“Mama, What Does Murder Mean?”—The Rise of Islamophobia in NYC

“My daughter and I were coming out from the supermarket when a lady came up to us yelling we were terrorists and need to be killed. She then tried to attack my daughter and I had to defend her.” 

“I was in the elevator and they spat on my Islamic wear and headscarf.” 

“I heard about this Muslim girl in high school whose hijab was pulled off and then was physically attacked by a group of white boys who said she didn’t belong.” 

“He said that he was coming to my house that night to murder me. I went to ask my mother, ‘Mama, what does murder mean?’ and she, confused, asked me where I heard that word. I told her my classmate said he was going to murder me because I was a terrorist. I was six.”

Image by Winnond/Shutterstock.com

The disturbing report on the worldwide state of religious freedom issued last month by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has put the focus ever sharper on the still grievous situation here at home. In far too many of our communities, hate speech, the stuff of cowardice and ignorance, and hate crime, its inevitable spawn, are on the rise.

A glaring example is the plight of New York City’s Muslim community, which has increasingly become the target of actions motivated by hate, according to a comprehensive study issued by the Muslim Community Network (MCN), a NYC-based community organization devoted to interfaith and civic education work.

In short, Muslim women, children, Blacks and Asians are the targets of choice for bullies and criminals. 

The study, entitled MCN Hate Crime Prevention Report, is an analysis of hate crime incidents experienced by the NYC Muslim population, along with recommended policies to institute going forward. The report, featuring two comparative surveys—one from 2019 and the other from 2022—illustrates an alarming increase in overt Islamophobia just within the space of under three years. Some of the findings: 

  • 43.5% of all 10–18-year-old Muslims experienced or witnessed a hate crime in 2019. 
  • 26.7% of Black Muslims and 31.9% of Asian Muslims experienced or witnessed a hate crime in just the first half of 2022.
  • 63.9% of Muslim New Yorkers who experienced hate crimes were female. 
  • Black and Asian Muslims are the most likely targets of hate speech and hate crime. In fact, out of all the Asian and Black Muslims surveyed, every one either witnessed or was a victim of a hate crime.

The MCN compared their findings with those of the 2020 Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) American Muslim Poll, and found similar trends: 

  • “In 2020, half of the Muslim families (51%) with children in K-12 public schools report a child of theirs has been bullied for their faith in the past year.”
  • “Muslim children are twice as likely as the general public to be bullied for their faith.”
  • “Between 2016 and 2020, about 60% of American Muslims (60–62%) reported experiencing religious discrimination that year.” 

In short, Muslim women, children, Blacks and Asians are the targets of choice for bullies and criminals. 

Accordingly, the MCN urges the allocation of community resources for hate crime prevention and protection of those four Muslim demographics.

With education comes understanding and with understanding comes tolerance, then inclusion and friendship. 

So what about prevention? What solutions are out there?

In 2019, the top solution at 23.7% was “more education about Muslims,” followed by more support from politicians, self-defense workshops, community patrols and more police patrol, with “all of the above” garnering 15.8%.

Tellingly, three years later in 2022, the numbers shifted. Now “more education about Muslims” has more than doubled with 52.2% wanting more education about the religion of Islam and about Muslims at businesses, schools and other public institutions.

With education comes understanding and with understanding comes tolerance, then inclusion and friendship. Two pages of the Muslim Community Network’s report are devoted to recommendations to lawmakers, most of which have to do with increased diversification training of educators regarding minority religions in the community. The recommendations also include a call to end procedures that are associated with ignorance and suspicion, such as surveillance, profiling and facial recognition technology—which disproportionately target Muslims and people of color—as well as the notorious gang database. Per the report, even if one is proven innocent, it is nearly impossible to be removed from the gang database once on it.

Approximately one-tenth of New York City residents are Muslim (Photo by Dibrova/Shutterstock.com)

The report ends with a plea and a challenge: 

“MCN continues to be concerned about the NYPD’s alarming history of surveilling and profiling members of the Muslim community in NYC. Muslim New Yorkers who come from various ethnic backgrounds continue to feel discriminated against, unsafe and traumatized by the heavy and unlawful surveillance on our communities since the rollout of the NYPD’s Muslim Surveillance Program in 2002. MCN calls on NYC Council and NY lawmakers to provide oversight on the Department of Investigation’s Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD and ensure that incidents of bias, profiling and discrimination are immediately and properly reported and the individuals are held accountable.

“Unfortunately, the NYPD’s annual hate crime report fails to account for the many incidents of hate and bias experienced by Muslims in NYC. Our experiences with hate are too often disregarded, minimized and never investigated. MCN recommends NYPD officials and members of the hate crime task force receive biannual religious and ethnic diversity training from community-based organizations such as MCN.”

MCN further challenges the city fathers to redirect funds earmarked to increase surveillance of Muslim communities and instead allocate them towards “strengthening our schools, hospitals, youth and adult programs and providing social services to the most vulnerable, as well as providing more culturally and religiously relevant training, and de-escalation workshops to NYPD officers.”

With its report on the current state of Muslim communities in NYC, the Muslim Community Network has done far more than provide a snapshot of a worsening situation within its cultural and ethnic environs: it has provided a blueprint for peace as well.  

Martin Landon
Martin Landon is happy to say that at present he is not doing anything he doesn’t love. Using Scientology, he helps people daily, both one-on-one through life coaching, and globally, through his webinars. He has also authored books, movies, plays, TV shows, and comic strips and currently writes for STAND, which gives him great joy.