Update | By Trisha Marczak
A man went to visit the gravesite of his father in a Chicago, Ill. suburb this week, only to discover that it had been vandalized, spray painted with the phrase, “RAGHAED KILLER.” His father, who is buried at a Muslim cemetery, was not the only one to be targeted.
Photos of a number of gravesites vandalized with hateful remarks were released by CAIR in a press release Friday morning. The latest cemetery attack is nothing new in Chicago’s suburbs, where the Muslim community has repeatedly been attacked in recent weeks. The targeted attacks come on the heels of comments made by Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, who in August told a crowd gathered at a townhall meeting that Islamic extremists were living among them in Chicago suburbs, arguably fueling the fire of those who acted out in the recent string of attacks in those very suburbs.
In response to this movement, CAIR is organizing a “‘White Balloon’ Flash Mob Against Hate and Islamophobia” in Chicago today — a gathering intended to unite all Americans in opposition to hate crimes, regardless of religion.
“It should disturb every American that this is happening in 2012. Are we moving forward or regressing? No one should have to live in fear of being harassed, shot, bombed, injured or killed simply because of their faith, race or ethnicity,” CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab said in a press release.
(MintPress) — Five hundred people were interrupted during their time of worship Friday night to the sounds of gunfire — a reminder that the oldest mosque in the suburban Illinois community was no longer a safe place to carry out their faith.
Incidents like this are not isolated. In the wake of accusations by Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann that Islamic extremists were infiltrating the U.S. government, hundreds of Muslim Americans have felt the impact, with an increase in violence that has included an acid attack aimed at schoolchildren and the torching of a mosque, to name a few.
While Bachmann clearly did not advocate for violence against the Muslim community, some experts are saying the rhetoric and manifestation of such tense political climates, pitting religions against one another, is gaining ground in the U.S. Requests for comments related to this issue were not immediately granted by Bachmann’s press department.
Even the attack against a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis. that killed seven was alleged to have been a case of mistaken identity, presumably intended to have been carried out against a mosque. And while those who carry out acts of violence act alone, it represents a growing trend of individuals who are using violence to spread their message, and a political climate that fuels tension and islamophobic rhetoric.
Just last week, two Chicago suburbs saw the separate attacks targeted at the Muslim community, one of which included the use of an acid bomb at an Islamic school, the other included gunshots at a mosque.
Both incidents followed comments made at a town hall meeting by Rep. Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, that vaguely mirrored Bachmann’s stance, saying that the threat of extremist Islam was present in Illinois suburbs. The message was not presented to law enforcement, but to the people who live in those communities, driving fear into the minds of those who are turning their backs against their neighbors, simply because of a religion.
And like Christians who separate themselves from extremists like Anders Breivik, the man who carried out the terrorist attack in Norway, Muslim Americans under attack are pleading with the public, asking for peace and acceptance.
Uptick in violence
In the western suburb of Lombard, an acid-filled 7-Up bottle was hurled onto the property of an Islamic high school, during a time in which people were inside for worship and prayer, according to CBS Chicago. No one was injured in the incident, and there are no suspects at this time.
The incident sent shockwaves among those within the community and school, who questioned why they would be the target of such attacks. Had someone been outside at the time, it’s likely they would have been victim to the acid bomb, potentially suffering as a result. And without a suspect in custody, those attending the school continue to do so with the fear that they will once again be the target.
Two days before this, on the north side of Chicago suburbia, a man who lives next to a mosque opened fire at the building, narrowly missing an off-duty police officer who was there serving as security. Roughly 500 people were inside at the time of the shooting, although no one was hurt.
David Conrad, 51, is facing felony charges for aggravated discharge of a firearm and criminal damage to property. Prosecutors have denounced any hate-crime related charges, according to CBS Chicago. The attack targeted the oldest Muslim center in Illinois, the Muslim Community Center, alarming those who have worshipped there for decades.
Conrad has been released on bail and still resides next to the mosque. That’s not very comforting for those 500 who were present when the gunshots went off, as it’s not too far-fetched in their minds that it could happen again.
“This last week of Ramadan is the holiest week of the year for Muslims, and the shots were fired at 8:30, a little after sunset, the busiest time of the day when Muslims come to the mosque to break their long day fast and pray together,” Muslim Community Center (MCC) President Dr. Mohammad Aleemuddin said in a press release.
Aleemuddin said the impact is being felt by those who worship at the Mosque, especially children who are growing up with the constant threat.
“This is a school and a house of worship. It’s a place for our families to pray and our children to learn about their world. And we are being shot at. Community members are terrified, especially children,” he said.
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil liberties organization, had, days before the shooting, issued a community safety advisory for American mosques, citing the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin and attacks on Mosques in Missouri and Rhode Island.
The issue in Missouri occurred in Joplin, where a mosque was burned down in early August. While not official, it’s alleged to have been caused by arson. The Jasper County Sheriff’s Office has called on the fire marshal for investigation.
It was the second time the mosque had been set on fire. On July 4, the roof was set aflame — security cameras captured images of a man throwing what appeared to be a burning object onto the roof of the mosque, according to Raw Story. The FBI has issued a $15,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
In California, a mosque was targeted in early August after three pigs legs were thrown onto the site that is set to become a mosque. Construction on the mosque was approved by officials in San Bernardino County earlier this year, according to the LA Times.
A manifestation of tension?
Following the incident, CAIR issued a press release reiterating what it had said before the Illinois shooting and acid bombing.
“We are gravely concerned that we are seeing the rising level of Islamophobic rhetoric in our society translate into behavior,” CAIR Executive Director Ahmed Rehab said in a press release.
The Illinois incidents followed remarks made by Walsh, who said there was a real threat in the state’s suburbs, presented by Islam. His comments were absorbed by those at the town hall meeting, the very people who live in those communities.
“There is a radical strain of Islam in this country — it’s not just over there — trying to kill Americans every week,” Walsh said.
Walsh went on to name specific cities and suburbs. Speaking to CBS Chicago, Rehab said that by specifying particular areas of the state, Walsh was making rather large claims, arguing that if he did have information leading him to believe there were real threats of extremist Islamic movements in noted suburbs, Walsh should alert officials.
“He’s mentioning specific suburbs that there is this radical strain of Islam in and, again, that’s a very specific piece of information to give,” he told the news station. “If he had such specific information, that’s something for law enforcement to handle.”
Representatives from various religious organizations, including the Jewish faith and Methodist Christian faith, among others, joined CAIR in its condemnation of Walsh’s statements, tying it to the shootings in Wisconsin, as well.
“A diverse group of Muslims, Jews and Christians held a press conference Friday in downtown Chicago to warn against the effects of such irresponsible remarks, especially coming as they did following incidents such as the deadly shooting spree in Wisconsin,” the press release states.
The gathering of people by many faiths to denounce the recent violence and anti-Islamic rhetoric in politics could just be what the country needs to step on a track of peace and acceptance. Violence in all forms, according to those rallying behind the Muslim community, will not be accepted — no matter who the target is and what faith the perpetrator claims to be acting out.
It’s essentially a movement be founded on respect, recognizing the difference between practicing a religion and subscribing to an extremist version of it, no matter the faith.