JNN 27 Sept 2016 New York : Fifty-five mosques in the US have been targeted so far this year, making 2016 one of the worst years on record for anti-mosque incidents, according to new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy organization. In 2015, there were 79 recorded incidents, the highest number reported in a single year since experts began tracking the data in 2009, according to CAIR. In 2009, 13 mosques reported incidents.
“American Muslims in the US are very worried about their safety, the safety of their families, the safety of their institutions, and they don’t feel that they’re safe to go out,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR.
Three mosques were targeted this month, all of them occurring on or around the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The mosque once attended by Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was intentionally set on fire by an arsonist in Fort Pierce, Florida, according to police. Rocks were thrown through the windows of a mosque in New Hampshire. And last week, a tractor trailer was twice rammed into an Islamic community center in Laurel, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore.
In June, 14 mosques were targeted, up from 10 in July. CAIR attributes these spikes to the aftermath of the massacre in Orlando, Florida. The majority of the incidents in 2016 have been violent in tone, characterized by intimidation, physical assault, and vandalism, according to CAIR.
“No one feels that they’re safe regardless of where they live, whether it’s New York or Minnesota or in Washington, D.C., in suburbs or in isolated towns,” Awad said.
Whether the recent uptick of Islamophobia crimes is related to 9/11, or to anti-Muslim political rhetoric championed by some members of the Republican Party, or a bit of both, is still unclear.
But Awad says it’s “all of the above” including “Donald Trump and his surrogates who have been taking cheap shots at the Muslim community.”
“We’re trying to understand why Trump is targeting the Muslim community,” he said. “One simple conclusion is he’s appealing to people who are anxious, people who are angry, and uncertain about their future.”
“Donald Trump is using fear, is exploiting fear, is promoting and selling fear. And fear sells, unfortunately, in times of tension,” he added, pointing to Trump’s immigration, terrorism and national security policies of “dividing America.”
The FBI backs CAIR’s data. In a 2015 hate crime statistics report, 16.1 percent of 1,140 religious hate crime victims were Muslim, up from previous years, despite the fact that overall hate crime numbers among other religious groups were declining, the FBI said.
Awad argues that these incidents show that “the constitution is being threatened.”
“Not many people see it that way but minorities, including American Muslims, see it very clearly,” he said.
In recent days, reports of a Muslim marine who was called a “terrorist” and thrown in an industrial dryer at a South Carolina boot camp have also come to light.
Earlier this week, a Muslim Stanford student was attacked on social media for wearing a headscarf, or hijab.
But despite this perceived intensity of recent attacks, Muslims are a vital part of the American community, Awad said.
“I think people are becoming acquainted with the American Muslim community and they have seen how courageous American Muslims have been in fighting extremism,” Awad said.
“American Muslims were also among the victims of 9/11, and American Muslims were among the first responders,” he said.
Of the 2,996 Americans who were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, 60 were Muslim American.
“We need to see more political leaders standing for what’s right, and show the courage and the decency to push back against the hate speech and hate acts regardless of the identity of the community because we’re all Americans and we all deserve equal protections and equal respect,” Awad said.
Muslim Woman Wearing Hijab Set on Fire in New York City
The 35-year-old woman was wearing a hijab and looking at a dress in the window display of a Valentino store on 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan when a man set her clothes on fire with a lighter, the New York Police Department told BuzzFeed News.
“She felt a sudden heat on her left arm,” a police source said. “She noticed she was on fire and patted the fire out.”
The woman was not seriously injured in the attack, police said, but the flame left a hole in her blouse about the size of a quarter.
The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the incident as a possible bias crime. No arrests have been made in the incident.
Albert Cahn, the director of strategic litigation at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told BuzzFeed News the advocacy group is concerned about an increase in attacks on Muslims in the US.
“CAIR is alarmed by the spike we are observing in attacks on Muslim individuals in New York, and of course across the country,” Cahn said. “This is not just something that should be of concern to the Muslim community, but to all Americans.”
Florida Mosque Set on Fire during Eid al-Adha
Fire crews arrived at the scene in the early hours of Monday after receiving reports of flames coming out of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, located about 160km southeast of the city of Orlando.
No injuries were reported and the extent of the damage was not immediately clear.
Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s holiest festivals, was being celebrated on Monday and also could have prompted the attack, Major David Thompson, of the St Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, said.
“We are not sure exactly whether this is a hate crime or just an arson, we do know that a crime has occurred and that it is arson,” he told reporters at a news conference.
Investigators were also considering a connection with the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on Sunday, Thompson added.
At the news conference, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida said the blaze was an act of hate.
Ahmed Bedier, president of the civic group United Voices for America, also called for authorities to investigate it as a hate crime.
“For this to happen to us, on the morning of our biggest celebration of the year, was something horrific,” Hamaad Rahman, associate imam at the mosque, also told reporters.
The mosque temporarily relocated its morning prayers for Eid al-Adha, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice that marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Security video showed an individual approaching the northeast side of the building on a motorcycle around 11:38pm, a flash of light appearing and the individual then fleeing, the sheriff’s office said, identifying the suspect as a white or Hispanic male.
“In the video, it appears he is carrying paper and a bottle of some type of liquid,” it said in a statement.
Photographs posted on the sheriff department’s Facebook page showed fire engines parked in front of the building, which is a former church.
Authorities were working on enhancing the security video to help identify the perpetrator, Al Jazeera reported.
The FBI and other federal agencies are collaborating with the local sheriff’s office in the investigation.
Hate Crimes against Muslims in California Skyrocket 122%
The report by the Cal State San Bernardino Center on Hate & Extremism found that 18 anti-Muslim crimes were reported in California in 2014, while 40 anti-Muslim crimes were reported last year.
The increase followed what appeared to be a national surge in anti-Muslim crimes that further accelerated after the San Bernardino terror attack in December 2015, and a call by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to bar Muslims from entering the US, according to researchers.
“After the San Bernardino attack, we saw a marked jump in hate crimes against Muslims within several days,” said Brian Levin, executive director of the Cal State center. Among those incidents was an arson attack on a mosque in Riverside County days after the San Bernardino killings.
The report’s conclusions were based on hate crime data from 20 states. Although many states have yet to make public their own crime data, the jurisdictions included in the report account for more than half of the nation’s population, according to study authors.
In 2014, those 20 states reported 110 hate crimes against Muslims,compared with 196 in 2015 —a 78% increase.
After Trump’s declaration on Dec. 7, 2015, that Muslims should be banned from entering in the U.S.,researchers documented an 87.5% jump in acts of hate against that community in the five days that followed his remarks, compared with the same period the year before.
Dr. Kevin Grisham, the center’s assistant director for research, said, “The study shows statements by political leaders can be followed by distinct changes in hate crime incidents.”
Overall hate crimes climbed a little more than 5% —from 4,139 to 4,347 —in the 20 states included in the study. By comparison, California saw a 10% increase, with 758 hate crimes reported in 2014 and 837 reported in 2015, according to the study’s authors.
California’s disproportionate representation in overall hate crimes might be explained by better reporting, Levin said. Hate crimes in some states are vastly under reported, he said.