SHAFAQNA – The recent mass shooting in San Bernadino, California and terror attacks in Paris have helped spark “an unprecedented and dramatic increase” in violent and hostile incidents against Muslims in America, advocates say. Such incidents have also, however, prompted spontaneous displays of community support.
In an febrile atmosphere stoked in particular by comments from Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, incidents ranging from arson to assault have been recorded across the US. Children have faced bullying and sectarian insults in schools.
In California on Saturday, the FBI was investigating a fire at a mosque in Riverside County that authorities said was set deliberately.
Fire broke out at the entrance to the Islamic Center of Palm Springs on Friday afternoon, while a small number of members were engaged in prayer. No one was injured but local US congressman Paul Ruiz said an incendiary device may have caused the fire and urged the incident be investigated as a hate crime. On Saturday, it was reported that a suspect had been arrested and charged.
Reymundo Nour, the mosque’s acting imam, said people described hearing a “loud boom” and seeing flames.
The mosque, in Coachella, is in the same part of California as San Bernardino, where a couple believed by law enforcement to have become radicalised by Islamic fundamentalism carried out a shooting at an office earlier this month. Fourteen people died and 21 were wounded. The man and woman who carried out the shooting were killed by police.
Elsewhere, in Georgia on Friday it was reported that a 13-year-old schoolgirl who was wearing a hijab was asked by her middle school teacher whether she had a bomb in her backpack.
The girl, who has not been named, said the question “was very disrespectful”, according to a local report. Abdirizak Aden, the girl’s father, said his daughter was singled out.
“We are Muslims, we live in America, I didn’t teach my children to hate people,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Gwinnett county public schools, on the outskirts of Atlanta, confirmed the incident and said the remark was inappropriate, but said the unnamed teacher had no “ill intent”. Theprincipal has apologised to the family.
On Saturday a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), told the Guardian the Gwinnett incident was just one of a growing number it believes are indicative of rising prejudice against Muslims in America.
Cair says such sentiments are being fueled by inflammatory remarks by politicians, made in light of recent attacks. On Monday, at a rally in South Carolina, Trump called for all Muslims to be barred from entering the US.
“This is clearly symptomatic of the rising anti-Muslim sentiment in our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for Cair. “When we get this kind of casual stereotyping and bigoted comments towards American Muslims, in particular young people, it’s very damaging.”
Donald Trump [is] almost giving permission to bigots to take out their feelings on American Muslims.
Hooper said the group was still compiling statistics but had detected a distinct increase in attacks. He numbered such recent incidents in “the dozens”.
“We are seeing an unprecedented and dramatic increase in anti-Muslim displays and hate crimes, and a level of hysteria in our society,” Hooper said.
“It’s meant to intimidate. It began with the Paris attacks, continued through San Bernardino and now with Donald Trump almost giving permission to bigots to take out their feelings on American Muslims it is reaching a high level.”
The Cair head office in Washington and a regional office in Santa Clara, in the Bay Area of California, were both evacuated on Friday after suspicious packages containing white powder were delivered. The substances turned out to be harmless.
Among other incidents in recent days, a mosque was reported vandalized in Phoenix, Arizona, though no motive was immediately established. In Pflugerville, near Austin, Texas, a copy of the Qur’an, torn and smeared with faeces, was placed at an entrance to a mosque.
According to local reports in Florida, two Muslim women in the Tampa Bay area were attacked after leaving prayer meetings – one was shot at and the other almost driven off the road and her car pelted with stones.
After the incident in Pflugerville, it was reported that neighbours who were not Muslims made donations, left flowers and cards and spoke against the unpleasant gesture. One local boy was reported to have donated the money from his piggybank.
In nearby Irving, where the authorities recently attracted notoriety for arresting a 14-year-old schoolboy, Ahmed Mohamed, on suspicion of making a bomb that turned out to be a clock, an armed anti-Muslim and anti-gun control group was expected to organize a demonstration on Saturday.
Members of the group have previously protested outside the Islamic Center in Irving. While few in number, they make an impact because they wear camouflage gear and carry firearms as well as placards.
The little-known group calls itself the Three Percenters – a reference to untrained civilians who took up arms in the Revolutionary War – and claims to be a grass-roots “patriotic” movement organised through social media.
Surveillance video at a Philadelphia mosque appears to show a pig’s head being thrown from a car window at the building last Sunday evening.
Also in the last few days, in New York a man was charged with criminal mischief and attempted assault as hate crimes, in relation to a violent incident involving Muslim members of staff at a pizza shop in the city. In California, a man was arrested and accused of spraying anti-Islamic State graffiti outside a Sikh temple in Buena Vista Park.
In Omaha, Nebraska, several atheist and humanist groups planned to visit the local Islamic Center on Saturday to express their support. The building has been vandalized three times since the summer, most recently after the attacks in Paris.
Cards expressing support, which came flooding in after a recent incident of vandalism, are prominently on display at the Center, according to a local report.
In his weekly address on Saturday, President Obama called for unity and an end to prejudice and discrimination in America.