Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Muslims fear increase in Islamophobia after San Bernardino shooting

Attacks have spiked since Paris massacre, Muslim advocates say, blaming rhetoric by politicians and media

Muslim Americans across the country this week were bracing for a potential Islamophobic reaction after the mass shooting that killed 14 people in California on Wednesday, with fears of a backlash after it was revealed that the two attackers, killed by police during a shootout, were Muslims.

The motivation for the attacks in the city of San Bernardino remained unknown Friday, although investigators are treating it as a "terrorist" attack and say they believe one of the shooters had pledged allegiance to the armed group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Muslim community leaders said irresponsible reporting by some media outlets and Islamophobic rhetoric from politicians fuels fears of their faith, and had already contributed to an alarming increase in harassment in the United States after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. ISIL took responsibility for those attacks, which killed 130 people.

“The threat against the community is real,” said Robert McCaw, government affairs officer for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C. “It’s being fed in part by the mainstreaming of Islamophobic rhetoric by Republican frontrunner candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson, and those that report on these incidents with a bias against the Muslim community."

“The New York Post’s headline today (Thursday) was ‘Muslim Killers,’” on a front-page story about the San Bernardino shootings, McCaw said, calling it an example of anti-Muslim journalism.

McCaw said CAIR had recorded a spike in the U.S. in harassment and attacks — about 30 incidents since the Paris carnage — exceeding what CAIR recorded in the same period after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He said that politicians must do more to show solidarity with Muslims, and that the president should stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" with Muslim community leaders to condemn any form of violence.

McCaw also said that one way of stopping mass shootings might be to increase regulation of firearms.

“We as a nation have to come to a decision on how we handle gun violence,” McCaw said. “We need more than just thoughts and prayers after these incidents.”

Muslim Americans say Islamophobia in the United States is a source of deep unease.

“I think we are all feeling exhausted and very vulnerable,” Rabia Chaudry, a lawyer, told The Washington Post. Worried about her daughter’s safety, she kept the 7-year-old home from school on Thursday.

“I’m angry at those people who did this attack. And I’m angry at how this is being politicized. Everything boils down to, ‘We should fear Muslims. And they shouldn’t be here.’”

Buildings where Muslims congregate have been the target of attacks in recent weeks. On Nov. 19, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center, a mosque in Northern Virginia. A small fire caused minor damage to the facility but no injuries or deaths, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat who condemned the incident and called on his colleagues in Congress to join him at services at the mosque to support the community.

“Many in our community feel under siege in recent weeks,” said Johari Abdul-Malik, imam and outreach director for the mosque, in a statement issued through Beyer’s office. “Women taking their children to school have been heckled by passersby, and we experienced two incidences of hate violence.”

A Moroccan cab driver in Pittsburgh was shot in the back on Thanksgiving by a man who, he said, asked him about his ethnicity and mocked the Prophet Mohammed, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post Dispatch. The driver was hospitalized after the attack and has not been named by police, who are investigating the incident.

“This is my country,” he told the paper. “I am proud to say I am American, but I didn’t have the chance to say that to him.”

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