As Dilara Sayeed, a 51-year old Muslim in Chicago, entered an office building for a meeting, she had an experience which she had thought almost unthinkable a few years ago.
Besides her office attire, Sayeed was also wearing a colorful hijab, a symbol of her faith. Sayeed is a social activist, an educator and a Harvard alumna. She also ran for election in the Illinois House of Representatives to represent District 5 in 2018. As such, her work and achievements, rather than her religion, had been at the forefront of most interactions.
As Sayeed got into the elevator, however she was confronted by an elderly white woman, a complete stranger, who said she would go to hell for wearing the hijab.
Sayeed said she hadn’t experienced this kind of negativity since she was growing up. “People used to yell things like ‘Go back to your country’,” she said. “I even got bullied constantly at school because of my religion.”
The situation had improved over the years as the Muslim community in Chicago grew, and people became more understanding towards Muslims. However, everything changed again when Donald Trump became president three years ago.
“I was feeling in myself, ‘Can I even come back to this place?’ ”
Subscribers of the Tennessean opened their Sunday papers last weekend to discover a full-page ad that warned a “nuclear device” would detonate in Nashville on July 18,. The ad said it would be set off by “Islam”—not by Muslims, not by a terrorist group, just by “Islam.” The ad, created by a fringe post-apocalyptic Christian organization called the ministry of Future for America, set off an immediate furor as it traveled online. The Tennessean itself called it “utterly indefensible” and rushed to find out how it had made it into print. By Monday, a sales manager had been fired.Alex Martin Smith✔@asmiff
This morning, the Nashville @Tennessean — the largest newspaper in the state — published a full-page ad from a far-right client warning “Islam is going to detonate a nuclear device in Nashville, Tennessee.” It’s accompanied by photos of Donald Trump and Pope Francis.
On Sunday, David Plazas, the opinion and engagement director at the Tennessean and the USA Today newsrooms in Tennessee, had started a furlough, like many of his colleagues, because of the coronavirus economic slowdown. He was immediately called back to address the crisis. We spoke on Tuesday about how the ad came to be, the paper’s firm response, and the impossible work of local journalism right now. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Aymann Ismail: When did you first see the ad?
David Plazas: I’m a print reader. I get the print newspaper to my home every day, and I was just as shocked an anybody, because I saw the ad at the same time that the majority of our leadership did. It was extremely upsetting. I was angry. I’ll be honest with you: I was feeling in myself, “Can I even come back to this place when I finish my furlough?” That was the initial raw emotion I had. But then I also said, I have the responsibility and the duty to do what I can to try to make this right. Because I have the capacity to do so.
Back in December 2015, you spoke out loudly and proudly against anti-Muslim hatred. “I want to add my voice in support of Muslims in our community and around the world,” you wrote in a post on Facebook, two days after then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced his plan for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country. “After the Paris attacks and hate this week,” you added, “I can only imagine the fear Muslims feel that they will be persecuted for the actions of others.”
The headline in the New York Times? “Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook Reassures Muslim Users.”
Yet here we are in December 2019. Four years later, you and Facebook have gone from reassuring Muslims to amplifying hate and bigotry against us. You have allowed what the actor Sacha Baron Cohen recently described as “the greatest propaganda machine in history” to be used to target and persecute some of the most vulnerable Muslim communities on Earth.
FOR STARTERS, MARK, how does it feel to be complicit in an actual genocide?
I’m talking of course about the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. In March 2018, the chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Marzuki Darusman, told reporters that social media companies like yours had played a “determining role” in the violence, having “substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict.”
Was it actually a Muslim ban, as it was called at the time it was introduced? Or was that just an anti-Trump label? What percentage of people from those banned countries did pass the “enhanced vetting” and get an actual visa to enter the United States?
I looked through the government’s data to find answers.
The US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs regularly provides data on the number of visas issued for all countries.
Based on the data the agency provides for the fiscal year, the number of immigrant visas issued for the country of Iran decreased by 78% between 2017 and 2018.
WILLMAR — Usama Dakdok’s first visit to Willmar was a quiet and private affair last month, but his second visit was anything but that.
Two very different crowds gathered Thursday evening at the Kennedy Elementary School, where the Egyptian-born pastor of the Straight Way of Grace Ministry came to deliver his message that Islam is dangerous. It’s a message he’s been delivering to communities in Minnesota and other states for more than a decade.
Outside the school, well over 200 people joined under the message “we are better together” to celebrate Willmar for its cultural diversity. The diverse crowd, including many from Willmar’s Somali community, came in opposition to Dakdok, but focused on their message: Willmar is an inclusive and welcoming community.
The Rev. Dane Skilbred, Vinje Lutheran Church of Willmar, and Aden Hassan, imam for the Islamic Society of Willmar, joined in celebrating the city’s “welcoming resolution” in a formal address to the crowd. An interfaith group including leaders from ISAIAH, a coalition of faith communities,and the Islamic Society of Willmar helped organize the gathering as a prayer vigil.
Some who joined the event felt moved to grab the megaphone and offer their own words to celebrate the community.
“We are here for the right reason,” said Bonnie Hauser, semi-retired after serving as an elementary instructor in the Willmar Schools. Hauser told the audience that she was proud to be a Willmar teacher, where children of different ethnic and faith backgrounds learn together.
“This is what I know my community could be,” said Jessica Rohloff, a lifelong Willmar resident and a community organizer.
Najib Aqib, a member of Willmar’s Somali community, didn’t grab the megaphone, but he was among those who joined to support the prayer vigil. He said he moved to Willmar in 2005 and has found it to be a very welcoming community, and that is why he came to the event.
“This is the best place to live,” he told the West Central Tribune.
Organizers plan to protest an appearance Thursday from Usama Dakdok, who has visited Minnesota dozens of times to convince his audience that Islam is dangerous.
John Burns had been living in Willmar, Minn., for some time, but one interaction in particular stands out. An acquaintance wanted to recruit him to a group that has been warning others about the dangers of Islam and the infiltration of Muslims into their west-central Minnesota community.
But Burns, 75, was the wrong guy. He’s been voicing concerns against anti-Islamic sentiments in the town, which is home to a growing Somali American population. He’s written letters to the editor, spoken at city council meetings and called every media outlet he could think of.
“These people often have the enthusiasm of somebody who’s just discovered a new religion that explains everything,” Burns said of a local group that bills itself as a patriotic Christian organization. “At some point it turns into fanaticism, and that’s troubling.”
The group, called “Thee Book Club,” has rented an auditorium Thursday evening at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar to host a controversial speaker who’s made his mark across Minnesota and beyond trying to convince attendees that Islam is a dangerous cult.
Usama Dakdok, a Christian who grew up in Egypt, visited northern Minnesota more than 20 times from 2015 to 2016, often speaking to rural communities with small or no Muslim populations. He’s back in Minnesota this week to address crowds in the communities of Backus and Willmar, where he’s spoken at least once before. He’s also taken his anti-Islam message to Rochester and St. Cloud and across the country.
The defendants showed remorse as the judge declared them a “threat to everyone in our democratic society.” The two men planned to use homemade explosives in a terrorist plot on a Muslim community in upstate New York.
Two men were sentenced to between four and 12 years in prison on Friday after threatening to bomb a Muslim community in the United States.
Defendants Brian Colaneri, 20, and Andrew Crysel, 19, had both entered guilty pleas. Monroe County Court Judge Samuel Valleriani told the pair: “Your terrorist threat was not only an invidious threat to the way of life of your victims, but also a threat to everyone in our democratic society.”
Both defendants expressed remorse, including for conversations they conducted between themselves via an online chat room as part of the plot. The two men had previously pleaded guilty to terrorism conspiracy in June.
“I never wanted it to go that far,” Colaneri said, according to local media outlet WHEC.
They and two others from the Rochester area were accused of planning to attack Islamberg, a rural religious community in the area of Tompkins, 150 miles (240 kilometers) to the north of New York City. Authorities arrested the individuals in January and said they had access to 23 rifles and shotguns, as well as three homemade explosives.
In August 2017, three men from rural Illinois—members of one of our country’s numerous heavily armed and rather poorly regulated “militias”—drove to Bloomington, Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis, to plant an IED in the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center. Following their arrest, two of the men admitted their guilt. They had set out from Illinois, they said, determined to scare Muslims into leaving the United States.
“Why,” he asked, “don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came?”
As the fact-checkers noted in their analyses of Trump’s newest “New Low,” only Omar was born in another country. For once, the president took the Pinocchios to heart: He homed in on Omar in a diatribe at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, a few days later, running through a litany of generically Islamophobic claims until the enthused crowd began chanting, for 13 uninterrupted seconds, “send her back.”
Editor’s Note:This working paper is part of a multi-year Brookings project—”The One Percent Problem: Muslims in the West and the Rise of the New Populists.” Other papers in the series are available here.
Despite representing a little more than one percent of the total U.S. population, American Muslims have long been viewed with suspicion by their fellow citizens. This has been true since the Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis in the late 1970s, but American attitudes toward Islam turned especially negative following the September 11 terrorist attacks, which many American commentators blamed directly on Islamic religious doctrines.
The political right in the United States, on average, has exhibited more suspicion of Islam and Muslims than the political left, and many conservative media personalities have expressed considerable hostility towards Muslims. Other conservative political and intellectual leaders have called for religious tolerance, however. Thus, conservatives in the electorate have received mixed messages from elected Republicans and conservative opinion leaders. American attitudes toward Islam and Muslims became an especially important subject after Donald Trump was elected president on a right-wing populist platform that explicitly called for a ban on Muslim immigration. This paper examines Trump supporters’ views on questions of Islam, immigration, and national identity. Beyond asking whether Trump’s supporters favor exclusionary policies, I investigate how strongly these supporters feel about Islam, considering whether opposition to Islam is a critical part of their political worldview, or just one element of a broader nativism.