Texas Muslims threatened amid increasing Islamophobia

Politicians and law enforcement agencies have been slow to support Muslims facing growing threat of violence.

Texas mosque
Vincent Simon, left, and Mujeeb Kazi say a recent threat against their mosque has put local Muslims on high alert [Patrick Strickland]

Watauga, Texas – Vincent Simon recalls feeling shocked when he flipped on the Masjid Al Sahaabah mosque’s voicemail to hear a death threat from a man promising to behead Muslim worshippers.

Simon, a US military veteran who converted to Islam some five years ago, said that the small mosque and its attendees are threatened regularly, receiving three or four intimidating voicemails a week.

At a time when rights groups and analysts warn of growing violence against Muslims and of intense Islamophobic rhetoric among mainstream politicians, the threat of beheadings raised serious concerns.

“This wasn’t the normal threat,” said Simon, who is on the mosque’s board and security committee.

“This is a long, angry message with a definite ‘I’m going to cut your heads off’ kind of thing’,” he told Al Jazeera.  

“I don’t know if it’s the political atmosphere or just whatever else is going on; but some people think it’s OK to do whatever they want to do because there’s nothing that’s going to be done for us.”

Mujeeb Kazi, another member of the mosque’s board who moved from Pakistan to the US more than two decades ago, believes the anti-Muslim rhetoric of many politicians, and namely Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump, has given licence to people to threaten or attack Muslims.

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“Even if he doesn’t win the presidency, well, I think he has probably already done the damage to the community that was cohesive, tolerant, accepting. That has [been] damaged,” Kazi told Al Jazeera.

On Monday, Trump announced plans to introduce severe immigration restrictions, including an ideological test for Muslims and tourists. He has previously called for a complete freeze on Muslims entering the country and supported registering American Muslims in a database.

‘Armed to the teeth’ 

Masjid Al Sahaabah is located in Watauga, a small city near Fort Worth. The city has a population of nearly 24,000 people and is home to some 300 Muslims from diverse backgrounds.

In the threatening voicemail the mosque received, a man delivers an angry tirade laden with racist, homophobic and violent language.

Addressing “all Muslims in that centre”, the caller says: “If you think you are going to establish Sharia law [Islamic jurisprudence] in my neighbourhood and this country – in Texas – you are very wrong.

“Islam is a violent religion, and we won’t stand for it,” he continues. “And there are me – and just like plenty of other veterans here in Watauga – that will stand up to your bulls**t.”

Claiming to be “armed to the teeth” and backed by fellow military veterans, the caller advocates for “another Christian crusade” and promises to “meet you on any battleground you want.

“We will cut all of your heads off. Do you understand me? All of you,” he says, ending the message.

A police spokesperson did not reply to Al Jazeera’s repeated requests for a comment. According to local media reports, police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are investigating the voicemail. 

‘All hell’s breaking loose’

“The Muslim community is feeling so threatened right now,” said Alia Salem, executive director of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) organisation.

Salem said that politicians and many law enforcement agencies have been slow to support Muslims at a time when they are facing the growing threat of violence.

Everyday hostility towards Muslims is “palpable”, she said.

“All hell’s breaking loose,” Salem told Al Jazeera.

“We are getting a lot of support from good people, which gives us hope. But the people who should be supporting us – elected officials and law enforcement – are few and far between, lacklustre, lukewarm or nonexistent.”

Khalid Jabara, a 37-year-old Lebanese-American man, was shot dead on August 12 by a neighbour who reportedly harassed the slain man’s family regularly, calling them “dirty Arabs”, “filthy Lebanese” and often inaccurately referring to the Orthodox Christian family as Muslims.

In a statement, Jabara’s family said police failed to act despite years of repeated harassment, including an incident in which the neighbour hit and injured Khalid Jabara’s mother, Haifa, with a car.

On August 13, a man shot and killed Maulana Akonjee, a 55-year-old imam, and Thara Uddin, his 64-year-old associate, as the two walked along the sidewalk following afternoon prayers in the New York City borough of Queens.

In February 2015, three Muslim university students – Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha – were shot and killed by a neighbour in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

A report published in May by the Bridge Initiative, a research project at Georgetown University, found that Muslims were between six and nine times more likely to be attacked in 2015 than in the period following the September 11 attacks in 2001.

The report documented about 180 incidents of anti-Muslim violence from the time the first presidential candidacy was announced in March 2015 until May this year, including 12 killings and 34 physical assaults.

After Trump called for the closure of mosques in December 2015, the number of attacks against Muslims “initially tripled with nearly half of those attacks directed against mosques”, the report states.

That month alone, perpetrators carried out at least 53 attacks against Muslims, their places of worship and their property, according to the report.

‘Fear and hatred’

John Esposito, director of the Bridge Initiative and professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University, said that it would be a mistake to place a unitary focus on Trump when confronting anti-Muslim violence and rhetoric.

Former President Bill Clinton, husband of the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, drew criticism when he linked Muslims to “terrorism” and national security threats at the Democratic National Convention last month.

“If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together. We want you,” Clinton said in his address to the convention.

Pointing to a recent CAIR report, which concluded that several right-wing organisations spent more than $200m promoting “fear and hatred” of Muslims between 2008 and 2013, Esposito says Islamophobia is pervasive in American media and political discourse.

READ MORE: Report – Islamophobia is a multimillion-dollar industry

The past decade has witnessed pervasive negative media coverage of Muslims as well as an “incredible explosion” of anti-Islam websites and media figures, Esposito said.

“But it’s become much more of a major thing with Trump and recent Republican candidates,” he told Al Jazeera.

At the Masjid Al Sahaabah mosque in Texas, Simon and Kazi said they have received support from the local police and FBI following the beheading threat, as well as an outpouring of solidarity and support from the local community.

Simon hits play on the voicemail machine and a woman’s voice says: “I am so sorry you had to go through this, and I apologise on behalf of Christians.”

Yet, Kazi said that the threatening voicemails and other incidents have put the local Muslim community on high alert.

Some of the children in the community have also started asking questions, such as: “So, what is next? Where are we going to move? Are we going to go back? Are we going to move to Canada? Or will we stay here?

“Kids do worry about those kind of things,” Kazi said.

“We cannot ignore the history that is being created.”

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_

Source: Al Jazeera