on May 29, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK: Acts of vandalism against mosques, anti-Muslim threats and fear have reached an unprecedented level in America since the Paris attacks, fueled by right-wing intolerance in the presidential campaign, activists say.

"In such a short period - it's what makes it unprecedented," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, the country's largest Muslim civil liberties group.

How the Paris attacks are affecting Muslim children

Since November 13, CAIR has documented dozens of anti-Muslim incidents, including shots fired at the Meriden mosque in Connecticut, vandalism at an Islamic center in Pflugerville, Texas, where the door was smeared in excrement, and graffiti at an Islamic center in Omaha, Nebraska.

In Texas alone half a dozen infractions have been reported: the outside lights and door of a mosque in Lubbock were broken; in Corpus Christi, the Islamic center received a threat calling on worshippers to convert to Christianity "before it was too late."

Muslim faithfuls take part in a morning prayer to start their Eid al-Fitr celebrations on a field at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York on July 17, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

In Irving, Texas protesters gathered outside an Islamic center to denounce "the Islamization of America." And a man in military fatigues, carrying a large backpack and an American flag, barged into a mosque in San Antonio to berate worshippers.

That incident prompted a school attached to the mosque to cancel classes and revise its security measures.

Islam, beyond the stereotypes

CAIR says shots were fired on the house of a Muslim couple in Orlando, Florida, a woman wearing a headscarf was called a "terrorist" in Cincinatti, Ohio and a Christian Ethiopian taxi driver mistaken for a Muslim was beaten and threatened by a passenger in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"We had spikes in anti-Muslim hate crimes, but over longer periods, and not so concentrated," said Ibrahim.

Mainstreaming of hate 

After the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, there were also "a lot, but there was also a lot of support for the Muslim community," he said. "We are not seeing that so much any more."

US President George W. Bush during a tour of the Islamic Center of Washington, DC on September 17, 2001. PHOTO: AFP

Just six days after the September 11 attacks, president George W Bush visited a mosque, where he spoke against the harassment of US Muslims and Arabs, and called for respect of Islam.

"President Obama has never been to an American mosque," Ibrahim told AFP, recalling Bush's visit.

Activists say the anti-Muslim rhetoric, already high after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January, is being fueled by extreme right discourse by Republicans in the election campaign.

"I think we are seeing the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim hate... that gives a false sense of legitimacy to those who would carry out hate crimes," Ibrahim told AFP.

Post office worker arrested for spitting on hijab-wearing women

He accused political leaders of not responding and of "not pushing back against this rise in anti-Muslim hate."

Donald Trump, the billionaire Republican frontrunner in the race for the White House, said at a recent rally that Arab people in Jersey City had celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

"Thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down," he alleged.

The comments sparked a furious backlash from Jersey City, rival presidential candidates and fact-checkers.

But Trump stuck to his guns. He prompted further outrage with a call for all Muslims to be registered in a government database.

Muslims worried 

Half the nation's governors have declared Syrian refugees persona non grata, and last week the House of Representatives voted to suspend Syrian and Iraqi refugee arrivals until a stricter vetting process is in place.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, number two in the Republican race, has compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.

Imam Shamsi Ali, director of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, New York, said the Paris attacks had a "very negative impact" on the Muslim community, particularly in campaign season.

"Muslims are worried," he told AFP, saying the worry extended to the Muslim community across the border in Canada.

Protestors gather on the steps of the state capitol to protest Governor Jay Inslee's welcoming of refugees in Olympia, Washington on November 20, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

While there had been no incident, he said he asked the police for extra security at the Islamic center, and had been "very happy" with the way police had responded.

There are an estimated seven to 10 million Muslims in America.

"This kind of rhetoric is not American," Ali said. "This country respects the right of everybody to live and practice their religion. This country embraces immigrants," he said.

"Our loyalty to this country is not less than anybody else."

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