January 7, 2020

2019: Another challenging year for American Muslims

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

*   Republican candidate’s letter calls for Rep. Ilhan Omar to be hanged
Florida Republican candidate, George Buck, in a fundraising letter called that Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar be executed by hanging. Washington Post wrote: We should hang’ Ilhan Omar, GOP House candidate says while seeking donations.  (Dec 4)

*   Muslim NJ mayor detained at JFK airport: 'Did you meet with terrorists?'
The Muslim Mayor of Prospect Park, N.J., Mohamed Khairullah, was profiled for hours at JFK International Airport in New York and questioned due to being Muslim by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. He was questioned about his travels overseas and specifically whether he visited any "terrorist cells" or met with any "terrorists. (Sept 13)

*  Flight of two Muslims canceled because crew 'didn't feel comfortable' flying with them
American Airlines flight of two Dallas-area Muslim men was canceled because the crew "didn't feel comfortable" after they waved to one another boarding a flight from Birmingham to DFW International Airport. Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh, a motivational speaker from Irving, and Dallas nonprofit leader Issam Abdallah said when they got off, they said they were trailed by law enforcement officers, interviewed by an FBI agent and had their bags searched again. (Sept 19)

*   40% of Muslim Students in California Experience Bullying, Discrimination
The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) in October published a new report documenting faith-based bullying and discrimination of Muslim students in California schools. The report reveals that Muslim students are bullied at more than twice the rate of the national statistic. According to the responses received for the new report, 40% of respondents reported being bullied for being Muslim, which is double the national statistic for students being targets of school bullying. (Oct 16)

These stories symbolize the dilemma of the seven-million American Muslim community which remains at the receiving end with President Trump’s demonization of Muslims to bigotry, to hate crimes, to widespread discrimination, to media coverage that links Islam with terrorism.

Tellingly, attack on Muslims and their faith is coming from our top political leadership. I mean from our President. Yes, our President Donald Trump.


On July 14, President Trump sent three racist tweets against four Democrat congresswomen saying  “go back and help fix” the countries he said they “originally came” from before trying to make legislative changes in the USA. Two of the congresswomen were Muslim, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Ilham Omar of Minnesota. The other two Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts are of African-American background. 

President Trump at a campaign rally on July 18 doubled down on his racist remarks about the four progressive congresswomen of color, casting them as an existential threat to modern American society and saying "let them leave."  As he took direct aim at Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, a defiant Mr. Trump was buoyed by the raucous crowd, which chanted "send her back!" 

Interestingly, the president claimed that the four Democratic congresswomen "originally came" from foreign countries but only Omar was born outside the U.S. Pressley, an African American, was born in Ohio. Ocasio-Cortez, of Puerto Rican heritage, was born in New York. Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, was born in Detroit. Omar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Somalia, a country she and her family fled from because of a civil war and ethnic strife.

Discrimination against Muslims and hate crimes

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, reported over 500 incidences of anti-Muslim bias or harassment just till May. Amid Trump’s Islamophobic and racist rhetoric Pew Research Center reported sharp rise in discrimination against Muslims. According to the Pews Survey released in April, Muslims, in particular, are seen as facing more discrimination than other groups in society.

In October, the CAIR-NY filed a federal discrimination complaint on behalf of Sudanese Muslim engineer against International Design Services, Inc. (IDS) for racial, religious and national origin discrimination and the creation of a hostile work environment. According to the complaint, the Muslim employee was subjected to months long pattern of harassment, intimidation, proselytizing, and threats. The Muslim worker was subjected to a “bootcamp” training program designed to harass him. His supervisor regularly yelled at and make physical and verbal threats and demeaning comments.

On the other hand, Washington-base Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) annual poll also found that Muslims remain the most likely group to report experiencing religious discrimination. 

At the same the Muslim community remains victim of bigotry and hate crimes. Few examples:

Hate Crimes against hijab wearing Muslim women is very common. In February a man spit on a woman wearing a hijab in Long Island City. A Woman wearing hijab was pepper sprayed in face on 4th of July in Kandiyohi County (Minnesota). In January, a Muslim woman from Oklahoma said an attacker pulled her hijab and told her to “go back to [her] country”

A billboard advertising an Islamic art exhibit at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa (Oklahoma) was vandalized. The billboard featured a piece of ceramic pottery and text that read, "1,200 years of Islamic Art." Someone wrote "HOME GROWN TERROR!" in black spray paint on the billboard and the one below it.

William Patrick Syring, 61, of Arlington, Virginia, was sentenced in August to 60 months in prison for threatening Dr. James J. Zogby president of the Arab American Institute (AAI) and other AAI employees because of their race and national origin.

Attack on mosques

In the Islamophobic environment attacks on mosques are not uncommon. In November, surveillance video at Salaam Mosque in Northeast Minneapolis showed an individual smashing a glass door in the mosque.

Perhaps in the first attack on a mosque in the USA directly linked to the massacre of worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, a mosque in the Southern California city of Escondido was briefly lit on fire on March 24 in an apparent arson attempt. The blaze was extinguished by members of the Islamic Center of Escondido, and no one was injured. The suspect in an arson attack left behind graffiti referencing the deadly attacks of New Zealand killing 51 worshipper.

In May, there was an arson attack on the Turkish Mosque in the city of New Haven, Connecticut.
Turkish officials said the fire started at the mosque's entrance and reached the third floor through the exterior side of the building. "There was no loss of life or injury in the fire, but it is determined that the mosque has suffered large-scale damage.”

In May also, a Queens, New York, man was indicted on hate crime charges for allegedly trashing a mosque during an anti-Muslim tirade. And a Florida man was arrested for allegedly targeting a mosque and threatening to kill Muslims.

In January, two men have pleaded guilty in federal court to bombing a Minnesota mosque and attempting to bomb a women’s health clinic in Illinois. Prosecutors say the two men and another man accused in the case were part of an Illinois militia group that called itself  “White Rabbits.” The U.S. Justice Department last year charged Michael McWhorter, Joe Morris and a third man, Michael Hari, with using an explosive device to damage the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn., in 2017.

Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Bigotry against Muslims is now pervasive and considered normal in the US society. Tennessee’s Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott posts a series of anti-Muslim comments on Facebook. In his Facebook posts, Northcott stated: Islam is an evil belief system.

The Sussex County (New Jersey) Republican Committee ran a Twitter page filled with offensive comments including a call to "eradicate Islam from every town, city, county and state in our homeland." The Twitter account includes retweets of memes with hateful language about Muslims and specifically about Muslim Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, calling them in one case "the enemy within."

"Islam is a growing threat in the United States of America," said Pastor Dr. Donald McKay, head minister at Bloomfield Hills Baptist Church, Michigan. It was written on the flier for an event on Sept 11 and 12. "I am an Islamophobe, I wear that badge proudly," he said adding: "We don't hate Muslims, we hate the ideology they are identified with." "We believe that Muslims, committed Muslims, that are familiar with their faith are committed really to the overthrown of the United States and to world domination," McKay said.

US charities fund fringe Islamophobia network

American philanthropic organizations, including mainstream foundations, have funneled tens of millions of tax-free dollars to anti-Muslim groups influencing public opinion and government policy all the way up to the White House, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights group said in a report in May.

In a report called Hijacked by Hate: American Philanthropy and the Islamophobia Network, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) documented how 1,006 charitable foundations provided nearly $125 million to 39 anti-Muslim groups between 2014 and 2016, the dates of the latest publicly available tax filings.

Whither Pluralism in the USA? Rise of white nationalism

Pluralism still remains a far cry in the USA where Christian evangelism and conservatism got rejuvenated by the presidency of Donald Trump, says author Dr. Habib Siddiqui. “More than a quarter of Americans identify themselves as evangelists who see themselves as Jesus Christ’s soldiers for making the USA a Christian nation. Eighty percent of white evangelicals voted for and, by and large, continue to support President Trump. While such a support from the conservative wing of Christianity may seem like a fundamental contradiction, but to Trump’s faithful supporters, it is Providence at work in human history. They believe in Trump, and like any blind believers, they will not change their allegiance to him no matter what the ‘liberal’ media say about their beloved president.” 

It’s becoming a pattern with President Donald Trump: downplaying the seriousness of violence associated with white nationalism. A reporter asked Trump if he saw a global rise in white nationalism following reports that the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter was steeped in the ideology.

Trump responded: "I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess, if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s a case. I don’t know enough about it yet."

According to PolitiFact, documenting incidents of white nationalism can be challenging. Nevertheless, data from multiple sources suggest extremist attacks associated with white nationalism and far-right ideology is on the rise. 

High-profile incidents in recent years include the mass shootings at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and at a black church in Charleston, as well as pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats.

Trump’s statements about the "fine people" on both  sides at the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., march, as well as his travel ban which lists several Muslim-majority nations, have all drawn more attention to reports about extremism.

The key question in determining whether an incident is driven by white nationalism is whether the perpetrator subscribed to the ideology as seen in organizational connections, social media or a personal manifesto.

That isn’t as clear as it sounds. There is no single definition of white nationalism, partly because of debatable overlap among white nationalists, the alt-right, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. Attempts to define these groups prompts more debate.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s growing list of hate groups, for example, has critics who say it maligns some conservative groups that are not extremists. The center says that the number of white nationalist groups  surged from 100 to 148 in 2018, noting that the groups have largely retreated from activism following the rally in Charlottesville. [PolitiFact]

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Executive Editor: Abdus Sattar Ghazali


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