A religious minority in the United States, Muslims have long faced ignorance and intolerance of their faith. However, when terrorists with ties to radical Islam hijacked multiple commercial airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, to attack the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and more, the American public widely began to view Muslims as the enemy. Not only did practicing Muslims in the U.S. face additional scrutiny at airports and other locales, they faced opposition when trying to build mosques and other institutions. Moreover, Muslims, Middle Easterners and South Asians, especially Sikhs, became targets of hate crimes.
In the years after 9/11, animosity toward Muslims did wane. CBS News found that hate crimes against Muslims dropped 31 percent from 2002 to 2009. But in August 2012 Muslims faced a series of attacks after an Army veteran named Wade Michael Page gunned down six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. Although Sikhism—a 500-year-old religion with roots in India—is not related to Islam, Sikhs have faced violence since 9/11 because they wear turbans, headwear Americans largely associate with Islamic fundamentalists. The mass murder at the Sikh temple ushered in a wave of Islamophobia across the country. The spate of hate crimes isn’t just a matter of religious intolerance but of cultural intolerance as well, given that individuals perceived to be Muslim due to their ethnic features or style of dress are vulnerable to attack during such a time. This overview of hates crimes in the weeks following the Sikh Temple massacre reveals that much progress needs to be made before religious and ethnic minorities are treated as fellow Americans instead of as adversaries.
Arson at Missouri Mosque
The Islamic Society of Joplin, home to 50 Missouri families, burned beyond repair after an arsonist set it ablaze in what’s said to be a hate crime. The fire occurred on Aug. 6, 2012, just one day after the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin shooting. It wasn’t the first time someone set the Islamic center ablaze. On July 4, 2012, a fire set by an arsonist there damaged the center but did not destroy it. The Wisconsin massacre may have prompted an arsonist to revisit the Islamic Society of Joplin, built in 2007, and finish the job. Sadly even after the center was destroyed, Muslims in Joplin continued to face hatred. When worshippers returned to the building site after the fire, passersby reportedly yelled out expletives at them. Given that the Islamic Center housed Joplin residents of all faith backgrounds after a 2011 tornado decimated much of the town, its destruction in an alleged hate crime is doubly unfortunate.
Mosques Targeted in Illinois
Less than a week after the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin shooting, a man in the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove, Ill., was accused of firing an air rifle at the Muslim Education Center there. David Conrad, 51, “was charged with three counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm and one count of criminal damage to property,” the Chicago Tribune reported. An estimated 500 worshippers were inside of the mosque when Conrad discharged the air rifle. No one was hurt, but a shot from Conrad’s rifle almost struck a security guard, according to the Tribune. Conrad was reportedly a longtime foe of the mosque. He opposed its building because its grounds overlapped with those of a neighborhood park.
The air rifle attack wasn’t the only one that targeted a mosque in Illinois. On Aug. 12, 2012, someone attacked an Islamic school, the College Preparatory School of America, with a bottle filled with acid in Lombard, Ill. No one was hurt during the attack, but worshippers celebrating Ramadan heard a loud bang. In another incident, vandals spray-painted hate graffiti on the graves of Muslims at the Evergreen Cemetery in Evergreen Park, Ill., on Aug. 17. The graffiti disparaged Islamic prophet Muhammad and included the slur “raghead.”
Attacks Across America
Following the Sikh temple shooting, Muslims weren’t just targeted by bigots in the Great Lakes region but also in Rhode Island, Oklahoma, California and Florida, to name a few. Vandals in Rhode Island smashed the sign of a mosque there. Pig legs were left outside of a California mosque, which is offensive given that Islam forbids followers to eat pork. And an Oklahoma mosque was defaced in a paintball attack. Moreover, someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the home of a family in Panama City, Fla. Collectively, these hostile acts against Muslims in America reveal that bigotry remains alive and well in the United States.