2019: Another challenging year for American Muslims (Continued)

Trump words linked to more hate crime
President Donald Trump has often railed about an “invasion of illegals” at the southern border, words echoed in a screed the El Paso, Texas, shooting suspect apparently posted that called the attack that killed 22 people at a Walmart his response to a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Some extremism experts believe that may not be an accident. They say historical data suggests a link between heated rhetoric from top political leaders and ensuing reports of hate crimes, only adding to the fears of those who could be targeted. The rampage in Texas has brought new attention to the dangers of immigration-motivated hate crimes and violence in a country with 58 million Latinos amid daily political rhetoric from the White House, conservative politicians and the dark corners of the internet about migrants coming across the border.

A team from the University of North Texas recently produced a study that found counties that hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally saw a 226% increase in reported hate incidents over comparable counties that did not host such a rally. “I’m convinced now that political rhetoric of elites influences the behavior of supporters,” said North Texas political science professor Valerie Martinez-Ebers. “This research confirms, at least in my mind, that the political rhetoric that’s happening today is influencing the American public’s actions.”

In July at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump questioned the patriotism of Somali-born Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and then stood silent for 13 seconds while the crowd loudly chanted “send her back”. Over the past year and a half alone, a man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat pushed a Mexican immigrant onto the New York City subway tracks while shouting anti-Hispanic slurs. The Hispanic mayor of a Seattle suburb was assaulted from behind at a block party by a man who disparaged his ancestry and policies supporting Latino immigrants. And a New York attorney was caught on video yelling at customers and employees at a Manhattan restaurant, saying he supposed they were in the U.S. illegally and his next call would be to immigration authorities “to have each one of them kicked out of my country.” [Associated Press]

Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida shooting: American Muslim community was dismayed and alarmed at the deadly shooting on December 6 at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, by Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old Saudi military student who had been training at the Station. Three people were killed in the shooting before he was shot to death by sheriff's deputies in the second fatal shooting at a U.S. military installation in the week. The first, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Oahu on December 4, came as that installation was preparing for the 78th anniversary on Dec. 7 of the Japanese attack that marked the United States' entry into World War II. The FBI announced that it is treating the deadly Florida shooting as an act of terrorism so it can amass more resources to investigate whether the Saudi gunman was spurred by an "ideology."

On the positive note

First Muslim woman elected to Virginia Senate

Ghazala Hashmi in November became the first Muslim women elected to the Virginia Senate. Ghazala Hashmi, 55, upset the Republican incumbent Glen Sturtevant to represent a district based in Chesterfield County. Her victory helped to flip the Senate Tuesday night as Democrats took control of both chambers and consolidated power across state government for the first time in a generation. A former literature professor and community college administrator, Ghazala Hashmi campaigned on issues that included improving education, taking action on gun control and expanding access to health care.

On November 6, Three civil advocacy groups, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Jetpac, and MPower Change released a report which identified at least 34 Muslim candidates who won elections in local and statewide races across the country. More than 80 Muslims ran for office this year at the local and state level. 26 American Muslims were elected nationwide in the off-year election.

In January, an exuberant crowd celebrated the victories of the first female Muslim members of Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), at a reception at Arlington, VA’s Hyatt Crystal City Hotel. Fellow Muslim Rep. AndrĂ© Carson (D-IN), in office since 2008, was also in attendance.

California judge vacates conviction in 13-year-old Lodi terror case of Hamid Hayat: In a stunning decision in July, the Senior United States District Judge Garland Burrell Jr., who oversaw the trial and conviction of accused Lodi terror suspect Hamid Hayat 13 years ago in 2006 has ordered the conviction and sentence vacated. Burrell’s decision comes seven months after U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes issued a 116-page recommendation to Burrell that the conviction be vacated because of ineffective representation by his original defense attorney, a woman who at the time had never tried a criminal case in federal court. Barnes’ recommendation followed weeks of testimony in a 2018 hearing in which his attorney hammered home his contention that the FBI had coerced Hayat into false confessions, that the training camp he supposedly visited was not even open at the time he was in Pakistan and that alibi witnesses who could prove his innocence were not produced at the original trial.

Hayat had been accused of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and planning to wage jihad on the United States. Hayat, who was born in San Joaquin County in 1982, had visited Pakistan with his family in 2003 on what his lawyers say was a trip for his mother to receive medical treatment and to find a wife for him. But Hayat had come to the attention of a paid government informant who can be heard on wiretaps urging Hayat to attend such a camp. His appellate lawyers say that despite his confession – which came after hours of questioning by the FBI and is now the subject of a Netflix documentary – he never went to a camp. They also say the one he was alleged to have attended was not open at the time he was in Pakistan.

The case made national headlines when federal officials announced they had broken up an al-Qaida cell in Lodi, where at one point agents suspected Osama bin Laden’s No. 2 man – Ayman al-Zawahiri – supposedly had been seen. Hayat’s defense team dismissed that notion as a fantasy created by the informant, but federal prosecutors have fought for years to keep Hayat’s conviction from being overturned, noting repeatedly that he confessed. 

The FBI’s terrorism watch list violates the Constitution, says federal judge

On Sept 4, a federal judge ruled that an FBI watch list of more than 1 million “known or suspected terrorists” violates the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens in the database. The decision from U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia in favor of 23 Muslim Americans who sued over their inclusion in the Terrorist Screening Database found that the watch list infringes on their constitutional right to due process.

Trenga noted that the list restricts their ability to fly and engage in everyday activities and backed the plaintiffs’ concerns that they were flagged secretly and without a clear methodology. 

“An individual’s placement into the [watch list] does not require any evidence that the person engaged in criminal activity, committed a crime, or will commit a crime in the future,” the judge wrote, “and individuals who have been acquitted of a terrorism-related crime may still be listed.”

The  Washington Post said the ruling could reshape the government’s process for a watch list that has long been criticized for inaccuracy and described by opponents as “a Muslim registry created in the wake of the widespread Islamophobia of the early 2000s.”

The watch list encompasses nearly 1.2 million people, including about 4,600 U.S. citizens or residents, as of June 2017.

Montgomery County (Maryland) students to be off on Muslim holiday, lunar New Year

The largest school system in Maryland will not hold classes on Eid al-Fitr next school year, marking a victory for parents and students who wish to observe the Muslim holiday. The Montgomery County Board of Education adopted a calendar for the 2020-2021 school year that sets professional development days for staff but no school for students on May 13 for Eid al-Fitr and Feb. 12, 2021 for Lunar New Year, which is celebrated by many Asian families.

In recent years, the school board in Montgomery County has not scheduled classes on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, two major Islamic holidays. The school system closes for two Jewish holidays and several days around Christmas and Easter.

Return to page one

 Online Magazine launched in  2003


Executive Editor: Abdus Sattar Ghazali


Front page title-000
Islam in 21st Century 2017a
MuslimsInPolitics 2017 Front