August 20, 2017

US Muslim brace for more violence after mosque attack

In solidarity. A demonstrator holds a sign during a rally in response to the Charlottesville car attack on counter-protesters after the “Unite the Right” rally organised by white nationalists.(Reuters)

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.