Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle / AP

Fears rife within American Muslim community after Chapel Hill shootings

Advocates blame anti-Muslim rhetoric from politicians and media for apparent rise of Islamophobia in the United States

A series of apparent Islamophobic acts have been reported across the U.S. in the days following the fatal shooting of three Muslim students in North Carolina, prompting concern that the killings fold into a narrative of growing anti-Muslim sentiment in America.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen tremendous spike in the level of anti-Muslim hate rhetoric and now we’re starting to see that hate rhetoric turning into acts of violence targeting Muslims,” Ibrahim Hooper, communications director of Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Al Jazeera.

His comments come after the deaths of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill last Tuesday. Police officials have said that a parking dispute with a neighbor may have sparked the murders. However, relatives of the deceased believe it was a hate crime and have demanded that authorities conduct an investigation into the matter.

But Hooper’s remarks also reference a wider concern of anti-Muslim sentiment, and fall on the back of a number of reported incidents of Islamphobia.

He cited El Paso, Texas, where four Muslim families recently had their tires slashed just “because they’re Muslim,” according to Hooper. “We’re seeing more and more of these kinds of incidents and it’s pretty troubling.”

Meanwhile, two bomb threats on Tuesday were directed at the North Austin Muslim Community Center and a nearby food truck near an Arab café.

The Texas incidents follow the defacing Saturday of the Islamic School of Rhode Island, which was vandalized with anti-Muslim graffiti. One of the statements tagged on the school read, “Now this is a hate crime” — a potential reference to the debate over the role anti-Muslim feeling had in the Chapel Hill shootings.

A day earlier, Houston’s Quba Islamic Institute was set ablaze. The motives of a nearby resident suspected of the crime have not been made public, but others have taken to social media in support of the arson attack. One of the comments posted on the school’s Facebook page read, “Let it burn… block the fire hydrant.”

At a supermarket in Dearborn, Michigan, on Feb. 12, two white men harassed a Muslim family shopping — calling them “terrorists” and ordering them “to go back to your country,” Arab American News reported. The two men physically attacked the father, leaving blood “all over the place,” according to a witness. The suspects fled before police arrived. 

"The incident is currently being thoroughly investigated to determine whether it involves a criminal assault and/or whether it was motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender(s) bias," Dearborn Police said in a statement.

Apparent Islamophobic acts have not been confined to Muslim targets. On Monday, the Hindu Temple & Cultural Center in Washington and a nearby junior high school were vandalized with slogans including “Muslims Get Out” and an accompanying swastika. 


Hooper suggested that some of the incidents might have been inspired by the Chapel Hill shooting. But while the “intensity is new,” anti-Muslim sentiments are not, he added.

Advocates have been warning of consequences from the rhetoric of some politicians and continuous media coverage of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which fails to significantly distinguish between the actions of that armed group and the vast majority of Muslims.

A study published on Feb. 11 by Lifeway Research polled 1,000 Americans and found that 37 percent say they are worried about Islamic law being applied in America. Indeed, over the past few years, 32 states have introduced legislation to ban Islamic law from being used in courtrooms, according to Center for American Progress.

The push against Islamic law comes despite there being no concerted effort to impose it in the U.S.

The Lifeway study also found that 27 percent of Americans believe ISIL reflects the true nature of Islam, while only 43 percent believe Islam can create a peaceful society.

Citing ISIL’s gruesome videos of killings – from the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot to shooting executions and beheadings – Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center told Al Jazeera: "If you think about what has been in the news over the last several months, its pretty much been a litany of Islamist horrors."

Some Muslims have expressed feeling fearful under a growing climate of anti-Muslim sentiments.

"I think the Chapel Hill murders are really kind of a watershed event in the life of the American Muslim community," Hooper said. "I think Muslims feel kind of under siege."

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