State’s Muslims fear retaliation

The Daily Item
November 20, 2015

by Rick Dandes, The Daily Item

SUNBURY — The Islamic community in Pennsylvania is living in fear of recrimination and retaliation a week after the massacre in Paris by ISIS jihadists and subsequent terroristic threats against Washington, New York City and elsewhere in the homeland.

Jacob Bender, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Philadelphia, said: “Whether or not something has happened already, the Muslim community feels apprehensive because of some things that have happened in the past, all the way from children being called terrorists and Osama at schools to minor or major vandalism at mosques. With the tenor of the times, particularly with the refugee resettlement question and the issue of Islam being inserted into the presidential campaign, people in the Muslim community are on edge.”

Mosques are taking extra security precautions, Bender said. “But I’m not at liberty to explain how,” he added.

Samia Malik, of Harrisburg, a self-professed community activist and a former president of the Council on American Islamic Relations, sadly agrees with Bender.

“There is definitely an unease in our community,” she said Thursday evening. “I sit on a lot of boards, and after Paris, at a diversity event, I could feel the tension in the room. People couldn’t even say the word ‘violence’ in front of me. It’s like we are walking on eggshells.”

About bullying in school or being called names, Malik said kids don’t come home and tell their parents what happened in the classroom. “If it’s bad, if it’s harassment, it’s not being reported because they think it will only make the situation worse,” she said.

The other day, a mother texted her, she said. “Her name was Sabah, and she said children were calling her kids all kinds of names. I asked what she did about it. ‘I told my child to be patient and ignore it,’ the woman said. But did you talk to the authorities? She said, ‘No. We don’t want to cause any problems.’ You see, people in the Muslim community are afraid to even report things because they think it might make it worse. It’s almost like, we’re going to have to pay the price for what someone with evil intentions has done.”

Malik sympathizes with people who are afraid of being harassed just because they are of the same faith as the terrorists. “I’ve gone through a lot of emotions myself when I saw what happened in Paris,” she said. “Disgust, horror, anger, which turned to disbelief, which turned to depression. And after depression came fear about what is going to happen to us here.”

Shortly after that, she heard about the many U.S. governors not allowing Syrian people to relocate to their states. Add to that the political rhetoric. “So it is getting to be a scary place for us,” she said. “People notice somebody with a Muslim name or identify us if we are wearing a beard or a scarf and we have trouble getting jobs. We have to work two or three times harder to get that job. This is all going to get worse. And the worst fear we have is what is going to happen to our children next.”

Talking to people in the Muslim community is going to be increasingly difficult, Malik added. “Right now, we are hurting and don’t know where this all will lead. We’d rather stay away from everything. People want to go back in their homes and shut the doors. That is common in Muslim circles right now,” she said.

“Even talking to a neighbor,” she said. “Muslims are afraid that someone is watching us and will think that we are a part of some plot like the other group, the jihadists, but we’re not.”

Several attempts to reach Muslim families in the Valley were unsuccessful.

Bender had some advice for Muslims afraid of being harassed.

“I would urge them to respond with understanding in these difficult times and to try as best to make it clear that Muslims in America have nothing to do with the criminal acts of the psychopaths in Paris,” he said.

“It’s likely,” Bender said, “that many of those who are calling for vetting and the curtailment of immigration to those desperately seeking it have had grandparents or relatives who at some point were part of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We support the governor and are looking for ways to help him. His position we think is in the best tradition of American history and democracy. He should be commended for his courageous act, and what’s going on elsewhere probably says more about the ignorance and bigotry floating around in the public sphere than about Gov. Wolf.”