With the storm of Islamophobia that only intensifies as the years go by, Muslims living in the US have grown accustomed to defending ourselves and our communities out of necessity. At certain times of the year we tell the people we love “be safe” as they walk outside. The anniversary of 9/11 is one of those times.
Even living in New York City, my mother told me not to wear T-shirts from my school’s Muslim Students Association in the street because people might target me when I was in high school. I’ve seen my friends, 17 and 18 years old, worrying that if they go to a large jamaat for Eid, they may never make it back home. And I wish I could say that all that fear is unjustified, but this last month has proved me wrong.
On Saturday, September 10th, two Muslim women walking in Brooklyn, NY with their small children were assaulted by a 32-year-old woman.
At 9PM on Sunday, September 11th, a Muslim woman’s sleeve was set on fire on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Possibly a hate crime.
And around 11PM that same night, tacking itself onto an already-long list of crimes against Muslim communities, the Fort Pierce Islamic Center in Florida was set on fire. Possibly a hate crime.
People are labeling this almost exclusively as an attack on the mosque where Omar Mateen was known to pray. Not only was the arson committed on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but on the night before Eid ul-Adha, the second biggest Muslim holiday. Here we have two clear indicators that this being a mosque and not a church or temple is, well, important.
Yet despite all this, the unrelenting focus of media coverage on the mosque’s flimsy connection to Omar Mateen begs the question: if a murderer had never gone there, would anyone have cared that a house of God was torched? The association of the crime committed against the members of the Fort Pierce masjid and Mateen’s disgusting crime against humanity fails the journalistic mission to create empathy.
The masjid itself is being criminalized for the actions of one man out of the thousands of people who’ve ever stepped foot inside of it. This is not the mosque of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen – this is the mosque of the Fort Pierce community. Their sacred house. It is, and always will be, the property of a collective and never of an individual, no matter how heinous their crime is. And people are trying to take it away from them.
We’ve seen this too many times. The intention to instill fear in people in the places where they should feel the safest – in neighborhoods of similar backgrounds, places of worship, or, you know, anywhere – is rooted in long histories of racism and xenophobia.
Among others, one of the most recent manifestations is the profiling of Muslims, whether that be through surveillance, overly-harsh immigration policies, or straight-up violent crime. We’re suffering here, and people are being threatened and hurt in increasing numbers. It’s time people stopped skirting around the fact that hate crimes are pervading US society and threatening people’s existence.