From sea to shining sea, Muslim Americans are coming under attack.
In New York City, a shop owner was savagely beaten Saturday by a stranger promising to “kill Muslims.” In California, a man was playing volleyball and praying in a park on Sunday when a woman accused of him of being a terrorist, struck him and splashed him in the face with coffee. And in Philadelphia, a severed pig’s head was tossed outside of a mosque on Monday.
On Wednesday, a Muslim American congressman linked the “rise in Islamophobia” — including a death threat he received on Monday — to the “demagoguery” of Donald Trump.
“You have other politicians who are joining the bandwagon and who are fanning the flames of bigotry,” Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) told interviewer Jake Tapper. “That concerns me because we’re putting people — i.e. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and others — into the line of fire exposing them to death threats, discrimination at the workplace and assaults.”
The trio of anti-Muslim incidents came in the wake of last week’s San Bernardino mass shooting, in which two apparently radicalized Muslims killed 14 people and injured 21 more at a holiday party, and the Nov. 13 massacre in Paris. But they also came after a string of controversial statements from Trump and several other Republican presidential candidates calling for Muslims in the United States to be put on lists and tracked.
On Monday night, Trump stirred global outrage by calling for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the country.
“We have no choice,” he said to a standing ovation at a rally in South Carolina, calling the ban “common sense.”
Religious and civil rights groups both say they are seeing a rise in attacks on Muslims across the United States in recent weeks.
“We’re definitely seeing anti-Muslim bigotry escalating around the country,” Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told USA Today. His organization reports about two dozen anti-Muslim attacks since the Paris massacre, ranging from anonymous threats to vandalism against mosques and, in the worst case, the shooting of a cabdriver in Pittsburgh.
Last month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) decried what it called an “unprecedented backlash and discrimination targeting the nation’s Muslim community” since the Paris attacks. On Wednesday the group called for public officials to “repudiate growing Islamophobia” following reports that the KKK was recruiting volunteers in Alabama to “fight the spread of Islam in our country.”
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee told USA Today that it had received complaints from people abruptly pulled off airplanes within the past week as well as multiple death threats and other abuse directed toward Muslims.
Two of the most chilling attacks occurred over the weekend as Muslim Americans on both coasts were reportedly targeted at random.
The first attack came on Saturday in the diverse New York City neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, where a Bangladeshi-born Muslim shop owner was beaten by a man posing as a customer.
Sarker Haque was standing behind the counter of his Fatima Food Mart when a man walked in, picked up a newspaper with the San Bernardino attack on the front page, and said: “Is everything free in this store?”
“What?” the confused store owner replied.
The man continued to walk around the store, asking if things were free, Haque told NBC 4 New York. When he came back near the counter, however, he suddenly attacked the store owner.
“He punched me and I fell down,” Haque said. “Then he said, ‘I’m gonna kill Muslims.'”
Haque suffered a black eye, cuts, bruises and a dislocated hand, according to USA Today. Police later arrested Piro Kolvani, 55, on charges of assault and criminal mischief for the attack. The incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime, according to NBC 4.
Another anti-Muslim attack occurred a day later in California.
Rasheed Albeshari, a 31-year-old Muslim American, was playing volleyball and praying with some friends in a San Francisco Bay area park when a woman approached him “talking … trash” about his religion, Albeshari told the Los Angeles Times.
When the woman, later identified as Denise Slader, kept annoying Albeshari, he pulled out his cellphone and began recording the conversation.
“The people you tortured are going to be in eternity and heaven,” Slader said, according to a video Albeshari later posted to Facebook. “You are very deceived by Satan. Your mind has been taken over, brainwashed and you have nothing but hate. Nothing but hate.”
In the video, a park ranger can be seen approaching Slader and telling her that “this is really inappropriate.”
“It is really inappropriate, you’re right,” Slader replies. “For somebody to tape record me….”
“This lady was talking about my God,” Albeshari begins to say when Slader suddenly snaps, striking him and, off camera, throwing her coffee in his face.
“Don’t touch me,” Albeshari shouts before asking the ranger to call the police.
Slader wasn’t arrested, but police took a report and sent it to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office along with a recommendation that prosecutors charge Slader with misdemeanor battery. The incident could be prosecuted as a hate crime, the Times reported.
Slader works for California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as a program technician for Adult Parole Operations, the newspaper reported.
In an interview with local television station KTVU, Slader was open about her reason for confronting and striking Albeshari.
“I’m a Christian and so I wanted to tell them about Christ and that what they are doing, what they believe in, their Allah that he was praying to right there in the park, openly, is not of God. It’s of the devil,” Slader said on camera.
“Free speech is no longer free,” she then added, cryptically.
When asked if Albeshari was simply exercising his constitutional right to his own religion, Slader answered: “Believe me, they are, and they are doing it openly in the park.”
Albeshari, who was born in Tennessee but spent much of his life in Yemen before returning to the United States several years ago, said he had never before experienced anything like Sunday’s attack.
He said he believes Slader’s rage was fueled not only by the mass shooting in San Bernardino in Southern California but also by Trump’s fiery anti-Muslim speeches.
Albeshari posted a video of his confrontation to Facebook on Monday, just hours before Trump called for Muslims to be banned from entering the country. That same day, morning prayers at the al-Aqsa Islamic Society in Philadelphia were interrupted by the discovery of a severed pig’s head on the mosque’s doorstep. Police are investigating, and the city’s mayor has offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of “anyone engaged in a hate crime.”
As much as the attacks themselves, it is Trump’s divisive rhetoric that is worrying many Muslim Americans. On Wednesday, some Muslims who immigrated to the United States and then served in the armed forces said Trump’s anti-Islamic speeches had caused them to rethink their adopted nation’s commitment to inclusivity.
“What the hell happened to that America I immigrated to?” said Emir Hadzic, a Muslim refugee who became a U.S. Marine.
For Albeshari, however, the supportive responses to his video have done just the opposite.
“It’s just overwhelming,” he told the Times. “I think that’s what makes this nation great — tolerance and acceptance.”
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