Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, May 2010
Alarming Rise in Hate Crimes Against American Muslims
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Al-Jazeera, ccun.org, May 24, 2010
Recent weeks have witnessed a dramatic increase in violent acts against Arab and Muslim Americans. These incidents involve acts of domestic terrorism, vandalism, intimidation, and discriminatory campaign tactics.
A pipe bomb explodes outside the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, during the Isha/evening prayers (1).
The Islamic Association of Michigan (Masjid Umar-bin-Khattab) in Brownstown, Michigan, is vandalized twice this month (2).
An art exhibit by a Muslim graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is defaced and vandalized (3).
An 18 year-old male is brutally beaten by officers from an Illinois Police Station in retaliation for his mother's attempt to file a complaint against the way her son had been treated (4).
In San Diego, a white man uses racial slurs during assault on Afghan-American taxi driver(5).
On the night of May 10, someone discreetly walked around the grounds of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, in Jacksonville, carrying a gas can which he quickly lit and ran away. Minutes later, as more than 60 people prayed inside, the pipe bomb exploded in a ball of flames and set part of the building on fire. Thankfully, nobody was injured and the fire was put out by frightened worshippers using a fire extinguisher. Currently, the FBI is investigating the incident as a possible act of domestic terrorism.
"It was a dangerous device, and had anybody been around it they could have been seriously injured or killed," FBI Special Agent James Casey told a local news station. "We want to sort of emphasize the seriousness of the thing and not let people believe that this was just a match and a little bit of gasoline that was spread around."
Not surprisingly, the attack has received little to no attention from the national media outlets. Media coverage has for the most part been restricted to Florida and that there have been no public condemnations of the bombing at the national level. If the fire bombing had taken place against a church or synagogue, it would have made national headlines within hours.
However it may be pointed out that these attacks come in a much wider context of anti-Muslim campaign. After the Times Square incident individuals have sought to score cheap political points by manipulating Americans’ heightened concerns over national security.
Preying on voters fears, Senator Joseph Lieberman sponsored a McCarthyite bill seeking to strip naturalized Americans of their citizenship if they are accused of terrorism. On May 8, 2010, days after the botched car bomb attack on Times Square, Sen. Joe Lieberman seized on renewed fears of a terrorist attack to announce his latest legislative gambit: the "Terrorism Expatriation Act" -- or "TEA" -- which would revoke the citizenship of any American "who is found to be involved with a foreign terrorist organization as designated by the State Department." (6)
Interestingly, a week before the bomb attack on the Florida mosque, Florida Republican congressional candidate Dan Fanelli ran ads openly endorsing racial and religious profiling using blatantly racist and offensive messages in his campaign commercials. (7)
May 10 bomb attack on the Florida mosque makes it the 62nd incident attempted by non-Muslim violent extremists, according to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). No doubt, we are facing a startling rise in domestic extremism.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently reported an alarming rise in the number of American anti-government militia and anti-immigrant groups which remained largely dormant since their heyday in the mid-1990s. The number of extremist groups exploded in 2009 as “militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream,” according to the SPLC annual report titled: “Year in Hate and Extremism.” (8)
One of the most alarming cases was in March 2010, when two Neo-Nazi sympathizers were found in possession of bio-chemical weapons and had plans to attack bridges, tunnels, Federal buildings and members of Congress. Then, there’s Joseph Stack, who flew his plane into a Texas IRS building on a suicide mission inspired by anti-government sentiment. And of course, there’s also the Hutaree militia members who were arrested for plotting to kill a police officer, then attend his funeral so that they could kill more police officers. Has any politician called for draconian legislation and discriminatory policies against white males, based on these incidents?
But the incidents which allegedly involve a Muslim perpetrator get exponentially more attention from media outlets and public officials than those which involve any other violent extremists. That’s a double standard, plain and simple. Terrorism is terrorism, no matter what the identity of the perpetrator is.
Seven-million strong American Muslim community is stuck in a blatant double standard on the issues of national security. Unfortunately, instead of being treated as partners and equal citizens, Muslim Americans are increasingly facing an outright contempt, suspicion and bigotry from many political opportunists and dangerous elements in our society.
(1) On the night of May 10, a bomb exploded outside the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator. FBI officials in Jacksonville, Fla., have found the remnants of a pipe bomb used in a possible hate crime at a mosque during evening prayers. The Muslim population in Jacksonville totals around 5,000 families and that most who practice the religion do so at the Islamic Center mosque. "This incident comes after a man was seen barging into the mosque on April 4, shouting anti-Muslim slurs and threatening to come back later," according to Ibrahim Hooper, the council's communication director.
(2) The Islamic Association of Michigan (Masjid Umar-bin-Khattab) in Brownstown, Mich., has reported two incidents of vandalism. The first occurred on May 9 and the second on May 15 when vandals broke windows and the glass in an entryway door.
(3) On May 11, vandals defaced an exhibit by Muslim graduate student Anida Yoeu Ali at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). The exhibit, which addressed racial profiling and the rise of violence and hate directed at Muslims in the post-9/11 era, was vandalized with large caricatures and a word bubble highlighting the text “Kill all Arabs.” Ali's exhibit is part of a larger ongoing series of work, the "1700% Project," which is a collaborative project that uses art as a form of response to hate crimes.
(4) An 18 year-old male was brutally beaten by officers from an Illinois Police Station in retaliation for his mother's attempt to file a complaint against the way her son had been treated. The mother is a Muslim-American woman and wears the Hijab, the traditional Muslim headwear. During the beating, one of the officers yelled at the young man that this was all because of his “Muslim bitch” mother.
(5) In San Diego, a white man in his 50’s shouted, “You idiot, you mother f**ker, go back to where you came from,” as the victim was concluding his sunset prayer in a park near Mission Bay on May 12th night. The assailant then followed the victim as he returned to his taxi. When the victim attempted to enter his taxi and put on his seatbelt, the assailant repeated his slurs, grabbed the victim’s shirt and punched him repeatedly in the right eye and left shoulder. As a result of his injuries, the victim underwent a CAT scan as a precautionary measure. The alleged assailant was taken into custody by police.
(6) The measure came less than two months after Lieberman's introduction, with Sen. John McCain, of another radical bill: The "Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010," which would grant the president the power to order the arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment of anyone -- including a U.S. citizen -- indefinitely, on the sole suspicion that he or she is affiliated with terrorism. Lieberman's new bill is an offshoot of the same principle, circumventing the Constitutional guarantees of due process for U.S. citizens by conveniently stripping their citizenship, and reducing American terror suspects to "enemy belligerents" who have no rights.
(7) In the spot, which ran over the weekend on a Fox affiliate in central Florida, Fanelli stands between a middle-aged white man and a younger, swarthy fellow. "Does this look like a terrorist?" he asks, gesturing towards the white man. Then, pointing to the darker dude, he adds: "Or this?" When asked if the message of the spot was that darker people are more likely to be terrorists, Fanelli, Naval and airline pilot insisted that it wasn't. He claimed that the ad's point was that people from countries like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Syria who "require a higher level of security."
(8) The SPLC documented a 244 percent increase in the number of active Patriot groups in 2009. Their numbers grew from 149 groups in 2008 to 512 groups in 2009, an astonishing addition of 363 new groups in a single year. Militias - the paramilitary arm of the Patriot movement - were a major part of the increase, growing from 42 militias in 2008 to 127 in 2009. Hate groups also grew slightly, from 926 to 932, continuing what the SPLC said was a trend that began around 2000, and rising 54 percent in the decade.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine: www.amperspective.com
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