Meetings will begin this weekend to address the hostility and fear Muslims in Riverside, California, say they are still experiencing months after a December terrorist attack took place in the area, the Press Enterprise reported. After a Muslim couple who said they were inspired by the Islamic State group killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in early December, Muslims around the country reported a sharp increase in anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination.
The San Bernardino attack, combined with the terror attacks in Paris and anti-Muslim rhetoric from prominent politicians such as Donald Trump, led to a wave of discriminatory backlash around the country last fall. A report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino released a study mid-December that found hate crimes against Muslims had tripled since the two terror attacks and were at levels not seen since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, has been working overtime for months to help Muslim communities respond to hate crimes and backlash, as well as to spread awareness and eliminate misconceptions about Islam.
Still, Muslim and Jewish residents in Riverside said they have been threatened and followed in recent months. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the couple who carried out the San Bernardino shooting, had lived in Riverside until about six months before the attack, the Press Enterprise reported. They lived in Redlands, California, at the time of the attack, and Farook had attended the Islamic Center of Riverside.
In response to the anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents, Riverside City Councilman Andy Melendrez, whose ward used to include the mosque, asked city commissioners to address the community’s response to religious differences. The Riverside Human Relations Commission has put together a monthly series called Riverside Together: Fellowship Instead of Fear. Meetings will take place at houses of worship and at Riverside City Hall, the Press Enterprise reported.
The series of four meetings, beginning Saturday, will feature leaders from Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities, as well as elected officials, law enforcement officers and other community members. Muslims currently make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population, according to Pew Research data, but the population is growing rapidly and is expected to double by 2050.