US Muslim brace for more violence after mosque attack
Washington - Leaders of the Muslim community in the United States braced for possible violent attacks amid heightened tensions following deadly confrontations triggered by a far-right march in Virginia.
“We need to be vigilant,” said Rabia Ahmed, media and public affairs director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). “Every religious centre that feels its members are under threat of attack should take the necessary security measures.”
US Muslims have been targets of a rising number of hate crimes. A bomb was thrown into the office of the imam of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Centre in Bloomington, Minnesota, August 5 as worshippers gathered for morning prayers.
No one was injured in what Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton called “a criminal act of terrorism.” No arrests have been made.
A week later, far-right, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia. During clashes between the right-wing marchers and counter-demonstrators in the city, a suspected neo-Nazi drove a vehicle into counter-demonstrators, killing a woman and injuring 19 other people.
While keeping silent about the mosque attack, US President Donald Trump offered an initial comment on the Charlottesville violence that many saw as very soft on the right-wing extremists. After pressure from the public and leaders in his Republican Party, Trump gave a second statement August 14, calling racism “evil” and condemning extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan as “repugnant.” A day later he changed course again, saying there had been some “very fine people” among the right-wing marchers in Charlottesville.
Muslim activists in the United States said the events in Virginia demonstrated that hate groups are well-organised and dangerous.
“The Charlottesville violence has shown there is an organised, coordinated network of hate groups targeting minority groups,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an umbrella group. “They hate Muslims, they hate Afro-Americans, they hate immigrants, they hate Jews. They hate every community that is not of their background.”
Muslim activists said Trump’s election victory, his sharply anti- Muslim rhetoric and policies such as the Muslim travel ban strengthened that trend. CAIR said it registered 69 anti-Muslim hate crimes in the second quarter of this year. The organisation called on local officials around the country to boost security measures ahead of a wave of white nationalist protest marches planned for early September.
“The numbers don’t lie,” said Abed Ayoub, political director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), an advocacy group. Right-wing extremists “feel encouraged and emboldened” by Trump, Ayoub said. “They think they can get away with it.”
Paul Staniland, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and an expert on extremist groups, warned that Trump’s statements could result in violence. “Odds of non-state violence soar when state officials give it cover and legitimacy,” Staniland told the news website Vox. He added Trump’s stance was “dangerous and staggeringly irresponsible.”
Trump, who has been quick to condemn Islamist attacks in Europe and elsewhere, has not commented on the Minnesota attack. Sebastian Gorka, a White House adviser known for his right-wing views and his scepticism towards Muslims, said it was not clear that the bombing at the mosque had been the work of anti-Muslim attackers. Gorka suggested the bombing might have been the work of people who wanted the assault to look like an act against Muslims.
Trump won the election after promising tough measures to keep Islamist radicals out of the United States and, at one point, called for surveillance of all US mosques to stop terrorism. His populist campaign messages were part of the reason his condemnation of the Charlottesville violence rang hollow to many critics. Activists welcomed the dismissal of Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, a leading voice of right-wing populism in the White House, but voiced concern that the administration’s populist approach would continue.
A poll for the US television network CBS indicated that 55% of American respondents said they disapproved of the way Trump handled the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence; 34% said they supported the president’s approach.
Muslim organisations are taking precautions. “We have been encouraging community centres and mosques to step up security measures,” Hooper said. Shortly after the mosque attack in Minnesota, a Muslim woman running for a seat in Congress there received a death threat, CAIR said.