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Muslims say current hostile climate is worse than post-9/11 bias


These are reportedly scary times for Southern California Muslims. Several of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have made insulting and inflammatory remarks about Muslims. In addition, mosques have been targeted for vandalism. A mosque in Coachella, for example, was firebombed and another in Hawthorne was tagged with the word “Jesus.” (Jesus is actually considered a prophet in Islam.) According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR,) 2015 was a record year for acts of vandalism against mosques. CAIR reported 17 violent attacks on mosques in November alone.

In other cases, the alleged hostility towards Muslims comes in the form of legal challenges to prevent the building or expansions of mosques. In November, a meeting to discuss a proposed mosque in Spotsylvania County in Virginia, quickly turned ugly and threatened to become violent. According to The Free Lance-Star newspaper, one man who attended the meeting, said, “I will do everything in my power to make sure this does not happen because you are terrorists. Every one of you (Muslims) are terrorists.”

Ojaala Ahmad, CAIR communications coordinator, said the current atmosphere is worse than it was post-9/11.

Ahmad said 9/11 threw the entire country for a loop, but the recent San Bernardino shootings have emboldened people to be more open about their bigotry.

“People are lot more open in their hatred for the Muslim community,” Ahmad said.

She added that the situation has gotten so bad that some Muslim women who wear the hijab, a headscarf, have taken to trying to hide it under hoodies or sports caps.

Margari Hill, a Black American Muslim who lives in San Bernardino County, says the atmosphere has become frighteningly hostile. Hill is programming director for the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and served on a Rebuild With Love campaign, where Muslim nonprofits raised $100,000 for Black churches destroyed by fires after the Charleston massacre in mid June.

“I know Muslim women who have been followed, who have driven off the road; my friend’s mother had a rock thrown at her, another woman in our community was threatened with a knife. When I was in Houston, a mosque was burned in a suspicious fire,” Hill said. “These plots against Muslims, whether in Islamberg, N.Y,. or Richmond, Calif., and just the amount of hate speech on Twitter, Facebook and comments sections of most articles sometimes makes it hard to turn on my computer and check my news feed.”

Hill said she was just as horrified by the San Bernardino attack as other Americans.

“I was shaken to my core, when I first heard of the shootings on the news and followed (it) closely,” she said. “After growing up during the Cold War, where we feared nuclear holocaust, the rise of terrorism as (a) constant threat was a different type of anxiety. It is all senseless, and I just can’t see how people can justify such atrocities.”

Hill also said terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists don’t discriminate. Muslims are often the victims of terrorism. ISIS and the Paris terrorists killed Muslims alongside Christians. The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram has been known to use young girls as suicide bombers to target market places and mosques.

“In all of these attacks, Muslims were killed also. So, I’m not immune to the violence that Muslim violent extremists commit. I am also tired of feeling collective guilt, knowing that I represent something that ISIS hates—an American Muslim who lives authentically and unapologetically,” she said.

However, Islamophobia is also being encouraged by media figures and politicians, believes Ahmad, who is extremely critical of the GOP presidential candidates and their comments about Islam. She calls it “irresponsible” and unbecoming of people who want to lead the country.

“I don’t know if they understand the true extent of their words,” she said.

According to Ahmad, some of the candidates are using Islamophobic comments to boost their profiles and gain more attention to their presidential campaigns. She pointed out that the last GOP debate mainly focused on Islamic terrorism, but there are violent extremists in all religions. Ahmad cited the case of Robert Dear, who recently attacked a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado claiming he was motivated by his Christian faith.  She said several media reports about the Colorado shooting declined to mention the shooter’s religion.

Donald Trump, who is one of the frontrunner in the GOP primary, made international headlines when he suggested a temporary ban on Muslim immigration. However, Ahmad said this indicates Trump’s lack of understanding of the U.S. Constitution. She said the Constitution bans religious discrimination and refusing someone entry because of their faith would be a clear act of discrimination. According to Hill, Trump’s comments harken back to an ugly period in the nation’s past, when discrimination against certain groups was legal.

“It’s illegal (a Muslim immigration ban), but it evokes the darkest time in our history,” she said. “Those dark periods in our past are what Trump is nostalgically referring back to. And some of his supporters believe in those ideas, too. It is sad because these people are our neighbors, and they unwelcome people who have so much to contribute to our society.”

Republican Ben Carson was widely condemned, when he stated he wouldn’t vote for a Muslim presidential candidate. Ahmad said that comment “showed he hadn’t read the Constitution.”

“What he said is not compatible with the Constitution,” Ahmad said. “The Constitution states that there should be no religious test for someone running for office.”

Hill said she was particularly disappointed by Carson’s comments.

“As a Black American, I feel betrayed,” Hill said. “I want my daughter to know that anything is possible and to dream that she can become president, or an astronaut, or a philanthropist. But Ben Carson has also said disappointing things about Black Americans. I want my daughter to live in a society where her race, religion, and gender don’t hold her back.”

FOX News and other right-wing media outlets have been accused of being a major source of anti-Muslim sentiment. FOX has reportedly been accused CAIR of being affiliated with terrorists. Ahmad said her organization has reached out to FOX several times to try to address some of their inaccurate claims. But when they clarify FOX’s errors, the comments almost never make the final segment. She said FOX News stories about Muslims are designed to fit a certain slant, whether it’s accurate or not.

“Fortunately, a lot of Americans are aware of their biased and bigoted agenda,” Ahmad said.