In Queens, New York, a Muslim store owner reported an attack from a man who screamed that he would “kill Muslims.” In Macon, Georgia, vandals defaced the local Islamic center with words like “terrorist” as well as obscenities. In Castro Valley, California, a woman accosted a group of Muslims praying in a park by shouting obscenities, throwing coffee and hitting one with an umbrella.
Anecdotal stories like these have suggested an uptick in hate crimes against Muslims in the United States the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino, California, terrorist attacks. Now new data from two studies show that backlash against Muslim-Americans is indeed on the rise.
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino released a study Thursday indicating that hate crimes against Muslims have tripled since the two attacks, reaching levels not seen since the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. The center analyzed FBI data to conclude that until now, hate crimes against Muslims in the United States averaged about 12.6 month. Since the Paris attacks Nov. 13, there have been 38 such attacks. Analysts examined news reports and data from civil rights groups to determine the new figure.
“The terrorist attacks, coupled with the ubiquity of these anti-Muslim stereotypes seeping into the mainstream, have emboldened people to act upon this fear and anger,” Brian Levin, a criminologist at California State University and the director of the center, told the New York Times.
Another report released this week by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil rights group, noted that there have been 29 attacks on mosques in the United States this year, the highest level since the organization began tracking such incidents in 2009. The attacks included vandalism, destruction of property, harassment and intimidation. According to CAIR, the most significant spike occurred in November, with a total of 17 incidents. All but two occurred after the Paris terrorist attacks.
Advocates say the backlash is being fueled by rhetoric used in the 2016 presidential campaign, including calls from Republican front-runner Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
“We are seeing an unbelievably toxic anti-Muslim environment in our society that is being encouraged and exploited by public figures like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum and others,” Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesperson for CAIR, said. “This is leading to fresh incidents of hate crimes nationwide. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it.”
Republican political strategist Frank Luntz held a focus group for CBS News made up entirely of Muslim-Americans to find out how they were feeling in the wake of increased inflammatory political rhetoric. The bulk of the members in the group said they felt afraid for their physical safety.
Linda Sarsour, a prominent Muslim activist from Brooklyn, said she called on Muslim parents around the country to not watch last Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate in front of their children because of the negative psychological impact it could have on kids.
Some Muslims have been working to reach out to their local communities in an effort to create awareness and demonstrate that they are loyal, peace-loving Americans. After the Baitus-Salaam Mosque in Hawthorne, California, was vandalized last Sunday — including a plastic replica hand grenade left in the parking lot — it held an open house Friday for local citizens to visit and see how its members pray.
“We are relieved that no one was hurt, and maintain our open-door policy at our mosque to dialogue with and educate the public on the true teachings of Islam,” Jalaluddin Ahmad, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Los Angeles West chapter, which worships at the mosque, told the Daily Breeze. “Such extremism will not scare us into locking our mosques; rather, we will open the doors wider to educate all.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's mosque in Hawthorne was vandalized Saturday night. pic.twitter.com/lYFaap84Nb
— Liset Marquez (@JournaLiset) December 13, 2015
Other Muslims are holding training sessions on how to respond to attacks. The Islamic Speakers Bureau in Atlanta held a workshop Saturday for middle and high school students teaching them how to respond if they are harassed or attacked. While they typically focus on adults for such workshops, the group noticed that increasingly students in school are subject to harassment. For example, a hijab-wearing middle-schooler in the Bronx was recently harassed by classmates and taunted with terms like "ISIS." Boys also allegedly tried to yank off her head scarf.
“We’ve noticed there is a great burden for defense on our students, particularly for girls, because they may choose to cover their hair,” Asif Saberi, an Islamic Speakers Bureau board member, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But many Muslim-Americans have expressed hope and optimism, insisting that they would not back down from embracing their American identities.
“I’m proud to be a Muslim, and I’m proud to be an American,” one member of Luntz’s focus group said. “No one is going to take that away from me.”