The entrance to the West Coast Islamic Society in Anaheim. REUTERS / Tim Reid
The entrance to the West Coast Islamic Society in Anaheim. REUTERS / Tim Reid

In the aftermath of the San Bernardino massacre, hate crimes, attacks and insults were on the rise against Muslim-Americans across the Southland.

The concerns of peaceful, law-abiding Muslim-Americans and the tensions they feel were heightened Friday when authorities said a firebomb ignited a small blaze shortly after noon in the lobby of the Islamic Society of the Coachella Valley mosque. The Riverside Sheriff’s Department called it a hate crime.

Firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the lobby, but smoke caused damage throughout the 1,800-square-foot mosque, a spokeswoman for the Riverside County Fire Department said. The FBI was now assisting in the investigation to help determine the motive and the people behind the attack, said Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman.

Immediately after last week’s massacre at the Inland Regional Center, Islamic Ieaders flooded their social media sites with lists of do’s and don’ts developed after Sept. 11, 2001, to help Muslims cope with government oversight and increasingly negative views of their faith arising from fears of terrorism, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

These included: check your surroundings. Do not stay out late alone at night. Buy Mace. Inform loved ones of where you are going and when you will be back.

But Muslims say those recommendations are no longer sufficient in the wake of the attack by a seemingly quiet couple with a baby and religious bigotry aimed at Muslim-Americans.

They worry that even friends and neighbors they have known for years who are not Muslim will begin viewing them with suspicion.

“The situation is such that even being married and having a child means nothing now, you will still be suspect,’  Fatima Dadabhoy, a senior attorney at the Council on Islamic-American Relations office in Anaheim told the Times. “Obvious anti-Muslim sentiments are easier to deal with than the person who will be smiling in your face, and wondering whether or not you are a terrorist.’

Dadahboy, author of a recent study documenting bias-based bullying of Muslim students in California schools, said Muslims’ behavior is changing.

“It could be by not going out driving because we’ve seen women wearing hijabs getting yelled at, or sideswiped on the road,” she told the Times. “Or, it could mean pasting American flag stickers on your car bumper, or hanging a flag prominently over your front door,’ Dadahboy said.

Hanif Mohebi, a spokesman for the CAIR office in San Diego, has been recommending that Muslims “open lines of communication with people. For example, invite your neighbor over for a barbecue.’

“Given what happened, I don’t blame some people for being unsure and wondering, ‘Hey, what’s going on with my neighbor? Is he a terrorist or not?” Mohebi told the newspaper. “It’s no fun listening to people talking trash, but I honestly believe that opening lines of communication will solve a majority of the problem.’

Other Muslims are taking different approaches.

“I don’t go shopping for food or clothing unless I have a friend or two with me,’ said Roshan Zamir Abbassi, an assistant imam at the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah of America mosque in San Bernardino who was interviewed by federal authorities after the shooting.

“The statements of people like Donald Trump are adding to the discomfort of all minorities,’ Abbassi, 24, told the newspaper, referring to the GOP front-runner’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. “These people have a message of hate.’

Abdul Ali, 40, a volunteer handyman at the mosque, interjected, “I feel condemned for something I didn’t do. So, now, yes, I only get gasoline in the daytime.’

Because of the spelling of her first name, Syeda Jafri, spokeswoman for the Rialto Unified School District, has been asked if she knew Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, 29, who were killed in a gunbattle with police shortly after the shootings. And because of her faith, she has been asked, “Do you feel responsible for what happened?’

“It’s a tragedy that the distortion of Islam is being so boldly manipulated by a few,’ she told the L.A. Times. “It is disheartening that I find I have to reeducate even my closest friends about the honest, sincere and genuine teachings of Islam: Accept differences, love all mankind.’

“We will overcome this hysteria and Islamophobia through education,’ she added.

Some Muslims are even questioning the veracity of the evidence presented by law enforcement authorities or rejecting it outright, said Tina Aoun, director of the Middle Eastern Student Center at UC Riverside.

“Many of my Muslim friends, among others, have doubts about the FBI’s narrative of what happened,’ said Aoun, who is not Muslim. “That’s because the story has so many holes in it. It doesn’t make any sense.’

“Why did the FBI and police release the crime scene in the house in Redlands only one day after the shooting?’ Aoun said. “Why would terrorists have a baby? Why would they target a facility for children with disabilities?’

Mahmoud, a political science major who was born in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said, “Nothing about what happened is fair. It wasn’t fair for the people who got shot. It wasn’t fair for the child whose parents were terrorists. It isn’t fair for ignorant people to target Muslims,” he told the newspaper.

— City News Service

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