SHAFAQNA – Muslim leaders in Texas have expressed their fears over rising anxiety in the community following the murder of an Iraqi migrant who was shot dead in Dallas as he stood outside his apartment to photograph his first snowfall.
Ahmed al-Jumaili had waited a year for paperwork to be completed so he could join his wife, Zahraa, in the US, where they hoped they could start a new life together in a safer country. She greeted him at the airport with balloons, flowers and a sign that said she had “waited 460 days … for this moment”.
Less than three weeks later, Jumaili was dead: killed in an apparently random shooting by unknown assailants who are still at large. Police said that Jumaili, his wife and her brother were outside their apartment complex in a north Dallas suburb late last Wednesday, taking photographs of snow in the parking lot. Four suspects entered the complex on foot, multiple shots were fired, and the 36-year-old was killed after being hit in the chest.
While no motive has been established, there were immediate suspicions that it was a hate crime – a fear that is emblematic of the increased anxiety felt by many Muslims in the wake of high-profile Isis executions of westerners, the deaths of three students in North Carolina last month and some inflammatory statements and protests in Texas.
A press conference was held in Dallas on Monday afternoon where activists said they would offer a $7,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Jumaili’s killer or killers. A memorial fund for the family has raised in excess of $25,000.
Concern among the Muslim community in Houston was heightened last month when part of an Islamic centre in Houston burned down. A homeless man was arrested and charged with arson. He claimed it was accidental, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Shpendim Nadzaku, the imam for the Islamic Association of North Texas, told the Guardian that since taking up the role last June, he had seen that “unfortunately, some of this racial and bigoted talk and behavior has been quite common”.
“There has definitely been an increase of very open vitriolic language towards Muslims in general,” he said.
Nadzaku said he had met with the family and that Jumaili was “gunned down before their eyes without any type or reason or explanation”. His funeral took place last Saturday.
In January, about a week after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, large numbers of protesters gathered outside a Muslim conference in Garland that took place only seven miles away from the site of the murder.
“We’re here to stand up for the American way of life [against] a faction of people that are trying to destroy us,” one man told NBC’s local news outlet. The title of the conference was “Stand with the Prophet against terror and hate”.
Nadzaku said he saw one sign that read “Go home and take Obama with you”. He believes that some rightwing politicians have stoked a threatening atmosphere by seeking to make connections between violent terrorist acts overseas and a perceived potential threat to American domestic security.
“I think politics has a lot to do with it. When our politicians are going to import the unfortunate situations out there as if it’s something we have in our own backyard and use it to polarise us … I think it’s a very dangerous path they’re taking,” he said.
An anti-Muslim activist said in February that she planned to hold a “draw the prophet” contest in the same convention centre in Garland.
Texas Muslim Capitol Day in Austin in January was disrupted by protests, while Molly White, a Republican state representative from central Texas, posted a message on her Facebook page saying she “did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office.”
In 2007, Dan Patrick, then a Texas Republican senator and now lieutenant governor – the second-most powerful elected position in the state – boycotted a prayer delivered by a Muslim cleric in the Texas capitol.
Ted Cruz, a US senator from Texas and possible presidential candidate, said in 2012 that Sharia law is “an enormous problem”.
Alia Salem, the executive director of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that there were an estimated 200,000 Muslims in the region and that she had noticed a rise in activity by white supremacists and other racist groups since the election of Barack Obama as president.
“The sentiment that I know I personally have and that others have expressed to me is that even though we don’t have anything concrete on whether it’s a hate crime or not, it’s another Muslim who has been killed in a very violent way and it just continues to heighten the sense of insecurity that we feel,” she said.
“I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and they’re frightened to leave their house. Women who wear their headscarves don’t want to go to work or school or even go to the grocery store, for that matter.
“I personally have received death threats and have had to report them to law enforcement. It just continues to build. Even though we’re trying to be strong and say, ‘oh, these are just crazy, they’re not going to do anything’, every time a Muslim dies the first fear that’s popping into everybody’s head is, ‘they’re after us’.”