Never before in the history of our nation have reported anti-Muslim hate crimes been as high in number or in severity as in 2015. Throughout 2015, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) offices nationwide received, on average, one to two daily reports of hate crimes targeting an American Muslim or someone perceived to be Muslim. Dozens of mosques were burned, numerous Americans who were Muslim or “looked Muslim” were shot or beaten severely. During most of these attacks, attackers expressed the same anti-Muslim slurs repeated daily in mainstream headlines and commentary and by political candidates and politicians.
We have seen more than a dozen reported anti-Muslim hate attacks in the past seven months right here in our state.
- On Dec. 9, 2015, an African American Christian ride-share driver in downtown Seattle was beaten by a man who called him anti-Muslim slurs.
- On Feb. 2, 2016, a man armed with two guns and a baseball bat pointed a gun at people outside the Northgate mosque in Seattle and threatened to shoot them after making comments about their ethnicity.
- In March 2016, a 19-year-old American Muslim girl in Lynnwood wearing a head scarf and walking on the sidewalk in broad daylight was attacked and beaten by a man who yelled anti-Muslim slurs and conspiracy theories. She came home to her family with a bleeding face, bruised ribs, concussions and damage to her head.
Just this month, numerous local mosques received violent threats, including two in Redmond, one in Kent, one in Tacoma and one in North Seattle.
No federal agency collects data on discrimination experienced by children based on religion, but according to community-based surveys, 80 percent of American Muslim youth reported being targets of harassment, oftentimes in front of teachers and administrators.
Over and over again nationwide, we have seen waves of religious news coverage and commentary following crimes where the suspect might be Muslim result in waves of anti-Muslim hate violence, especially attacks on American Muslim children, women and places of worship.
A study by Media Tenor found that Islam is featured in prime-time news more than any other religion and coverage is overwhelmingly negative.
Research by the University of Hawaii, University of Exeter and National Hispanic Media Coalition indicate that media content can have a direct effect on hate and prejudice against minority groups. It’s the news coverage and commentary that determines how the public will react, not the event itself. Accurate language and appropriate context can inform readers, while loaded coverage misleads readers and fuels hate and prejudice.
Hate speech leads to hate crimes. When hate speech and conspiracy theories against an American minority are constantly spread publicly and go unchallenged, they foster an atmosphere that causes hate crimes.
American Muslims believe in the right and freedom of all U.S. citizens to live and worship in their own way and they uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
There are about 100,000 American Muslims in our state and about 40,000 in the Seattle area who, inspired by their faith, give back to society every day. Tens of thousands of American Muslims serve as public school teachers, firefighters, police officers, business owners, nurses and doctors. In fact, one in 18 medical doctors across America is an American Muslim. More than 10,000 American Muslims serve in our nation’s armed forces.
American Muslims share the same American values and freedoms that we all cherish, knowing that we are all in this together. This is why immediately after the attack on the club in Florida, American Muslims nationwide joined fellow Americans in mourning and started a campaign that has raised more than $75,000 to benefit the victims and their families. Last year, when African American churches were burned across the South, American Muslims raised more than $150,000 to help with the rebuilding of those churches. American Muslims responded to the Flint water crisis by donating more than 100,000 bottles of water.
In times like this, everyday Americans as well as fair-minded business and political leaders across our nation have a duty to publicly and vocally affirm American values of religious freedom, and publicly and vocally tell stories of the lives and contributions of American Muslims they know. This can be done in simple ways, including letters to editors, op-eds, speeches at public events, or — like numerous UCC, UMC and Lutheran churches across the nation — public signs and banners.
So that when millions of young American Muslims from Seattle to Savannah turn on the news on the TV or their smart phones, the messages they hear from fair-minded leaders as well as everyday Americans are that they have the right to grow up with the same hopes and dreams as any other young American.
Hikma Sherka is a third-year college student working toward becoming a civil rights attorney.