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Hate in the Aftermath of Chapel Hill

In 2012, the American Muslim community experienced one of the biggest upticks of violence and harassment that the community has ever seen. Eleven years removed from 9/11, there was a seemingly unexplainable rash of attacks against mosques, including arson, vandalism and even shots being fired at different Islamic centers throughout the U.S. Much of this upswing in activity can be attributed to a continued flow of money and rhetoric into what’s termed “The Islamophobia Industry” – as outlined in Center For American Progress’ Fear, Inc., as well as CAIR’s 2013 report: Legislating Fear.

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Fast forward to February 2015. The news of a horrific execution-style murder of three young students in Chapel Hill, NC hit the Muslim community like a punch in the chest. The deaths of dental-student Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha saw three bright lights from our community have their lives cut short, in a crime that seemingly had a bias component to it. This came on the heals of the equally horrific murder of Mustafa Mattan, a well-respected Muslim community member who was shot dead while answering his door in Fort McMurray, Canada. But while the community grieved over these losses, an unprecedented string of hate crimes has swarmed not only Muslims, but other minorities who suffer from the epidemic of anti-Muslim sentiment.  Here is a listing of confirmed anti-Muslim incidents that have taken place in recent days:

Dearborn, MI: February 12th – Muslim family attacked at Kroger

With anti-Muslim sentiment rising in the aftermath of recent ISIS attacks, an Arab-American family was assaulted while shopping at a local Kroger.

Houston, TX: February 13th – Arson at the Quba Islamic Institute

Early on February 13th, one of the buildings of this Islamic center burst into flames, completely destroying the structure.

El Paso, TX: February 13th – Multiple Muslim families targeted with slashed tires

Multiple families have the tires slashed on their vehicles, and now fear for their own safety.  Watch Here:

Warwick, RI: February 14th – Vandalism at Islamic School of Rhode Island

Red spray-painted hate messages were tagged throughout the exterior of the school. References included “pigs,” derogatory references to Islam as well as Nazi imagery.

Bothell, WA: February 16th – Vandalism at Hindu Temple and Anti-Muslim Graffiti at school.

A local Hindu temple was vandalized with red-spray painted swastikas, and the words “Go Home” – as well as a nearby school vandalized with “Muslims Go Home” on the building.

Columbus, OH: February 17th – Threats of violence at multiple mosques

Multiple mosques in Ohio have reported receiving threatening phone calls from the same individual, putting these communities on edge.  Warning: Graphic Language

Revere, MA: February 17th – Multiple threats of violence against Muslims posted throughout town

Disturbing notes threatening to kill Muslims “within 72 hours” were found throughout Revere.

Clearly, the amount of anti-Muslim activity throughout the U.S. has spiked significantly in the past week. Sadly, there are even more reports of incidents such as these that are emerging nationwide.

Here are some of the takeaways from these recent events:

Everything is BIGGER in Texas, even the hate: Much of the anti-Muslim activity taking place recently has come from Texas – a state with one of the largest Muslim populations in America. Last month, a Muslim event in Garland, TX was surrounded with swarms of anti-Muslim protestors – some of them carrying weapons. Protest signs decrying “Sharia Law” and mocking tenets of Islam were widespread throughout the event.

A few weeks later, the hate-fest replicated itself outside a scheduled Muslim Day at the State Capitol in Austin. The event garnered attention after a state legislator, Molly White posted on her Facebook page that Muslim constituents should be required to take a “loyalty oath.” Protestors flooded the Capitol, shouting hateful slogans, even interrupting the event by grabbing the microphone from scheduled speakers.

Texas has been an epicenter for Islamophobia since 9/11, however there has been a significant upswing in demonstrations and anti-Muslim incidents more recently. This upswing in hateful rhetoric has clearly contributed to the hate crimes of the past week.

Can we call it a hate crime?

The media reaction in the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shooting has been very telling in terms of how crimes against Muslims, and crimes that are not committed by Muslims are perceived.

Within hours of the killings, details began emerging as to who exactly the shooter was, and what type of worldview he held. Based on his social media activities and consumer habits – it became clear that Craig Hicks was fixated on guns and gun-culture. He also turned out to hold militant new-atheist beliefs, and viewed all religions with distaste.

If we were to analyze a similar shooting where the perpetrator espoused an iota of Muslim identity on social media – the media narrative would somehow frame this as “terror.” In Craig Hicks’ case, however – the narrative took a different turn: Parking.

Never mind the implausibility of a parking issue resulting in the execution-style murder of an entire family – how is it possible to ignore the anti-Muslim sentiment that was pervading society at the moment of the killings? Many are attempting to paint Hicks as a person with contempt for ALL faiths – and he apparently even “defended the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in a 2012 social media posting.” Defending a religious liberty issue in 2012 does not preclude an individual from committing a crime based on hate in 2015.

Examine the case of Michael Enright, who traveled to Afghanistan to document the war – even smiling and posing with locals in photographs. He eventually returned to New York City, and slashed a cabbie’s throat after asking if the driver was Muslim.

Even though Hicks will spend the rest of his life behind bars, it is vital that law-enforcement investigate thoroughly as to whether bias contributed to this crime. This will provide much needed closure and justice to the families of the victims – who are certain that his was no mere “parking issue.”

Keeping Warm?

The mosque fire outside Houston has received similar treatment from many media outlets. It became clear, the day of the crime that this was an arson – as fire officials found accelerant at the scene.

Now, let’s pause here and look at the context of what was going on leading up to this fire. In Texas, the aforementioned hate-rallies in addition to the unchecked hateful rhetoric spewed by elected officials. Combine that the spike in hate-crimes nationwide, in addition to wall-to-wall coverage of ISIS being conflated with Islam.

As the mosque’s building lay in ruins, the narrative begins to emerge that the suspect Darryl Ferguson was “just trying to stay warm.”  Right-wing media outlets took this narrative, and ran with it:

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As the investigation continues to unfold, we are now finding out that Ferguson harbored anti-Muslim views to a convenience store clerk.  Although “parking disputes” and the need for warmth seem to be plausible for mainstream media outlets, it is clear that the coming days will reveal more as to the true nature of these crimes.

The past week has shown a sharp increase in Islamophobia – which has put many communities on edge.  As we have seen, this trend affects not only Muslims, but those perceived to be Muslims- such as Sikhs, Hindus, Arab Christians, and individuals from African origin.  Rather than helping squash this rhetoric, many elected officials and media outlets are using Islamophobia as a tool – which in turn is resulting in weeks like these.  It is hopeful that institutions from the Muslim community take note, and ensure that extra safety precautions are taken – along with constant awareness of surroundings.  Our community can’t afford any more “parking disputes.”