Members of the Long Island Muslim community’s leadership, including from Valley Stream and Elmont, gathered with lawmakers at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury on March 5 to express outrage and condemn the persistence of Islamophobia in the United States, which statistics have shown in on the rise.
The event, which drew a crowd of roughly 100, was prompted by the appearance of an Islamophobic poster in the West Virginia state capitol on March 1 placed by members of the state’s Republican party, linking the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to freshman Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to congress.
“Ongoing sentiments of Islamophobia are detrimental to the spirit of inclusivity we value as Americans,” said Dr. Isma Chaudhry, chairwoman of the Islamic center’s board of trustees.
In particular, she took issue with the depiction of Omar wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf, or hijab, drawing parallels between the piece of religious garb and extremism.
“The negative framing of a woman wearing a hijab and linking her with the horrific crime of 9/11 can further increase hate crimes targeting Muslims,” Chaudhry said.
The incident came as studies have shown that attacks against Muslims in the United States are increasing. According to a 2017 report by the Pew Research Center, the total number of recorded assaults against Muslims reported to the FBI in 2016 exceeded those in 2001, with 127 assaults reported nationwide compared to 2001’s 93.
Additionally, crimes of intimidation and vandalism directed at American Muslims have also risen, and overall crimes against members of the religion increased in 2016 by 19 percent from the previous year and 67 percent from 2014.
Islamophobia is defined by the Center for American Progress as “An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political and civic life.”
In addition to members of Masjid Hamza in Valley Stream, County Legislator Carrié Solages, a Democrat from Valley Stream, was in attendance, and offered a few remarks in solidarity with the sizable Muslim community living in his district.
“While Islamophobia may feel like a relatively new phenomenon, it has actually permeated our society and popular culture for decades,” he said. “At a time when hateful rhetoric has acutely infected the national discourse, I am proud to add my voice to a coalition that is taking an unequivocal stand against racism and bias.”
The poster in West Virginia featured the words “’Never forget’” you said.” Superimposed over the a photo of a damaged twin towers, shortly before their collapse in 2001, and below it a photo of Omar, with the words “I am proof that you have forgotten.”
The appearance of the poster came as Omar herself has come under fire in recent weeks from conservatives and members of her own party for criticizing lobbying efforts by those seeking unequivocal support of Israel from U.S. lawmakers, and in particular, calling out the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, by name for using its resources to influence American politics. Her comments in regards to the powerful lobbying agency were viewed as anti-Semitic.
While there are no recent studies of the religious makeup on Long Island, the ones that do exist indicate that Muslims are one of the fastest-growing groups in the area. According to a 2010 study by the Association of Religious Data Archives, Muslims constitute the third largest religious population on Long Island, with nearly 16,000 adherents, behind Roman Catholics and Jewish people. This was an increase from 11,000 members recorded in 2000.