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December 4, 2015

American Muslims fear demonization of Islam
 after San Bernardino mass shooting

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

American Muslim community groups have expressed fear that San Bernardino mass shooting on Wednesday would add fuel to the rising anti-Islamic feeling.

The FBI announced on Friday (Dec. 4) that the mass killing is probed as an act of terrorism.

On Wednesday Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik entered the Inland Regional Center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino and opened fire on attendees at a holiday party for county workers, killing 14 and injuring 21.   The couple fled the scene after the massacre and reportedly left pipe bombs behind. Farook was born in Illinois, while Malik was born in Pakistan and lived in Saudi Arabia before coming to the U.S. when she married Farook.

The FBI Director James Comey said Friday the assailants showed signs of “radicalization” but that there was no evidence they were part of a larger terrorist network. 

The Los Angeles Times quoted federal law enforcement officials  as saying that Farook had contact with people from at least two terrorist organizations overseas, including the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in Syria.  His wife and fellow shooter, Tashfeen Malik, also pledged allegiance to an Islamic State leader in a Facebook posting, the LA Times quoted federal law enforcement officials as saying.

Speaking at a press conference in Los Angeles organized by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Wednesday, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Religious Affairs Director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, expressed his organization’s “sadness and sorrow at what happened in San Bernardino” and asked the public not to implicate Islam or Muslims in the attack.  

“I want to condemn this action, this action of violence,” said Siddiqi. “We have condemned all violence, everywhere, because human life is precious, and we respect and honor the human life.”He added, “Our faith is against this type of behavior.” 

Also speaking during the CAIR press conference, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR Los Angeles said the group “unequivocally” condemns shooting and stands “in solidarity with fellow Americans as we offer our heartfelt prayers and condolences to the injured, to the families of those who have been killed.”

He continued, “We stand in solidarity in repudiating any possible ideology or mindset that could have let to such a horrific act. There’s absolutely nothing that could justify [it]. We stand in mourning, in sadness for what happened, and we pray for the quick recovery of those who were injured.”

“We don’t know the motive yet,” Hussam Ayloush, told NPR Thursday. “This could be workplace rage, it could be the result of some mental instability, or it could be some twisted ideological belief,” he added. “Either way, it’s horrific, it should be condemned; there’s absolutely no justification.”

Farhan Khan, Farook’s brother-in-law, also spoke  at the CAIR press conference and said he “cannot express how sad I am for what happened today.” “I am in shock that something like this can happen,” he said. The last time he spoke to Farook was a week ago, he said, adding that he has “absolutely no idea” why his brother-in-law would carry out a mass shooting.

In Connecticut, CAIR-CT Executive Director Mongi Dhaouadi said  "The Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Americans in repudiating any twisted mindset that would claim to justify such sickening acts of violence." Dhaouadi also expressed concerns about the possibility of backlash against the Islamic community similar to the shooting of a Meriden mosque after the Paris attacks.

Anti-Islamic rhetoric

Many Muslims questioned whether this week’s shooting will embolden supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is current front-runner to be his party's nominee in the November 2016 election and who has backed the idea of requiring all Muslims living in the United States to register in a special database as a counter-terrorism measure.

Critics have also accused Trump of stirring resentment toward Muslims by asserting that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. That claim has been disputed by public officials.

Trump has said he would be open to creating a national database of Muslims and monitoring mosques, and claimed that "thousands and thousands" of Muslim Americans in New Jersey celebrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001— something for which no evidence has emerged.

"Politicians are saying things very irresponsibly, and those statements are reverberating across the masses," said Michael Smith, imam of the Islamic Society of Annapolis and resident scholar at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. "That's dangerous, extremely dangerous." Smith said he worries the rhetoric will increase polarization and fear in America.

New York Post's "Muslim Killers" Front Page

Meanwhile, American Muslims have expressed concern over the New York Post's front page about the San Bernardino Shooting.

A version of the New York Post's cover on Thursday features "Muslim Killers" in giant letters, over an image of injured victims from the San Bernardino shooting,

Robert McCaw, government affairs department manager of CAIR national, told Mic of New Yorker, "I think it's the lowest common denominator of fear-mongering to change their front page to 'Muslim Killers,'" McCaw added. "It endangers the Muslim community and it seeks to legitimize anti-Muslim hysteria."

"Muslims are no more responsible for yesterday's terrible events than Christians are for Planned Parenthood," McCaw said of the last week  attack on the reproductive health organization, which left three people dead.

Farhan Khan Virk, a Muslim social and political activist in Pakistan, told Mic the front page left him speechless. "This is not the first time something like this has happened," Virk said. "They are always looking to us Muslims to justify ourselves and we just came out of the Paris tragedy, where we had to do the same thing."

McCaw said the Paris attacks were responsible for a rise in violence and threats against Muslims in America and that CAIR has since received an unusually high number of American Muslims calling to report being targeted.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America