Acts of vandalism against mosques, anti-Muslim threats and fear have reached an unprecedented level in the U.S. since the Paris attacks, fueled by right-wing intolerance in the presidential campaign, activists say.
"In such a short period – it's what makes it unprecedented," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the country's largest Muslim civil liberties group. Since Nov. 13, CAIR has documented dozens of anti-Muslim incidents, including shots fired at the Meriden mosque in Connecticut, vandalism at an Islamic center in Pflugerville, Texas, where the door was smeared in excrement, and graffiti at an Islamic center in Omaha, Nebraska.
Half a dozen infractions have been reported in Texas alone. The outside lights and door of a mosque in Lubbock were broken; in Corpus Christi, the Islamic center received a threat calling on worshippers to convert to Christianity "before it was too late." In Irving, Texas protesters gathered outside an Islamic center to denounce "the Islamization of America." And a man in military fatigues, carrying a large backpack and an American flag, barged into a mosque in San Antonio to berate worshippers. That incident prompted a school attached to the mosque to cancel classes and revise its security measures.
CAIR said shots were fired on the house of a Muslim couple in Orlando, Florida, a woman wearing a headscarf was called a "terrorist" in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a Christian Ethiopian taxi driver mistaken for a Muslim was beaten and threatened by a passenger in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Activists say the anti-Muslim rhetoric, already high after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January, is being fueled by extreme-right discourse by Republican presidential contenders in the election campaign.
Donald Trump, the billionaire Republican frontrunner in the race for the White House, said at a recent rally that Arab people in Jersey City, New Jersey, had celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers – another name for the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York City – on 9/11. "Thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down," he alleged. The comments sparked a furious backlash from Jersey City, rival presidential candidates and fact-checkers.
Imam Shamsi Ali, director of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, New York, said the Paris attacks had a "very negative impact" on the Muslim community, particularly during the campaign season. "Muslims are worried," he told AFP, saying the worry extended to the Muslim community across the border in Canada. While there had been no incident, he said he asked the police for extra security at the Islamic center, and had been "very happy" with the way police had responded.
There are an estimated 7 million to 10 million Muslims in America. "This kind of rhetoric is not American," Ali said. "This country respects the right of everybody to live and practice their religion. This country embraces immigrants," he said. "Our loyalty to this country is not less than anybody else."
Islamophobia in the U.S. was on rise particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but its frequency and notoriety has increased in the U.S. during the past decade, according to Muslim leaders in the U.S. It also appears that DAESH has placed added pressure on Muslims. The Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution suggested in February that Americans' hatred toward Islam has grown since the rise of DAESH, and 14 percent of Americans believe the group has the support of the majority of Muslims around the world.