A prominent U.S. Muslim civil rights group thinks it’s something else entirely: “A symptom of the unfortunate mainstreaming of Islamophobia in our society,” according to Ibrahim Hooper, a national spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“In an overall atmosphere in which anti-Muslim bigotry is rising, it’s somehow seen as, ‘This is OK for me to do,'” Hooper told the St. Cloud Times.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety now says it’s sorry for having approved and issued the “FMUSLMS” plate, which is being revoked.
Officials are working to take possession of the plate, according to an agency statement that called the plate “offensive and distasteful.”
“The Department of Public Safety apologizes for this error,” said the statement, sent to The Washington Post on Tuesday. “The Driver and Vehicle Services Division is reviewing its process for approving personalized license plates today and will immediately provide additional review and oversight of applications.”
In a separate statement, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) said he was “appalled that this license plate was issued by the State of Minnesota. It is offensive, and the person who requested it should be ashamed. That prejudice has no place in Minnesota.”
Dayton also called for a closer look at department policies, saying: “I have instructed the Commissioner of Public Safety to retrieve this plate as soon as possible and re-review agency procedures to ensure it does not occur again.”
The application for the personalized plate went through a deputy registrar’s office in Foley, a city about 15 miles from St. Cloud; the plate was issued in June.
Some young St. Cloud Somali-Americans sent cellphone photos of the plate to Haji Yusuf, a community activist for #UniteCloud, a group trying to ease racial tension in the city. Yusuf posted the photo to social media, after which residents began demanding that the Department of Public Safety revoke the license plate, said Natalie Ringsmuth, founder and executive director of #UniteCloud.
When applying for personalized plates in the state of Minnesota, drivers complete an application that includes a section in which they are asked to explain their plate choices. “This MUST be completed or plates will not be issued,” the form reads.
According to CBS affiliate WCCO, the public safety agency released the original application for the controversial plate on Tuesday, and it indicated that “FMUSLMS” was a band name. No band by that name showed up in a series of Google searches that included various spellings.
Likewise “PETALOL” — a possible reference to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The state’s application notes that a personalized plate that “offends public morals or decency may not be issued.”