On Friday morning, part of the Quba Islamic Institute in Houston went up in flames, and local firefighters spent over an hour battling the blaze before extinguishing it, saving the institute's school and mosque. The building set ablaze, which stored religious books, was completely destroyed, and came after the center's staff chased off a masked man from the premises earlier this week.
Houston officials believe the fire was set intentionally, and many are calling for this to be investigated as a hate crime. Unfortunately, the hate which likely ignited this fire wasn't just contained to the blaze, for as news of the fire spread, a retired Houston-area firefighter who
still (update: no longer) volunteers for Crystal Beach Fire & Rescue posted the following:
This arson attack happened in the wake of the execution of three Muslim-Americans in Chapel Hill, a likely hate crime
which has shaken a Muslim-American community already reeling from an uptick in anti-Muslim hate crimes and speech
since the premier of American Sniper
Of course, this uptick must be placed within the backdrop of growing Islamophobia which continues to spread throughout American society since 9/11. Indeed, in the 13 years since 9/11, anti-Muslim hate crimes have been occurring at a steady and alarming rate. Today, Muslim-Americans are five times more likely to be targeted for such a crime than before the "war on terror" and the Islamophobia which now runs rampant in America.
Graphic via Washington Post.
The figures shown above are believed to be drastically underrepresented, since reporting is voluntary and the Muslim-American community is deeply wary of law enforcement. Is it any wonder, given that innocent Muslim citizens and communities have been the target of illegal spying
and surveillance by U.S. police and are routinely profiled on the streets and in airports?
Muslim-Americans in Houston, shaken by this attack, were already shaken not just by the Chapel Hill shooting, but by the bigoted rush of white Americans arguing that the execution of three Muslim-Americans was really just about a parking dispute. They were already shaken because they know to be true what family of the victims understand: that this wasn't about parking, but the same hatred which ignited their place of worship in Houston. They were already shaken by the brutality of the crime in Chapel Hill — leaked information indicates the three young citizens were lined up on the ground, kneeling, and shot in the back of their heads execution style. And they were already shaken knowing that, had a Muslim perpetrated this crime, it would have been proclaimed a terror attack.
Erica Williams Simon addressed this hate in a spot-on commentary on the 'parking dispute' fervor:
I want to someday live in a world where, when a senseless thing like this happens, thinking that bias was the cause seems as absurd as a parking dispute. I want to live in a world where we all feel the safety, community and love that 19-year-old Abu-Salha felt when she told public radio in an interview last summer: “It doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s so many different people from so many different places of different backgrounds and religions. But here we’re all one — one culture.”
But until that day, crimes that look, smell and feel like hate will continue to be called hate by those who regularly experience hate. And for those who don’t understand that experience, a simple suggestion:
As investigators work to solve the crime, do something to solve the hate. Actively work to change the unwelcoming, dangerous and prejudiced society that Muslim Americans – and many others – live and die in every single day. That will be an honor to these victims. That will be an honor to us all.
The first thing we must do to 'solve the hate' is to admit, loudly and fervently, that this hate exists. And that this hatred is perpetrated by the the dehumanization of Muslim-Americans in the media, on the screen, and in society at large.
Only then will Mosques stop burning.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.