Mid-East tensions fuel rising Islamophobic attacks in N. America

Thu, 30 Nov 2023 9:24 GMT
With growing tensions in the Middle East, a Washington-based rights group has reported an unprecedent 216% spike in complaints last month related to anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S.
Mid-East tensions fuel rising Islamophobic attacks in N. America

The latest spell of violence, which reignited after the Oct. 7 Hamas incursion and subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza, has been the catalyst in the growing Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian attacks.

Some of the attacks were fatal or seriously injured the victims, including the killing of a child by a landlord shouting anti-Palestinian slogans and the recent shooting that seriously injured three Palestinian university students. A Palestinian woman was also threatened with beheading on a metro in the U.S. capital.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) received received 1,283 requests for help and reports of bias, a 216% increase for the same period last year. In an average 29-day period in 2022, CAIR received only 406 complaints.

People submitting complaints include a wide variety of Americans, including public school and college students, doctors and other professionals, as well as protestors and mosques.

"The Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian rhetoric that have been used to both justify violence against Palestinians in Gaza and silence supporters of Palestinian human rights here in America has contributed to this unprecedented surge in bigotry," CAIR Research and Advocacy Director Corey Saylor said in a statement.

One of the most serious was the murder of a Palestinian child by their landlord. Little Wadea al-Fayoume, 6, was stabbed to death 26 times in an Islamophobic attack in Illinois, U.S., on Oct. 15, 2023, by 71-year-old Joseph Czuba who knocked on the door and attempted to choke the mother, and said, "You Muslims must die."

A statement from the Will County sheriff’s office in Illinois said: "Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis" said the statement, which located the killing about 64 kilometers (40 miles) west of Chicago.

Shooting of 3 students

Another serious attack was the shooting of three Palestinian university students out walking near the University of Vermont. One victim was paralyzed as a bullet was stuck in his spine and the other two are in intensive care at the hospital. The three victims of the hate crime are Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali and Kenan Abdulhamid, who were shot on their way to a family dinner.

Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement the three, all age 20, were walking during a visit to the home of one of the victim’s relatives when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun, police said.

"Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled," Murad said. "All three victims were struck, two in their torsos and one in the lower extremities."

The victims are of Palestinian descent, two are U.S. citizens and one is a legal resident. Two of the men were wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, Murad added.

Murad said Jason J. Eaton, 48, was detained later Sunday after Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) agents encountered him while conducting a canvass at the location of the shooting.

CAIR had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).

"Kenan grew up in the West Bank and we always thought that could be more of a risk in terms of his safety, and sending him here would be the right decision," his uncle Tamimi said. "We feel somehow betrayed in that decision here and we’re just trying to come to terms with everything."

Rich Price, the uncle of Hisham Awartani, said the shooting happened after the three Palestinian students attended a birthday party for his 8-year-old twins.

"We had just come home and they were walking around the block and this is when this happened," he said.

Stating that he moved to the U.S. 15 years ago, he said he could have never imagined that this sort of thing could happen.

Noting that the shooting happened as his sister, who lives in the occupied West Bank, had come to the U.S. to stay with them for Thanksgiving, he said, "Tragic irony is not even the right phrase."

"But to have them come stay with me for Thanksgiving and have something like this happen speaks to the level of civic vitriol, speaks to the level of hatred that exists in some corners of this country," he said.

Price later thanked the Burlington Police Department and its head, Jon Murad, on behalf of the families of the victims.

In response to a question, Price said Kenan’s family believes the shooting was motivated by hate and that the three young men were targeted because they were Arabs and were wearing keffiyehs.

"We believe in the sanctity of the presumption of innocence and due process. And so we’ll support the authorities as they investigate. Uncle Tamimi said the family shares the same sentiment, finding it hard to believe "it was just a random act."

Attempted murder

An attempted murder of 52-year-old Mustafa Ramos occurred in Rhode Island outside a mosque while he was selling Islamic garments and religious items before Friday prayers on Nov. 17.

Ramos had a turban and robe and was shot from a vehicle. CAIR called on law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible biased motive for a shooting outside the Providence, Rhode Island, mosque that left one person injured.

Police said a 52-year-old man who was selling Islamic items was shot outside the mosque Friday morning. The victim was taken to Rhode Island Hospital. His injuries were not life-threatening.

The shooting took place in the run-up to a busy afternoon of prayers on a Friday, the holiest day of the week for Muslims. "I don’t think it was personal toward the individual," Islamic Center of Rhode Island Imam Abdul-Latif Sackor said.

Woman threatened

Earlier On Oct. 18, a Muslim woman and two friends rode the Orange Line on the D.C. Metro on their way to a protest for Palestinian human rights. She wore a keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf, and the group held signs, including one that read "Free Palestine."

The Muslim woman claims that a white male was staring at them before he allegedly said:

"You people are disgusting" and "How’d you like to lose your life?" At that point, she started recording the man with her phone.

In a video made available to CAIR, the male individual asks: "How’d you like to lose yours?

How’d you like to have your head beheaded?" According to the victim and two witnesses, the man also possessed a firearm, which he removed slightly from his pocket while making these remarks. He allegedly made other aggressive remarks toward the woman and her acquaintances before leaving the train at the Foggy Bottom-GWU station.

She immediately reported the incident to the Metro Transit Police Department. She shared details of the incident with an officer, detective and sergeant at the station, who allegedly questioned the claim that a firearm was brandished and argued that this individual’s remarks did not constitute an explicit threat to her life.

Around a month later, the death threats were taken seriously by authorities and a photo of the alleged perpetrator was released. The Metro Transit Police Department shared a picture of the suspect and called on the public to identify him on the social media platform X.

Police misconduct

In an alleged hate crime against a group of Palestine supporters in Laguna Beach, California, on Nov. 26, CAIR called for an investigation into claims that Laguna Beach Police Department (LBPD) officers used excessive force against the victims of a hate crime.

In a video posted to Instagram, one of the Palestine supporters stated that she, her fiance and sister-in-law were confronted by a man who said he was Israeli.

The assailant reportedly tried to step on the head of the woman’s dog and attempted to knock her sister-in-law’s phone out of her hand. The woman claims her fiance stepped in to defend them when three police officers tackled her and her fiance to the ground. She describes being thrown into the street, where her head hit a car, and her fiance was put in a chokehold and eventually arrested. She reports the police refused to follow and apprehend the Israeli man as they claimed they had not seen the initial confrontation.

An update on Nov. 27 from the Instagram account reportedly belonging to the woman and her fiance states that her fiance was released from jail and that the Israeli man who assaulted them has been arrested.

‘It wasn’t enough’

A Former Obama administration adviser, who was captured on video making threats and ranting anti-Muslim comments against a street vendor in New York City, was arrested on hate crimes charges on Nov. 23.

Stuart Seldowitz, 64, was charged with aggravated harassment, hate crime stalking, stalking causing fear, and stalking at a place of employment, according to a statement from the New York Police Department.

"A 24-year-old male victim stated to police that an individual approached him at his workplace multiple times and made anti-Islamic statements multiple times on different dates, causing the victim to feel afraid and annoyed," said the statement.

In one of the videos circulated on the internet, Seldowitz calls the vendor a "terrorist" and yells at him.
"You support terrorism. You support killing little children. You’re a terrible person," Seldowitz is heard saying.

The vendor replies: "You kill children, not me."
 Before leaving, Seldowitz says: "If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what? It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough."

In another video, which was taken during an evening encounter with the same vendor, Seldowitz makes various threats referring to his clout with "his friends in immigration" and Egypt’s intelligence agency, "the Mukhabarat wants your picture," he threatens.

Wearing a green hoodie, he further threatens: "The Mukhabarat in Egypt will get your parents. Does your father like his fingernails? They’ll take them out one by one." The victim responds with, "Go, go, go."

Former Barack Obama adviser Stuart Seldowitz, now in police custody, who went on an anti-Muslim rant insulting the Quran and saying 'If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what? It wasn't enough,' as he stalked an Egyptian American street seller, New York, U.S, Nov. 22, 2023.

Former Barack Obama adviser Stuart Seldowitz, now in police custody, who went on an anti-Muslim rant insulting the Quran and saying "If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, you know what? It wasn't enough," as he stalked an Egyptian American street seller, New York, U.S, Nov. 22, 2023.

Seldowitz then picks up his phone and appears to take a photo of the vendor, telling him to "smile for me."

Refusing to leave the area, he insults the Prophet Muhammad and further harasses the v,endor making insulting comments directed at the Quran.

In another video, he harasses the same vendor but is interrupted by a bystander who tells him to leave, saying, "It’s not right; you are harassing."

Seldowitz served as the acting director for the National Security Council South Asia Directorate under the Obama administration. He also worked as a senior political officer in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims in 2021 increased by 71% from the previous year alone.

For the five years before that, Canada witnessed the highest number of Muslims killed in targeted hate-motivated attacks of all the G-7 countries, according to the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).


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