Arab American News, July 10, 2009
WASHINGTON — A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group this week cited recent anti-Muslim incidents nationwide in calling on American leaders to address what it said is a “growing level of anti-Muslim prejudice and stereotyping” in American society.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said opinion leaders, policymakers and law enforcement authorities should speak out against the type of Islamophobic rhetoric on Internet hate sites and on talk radio programs that may lead to bias-motivated attacks.
In making its appeal to local and national leaders, CAIR cited recent incidents targeting American Muslim individuals and institutions, including a bias-motivated attack on a Muslim woman and child in Seattle by a self-proclaimed white supremacist, vandalism of mosques in Florida and California, an anti-Islam sign outside a Florida church, racist fireworks sold in Wisconsin, the beating of a Muslim student in New York, and the death of a California Muslim leader in a “suspicious” fire.
In Florida, a Gainesville, Fla., church has a sign claiming “Islam is of the devil” on its property. The church’s senior pastor has been quoted saying: “We actually posted the sign because there is a tremendous growth in Islam at this time. It is a violent and oppressive religion and does not have anything to do with the truth of the Bible.”
In Seattle, a self-proclaimed white supremacist with a history of threats and harassment was charged this week under the state’s hate crime statute after he allegedly threatened a young Muslim woman with a knife while she was waiting in line for services at the Seattle Indian Health Board.
In another instance in Florida, Miami-Dade police have charged two teens in the latest vandalism of a West Kendall mosque and school that has been targeted twice this year.
Michael Derek Lobo and Juan Carlos Gonzalez-Vaca, both 17, were arrested at Killian Senior High School, according to a police affidavit. Gonzalez-Vaca told police that the vandalism had been planned for months. He said ”all Muslims are terrorists,” according to the report.
Last week, CAIR’s Greater Los Angeles Area office called on the FBI to add its resources to the investigation of the death of Imam Ali Mohammed, whose body was found inside a burned Yermo, Calif., residence on June 27.
Family members say the imam went to clean hate graffiti scrawled inside an unoccupied house that was once the family’s home, but he never returned. The family had recently moved out of the house because of alleged anti-Muslim harassment and prejudice by individuals in the area. According to authorities, an individual who was suspected of harassing the family was sent to prison in 2008.
Graffiti written on the walls inside the house prior to the fire stated: “F*** you Arab,” “KKK, sand n**ger,” and “go home Arab.” An American flag and a Nazi swastika were also drawn on the walls.
Local law enforcement authorities called the explosion and fire “suspicious” but have not yet made a determination as to the cause of the blaze. The results of an autopsy on the imam’s body have not been released.
“We welcome the FBIs intervention in this case and hope that the cause of Imam Mohammed’s death and of the fire can be determined quickly,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “The community needs to know whether or not anti-Muslim bias was a factor in the imam’s death.”
In June, a mosque in Cypress, Calif., was vandalized with graffiti, which stated: “F**k You, “we’re going to kill you,” and “US Military is going to kill you all.” Police are treating the vandalism at the Cypress mosque as a hate crime.
The Washington-based council also noted American Muslim concerns that government actions, such as sending agents provocateurs into mosques or targeting Muslims for deportation even after they are acquitted of criminal charges, can add to the growing level of anti-Muslim views by stereotyping Muslims as predisposed to terrorism.
CAIR called for swift government action to back up both President Obama’s recent challenge to those who promote “negative stereotypes” of Islam and the statement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder committing the Obama administration to protecting the civil rights of American Muslims. [In his recent speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, President Obama said: “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”]
“It is important that our nation’s leaders speak out against the growing level of anti-Muslim prejudice and stereotyping in our society and support the American Muslim community when it is targeted by bigots,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “Education and mutual understanding are key to challenging those who would spread intolerance and hatred.”
He said CAIR recently launched a major initiative, called “Share the Quran,” to educate American leaders about Islam. In that initiative, American Muslims are being asked to sponsor distribution of free copies of the Qur’an, Islam’s revealed text, to 100,000 local, state and national leaders.
Awad also said that CAIR offers a booklet, called the “Muslim Community Safety Kit,” which offers advice for preventing and reacting to anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Meanwhile, about 500 people are expected to attend a conference sponsored by the International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jackson, the nation’s first museum dedicated to educating visitors about Islamic historical contributions.
The three-day event begins Friday, said Okolo Rashid, the museum’s co-founder.
Mississippi has an estimated Muslim population of about 5,000, but Awad said the location’s symbolism shouldn’t be overlooked. Mississippi was a hotbed of civil-rights activity during the 1960s.
The museum is only a few miles from the home of Mississippi NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers, who was gunned down by self-proclaimed white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith in 1963.